AfCFTA must boost intra-African agrifood trade, become food self-reliant
The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) must aim at reversing the unsustainable trend of excessive dependence by many of its members on imports of basic commodities, such as food and strategic agricultural inputs that has only exacerbated their vulnerabilities.
This is the main message from a recent webinar organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Regional Office for Africa and FAO Markets and Trade Division.
The AfCFTA has been ratified by 43 African Union (AU) member countries, eight of which have started trading under AfCFTA preferential arrangements. Yet intra-continental trade remains low. Africa is a net importer of agricultural products, with import bills estimated at $56 billion dollars, up by 10 billion in just two years since 2020.
“Excessive dependence by many countries on imports of basic commodities such as food and strategic agricultural inputs has exacerbated vulnerabilities due to the impacts of the multiple overlapping shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the responses by some countries to restrict trade,” FAO’s Abebe Haile-Gabriel said on the lack of substantive intra-African trade. “This is not sustainable. It is a trend we must reverse.”
The webinar brought together stakeholders to plot the course for increasing intra-African trade. It is the first in a series of webinars on African trade in the coming months. It comes after FAO and the AU published a guide for countries on ‘Boosting Intra-African Trade in Agricultural Commodities and Services’. “We are trying to build capacity and bring that value-added to our continent so that we become more self-reliant on food, to have that food security at home,” said Poonam Mohun from the AfCFTA Secretariat.
The key actions highlighted by the meeting included harmonizing standards across the region, making border processes smoother and more gender-equitable, improving access to information and standards for stakeholders all along food systems, improving the feedback loop from the private sector to the AfCFTA Secretariat to further streamline processes, and further involve youth in agrifood systems through more attractive terms of business.