Thursday, November 01, 2012

Africa can feed itself, and free trade within the continent can help

When we look for answers on how Africa can produce more food we are often looking at drought resistant seeds, more land available to the people, and irrigation. The World Bank has recently weighed in on the subject with a new report.

The bank’s answer is not surprising for an institution that often encourages more trade. But with all of the roadblocks, checkpoints and bribe taking between the countries, their argument seems to make sense.

From the Guardian, writer Greg Nicolson unpacks the report. 
In a new report, "Africa Can Help Feed Africa" pdf, the World Bank looks at how the continent can prevent food shortages and unlock its massive agricultural potential. The general recommendations might be predictable for the institution known for its support of neoliberal policy, but they offer key recommendations to achieving food sustainability. The report looks at how opening up cross-border trade will increase Africa's potential food production, increase food security by improving access to food, and raise returns for small-scale farmers.
It begins with the basic premise that regions have natural food surpluses in certain staples and deficits in others; the key is to maximise output and get the food to where it's needed. Attempts at national self-sufficiency haven't worked and the effects of climate change will only make production more volatile, says the report. "Removing barriers to regional trade presents benefits to farmers, consumers and governments." Farmers will make more money from meeting the rising demand; consumers get cheaper access to food and benefits such as jobs from a growing agricultural sector; governments can better deal with food security.
But from producer to consumer, barriers to regional competition and trade have limited agricultural output. Because of inconsistent policies within Africa, seeds and fertilisers are generally imported from outside at high prices, with new innovations coming years later than in other developing regions. Transport services remain extremely expensive, outdated and uncompetitive as roadblocks eat time and money. Regulations on imports and exports are volatile, with changes often only communicated to foreign producers when they reach the border. Those borders remain hotbeds of corruption and abuse: traders are regularly harassed, sexually abused, or forced to pay bribes.
From a private investor's point of view, the enormous potential hardly seems worth the costs and risks. But the World Bank argues that if these problems are addressed, the incentives for farmers will greatly increase. Production will then rise and consumers can get basic foodstuffs from a neighboring region rather than foreign shores.

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