Regional trade barriers causing African food crises – World Bank

Africa can feed itself, earn billions of dollars and avoid food crises if the continent unblocks regional food trade, says a new World Bank report October 24, 2012.

According to the report, African farmers can potentially grow enough food to feed the continent and avert future food crises if “countries removed cross-border restrictions on the food trade within the region”.

The report listed poor roads, high transport costs, and unpredictable trade policies among others as some of the barriers in Africa’s regional food trade.

“The continent would also generate an extra $20 billion in yearly earnings if African leaders can agree to dismantle trade barriers that blunt more regional dynamism,” the World Bank said in the report titled “Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples”.

With as many as 19 million people living with the threat of hunger and malnutrition in West Africa’s Sahel region, the Bank report urges African leaders to improve trade so that food can move more freely between countries and from fertile areas to those where communities are suffering food shortages.

The World Bank says it expects demand for food in Africa to double by the year 2020 as people increasingly leave the countryside and move to the continent’s cities.

According to the report, rapid urbanization will challenge the ability of farmers to ship their cereals and other foods to consumers when the nearest trade market is just across a national border.

With many African farmers effectively cut off from the high-yield seeds, and the affordable fertilizers and pesticides needed to expand their crop production, the World Bank observed that the continent has turned to foreign imports to meet its growing needs in staple foods.

“Africa has the ability to grow and deliver good quality food to put on the dinner tables of the continent’s families,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa.

“However,” Diop added, “this potential is not being realized because farmers face more trade barriers in getting their food to market than anywhere else in the world. Too often borders get in the way of getting food to homes and communities which are struggling with too little to eat.”

The report suggested that if African leaders can embrace more dynamic inter-regional trade, Africa’s farmers, the majority of whom are women, could potentially meet the continent’s rising demand and benefit from a major growth opportunity. It would also create more jobs in services such as distribution, while reducing poverty and cutting back on expensive food imports.

It also encouraged a competitive food market that will help poor people on the continent.

Africa’s production of staple foods is worth at least $50 billion a year, the Bank stated.

By Ekow Quandzie

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