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Africa’s quiet agro-food revolution


AFRICA’S food exports have grown considerably over the past decade, with 50 out of 54 states recording considerable trade surpluses in agricultural commodity trade.

This finding, reported in a Brookings Institute report, also shows that just four countries are fueling the vast majority of the continent’s agro-food trade deficit.

The report flies in the face of reports on Africa that paint a picture of the continent as reliant on foreign food imports despite having the bulk of the world’s remaining unutilised arable land.

In their report, “Unpacking the misconceptions about Africa’s food imports”, Brookings disaggregated sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) agricultural trade performance by country and type − showing that only four countries in the region have a food trade deficit.

These are Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Somalia − accounting for most of SSA’s net agricultural position as a net importer.

“These countries are almost fully responsible for the region’s net agricultural trade deficit… The rest of the countries in the region are actually net agricultural exporters. This is good news not only today, but for Africa’s future economic growth through trade,” reads the report.

“Nigeria alone is a net agricultural importer of over $5 billion per year, while Angola, the DRC, and Somalia account for another $5 billion US per year combined. The role of rising commodity prices is triggering food imports through the Dutch disease mechanisms as food imports in resource-rich countries jumped substantially during the 2007-2012 commodity price upswings, and subsequently fell back down.”

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) had projected that Africa’s food imports would reach 90 billion US dollars by 2030. However, according to Brookings, those forecasts were based on trends during 2000-2010 − the period when global food prices grew rapidly – and do not reflect the more recent 2011-2019 period during which the value of SSA’s food imports has remained relatively flat. According to Trade for Development News, Africa exported 62 billion US dollars in agricultural products in 2017. There is significant under-reporting of continental agro-food export data.

Country-by-country figures are illuminating. For example, from 2010 to 2018, Morocco saw exports of agro-food products grow by 97%, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Countries with an export deficit have also ratcheted up efforts to bridge the gap. Nigeria, for instance, has ramped up its rice production to meet growing local demand and is set to have a surplus in the next few years.

Data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that milled rice production in the West African nation grew 11 per cent in 2020 from 2019, while imports levelled off.

South Africa, on the other hand, recorded its largest trade surplus on record in March 2021, with sales of commodities and minerals soaring exponentially as global demand energised by the economic recovery from the COVID-19 continued. Agricultural products played a significant role in the surplus, which expanded to over 3.5 billion US dollars for the month, the South African Revenue Service said.

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African countries are expected to record high price yields from agro-food exports, buoyed by increased demand from China and steady economic recovery from Covid- 19.

The latest CyclOpe report shows agricultural commodities prices are set to continue on an upward trend this year – +26 per cent for palm oil, +20 per cent for coffee, +20 per cent for maize, +11 per cent for cotton, +5 per cent for rice and +1 per cent for cocoa.

Overall, trade continues to rebound more strongly for developing countries relative to developed countries, according to most reports.

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By The African Mirror