Africa’s Journey to Self-Sufficiency: The Power of Intra-African Trade

  • 28 Aug 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Daniel Njiwa

Africa, with its vast agricultural resources and untapped potential, has the ability to overcome food security challenges and achieve self-sufficiency. The continent possesses an immense capacity to feed itself and even become a major player in global food markets. However, the continent has long been dependent on external markets for its food needs. Africa spends approximately $50 billion annually on food imports. This heavy reliance on imports creates a sense of vulnerability and dependency that hinders the continent’s progress towards self-sufficiency and economic prosperity. 

Currently, regional trade stands at just 14.4% of total African exports, pointing to an underutilisation of trade opportunities within the continent. However, there is immense potential for growth and collaboration through increased inter-African trade. According to UNCTAD forecasts, implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could boost regional trade by about 33% and reduce the continent’s trade deficit by 51%. These statistics highlight the urgent need to prioritise and invest in continental trade as a pathway to self-sufficiency and economic growth.

Promoting intra-African trade is a powerful strategy that can unlock the continent’s agricultural potential, reduce import bills, and strengthen local economies. By prioritising trade within the continent, African nations can maximise local production and consumption, harness their unique agricultural resources, and create a self-reliant and resilient food system. Shifting away from a heavy reliance on external markets empowers African nations to tap into their capabilities and address food security challenges.

Intra-African trade fosters the development of resilient supply chains capable of adapting to local conditions while reducing the continent’s vulnerability to external disruptions. Robust supply chains facilitate the efficient distribution of agricultural products, minimises post-harvest losses, and ensure timely access to nutritious foods for all Africans. By incentivising farmers to produce higher-quality crops and meet market demand, regional trade integration can drive innovation, investments, and job creation within the agricultural sector. This enhanced productivity not only benefits local markets, but also positions African farmers to be key players in the global agricultural landscape.

The AfCFTA offers a unique opportunity to boost regional economic integration, reduce import bills, and drive transformative economic growth. However, the wins under the AfCFTA would require strong policy measures to improve the trade environment including the removal of non-tariff barriers, improving trade infrastructure and logistics, telecommunication infrastructure for digital trade, and access to productive and trade finance.

Governments, regional organisations and stakeholders must prioritise and invest in initiatives that promote trade integration. By fostering an enabling environment, harmonising regulations, and investing in infrastructure, African nations can create a conducive ecosystem for intra-African trade. It is essential to seize this moment and unite, trade together, and pave the way toward a more prosperous and self-reliant future.

AGRA recognises the transformative power of trade among African nations and plays a pivotal role in driving policy reforms and institutional support. AGRA’s efforts focus on strengthening trade relationships, harmonising regulations, and addressing cross-border barriers. Through its advocacy, capacity-building programmes, and knowledge-sharing platforms, we empower farmers and agribusinesses to actively participate in trading. By creating an enabling environment that encourages investments, innovation, and entrepreneurship within the agricultural sector, AGRA, as an organisation, contributes to the realisation of Africa’s self-sufficiency and economic growth.

Our approach also involves the promotion of sustainable agricultural practises, investments in public and private trade institutions and companies to strengthen their capacities to participate in trade, thus generating data and evidence to inform policy and investment decisions, as well as creating platforms for knowledge sharing and policy advocacy. For instance, AGRA’s market shaping investments aim to strengthen suppliers and off-takers’ capacities to comply with food safety requirements such as aflatoxin levels through training on post-harvest management including warehouse and storage management, Good Agricultural and Hygiene Practises, etc.

Similarly, to ensure a more predictable environment for regional food trade and provide some flexibility in reducing the time and costs of trading, AGRA through the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is implementing the Mutual Recognition Framework/Agreement to remove the need for multiple inspections and testing in the exporting and importing countries thereby contributing to increased trade flow. To foster evidence-based decision-making, AGRA – through its regional food trade flagship and in collaboration with regional bodies such as COMESA – has rolled out the Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) to support governments in their market intervention decisions on the back of food security reasons. AGRA continues to produce its monthly Food Security Monitor to shed light on global and national food security issues, and to support governments’ decisions on food security and investment decisions in the agri-food sector. By fostering collaboration between African nations and supporting policy reforms, AGRA aims to create a conducive ecosystem for regional trade.

AGRA’s efforts in driving regional trade integration are invaluable and significantly contribute to Africa’s journey towards self-sufficiency and improved livelihoods. Together, with visionary leadership and collective action, we can unlock Africa’s full potential, ensuring food security, reducing poverty, and fostering inclusive development and shared prosperity for all Africans.

The road to self-sufficiency may have its challenges, but the rewards are immense. Africa has the capacity, resources, and determination to chart its own path towards a resilient and prosperous future. By embracing the power of intra-African trade and investing in agricultural development, the continent can rewrite its narrative and become a beacon of hope, resilience, and self-reliance for the world. Now is the time for African nations to unite, trade together, and build a continent where food security is a reality, economic growth is sustainable, and the well-being of its people is secured.

The author is the Head of Regional Food Trade and Resilience, AGRA