Africa’s political leaders have for more than a decade now embarked on a Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) declared in Maputo in 2003. In 2014, the Malabo AU Summit declared that Africa would at least double its agricultural productivity and be food secure by 2025.  Moreover, by the same time frame, governments aim to triple intra-African trade from the current rate of about 13 percent. The whole vision is of massive social and economic structural transformation within a one to two decade period. It would appear though that the political leaders have not fully accounted for challenges they will face in light of Africa’s current trade patterns and agreements with major trading blocks, especially the EU.

These series of articles and the website content are intended to inform policy making in African countries, especially with reference to maintaining Africa’s trade policy space for the transformation of African agro-food sectors. I believe that these articles will also be of great value to Africa’s regional and continental bodies that pull together the collective thinking and action that goes into Africa negotiating trade agreements especially with the EU, who are Africa’s main trade partners in agricultural and food products.

Africa is experiencing rapid population growth and urbanization coupled with a rising middle class and rapidly expanding demand for food and a diversified diet. Domestic production in African countries has failed to cope with increasing demand and a huge import bill of around USD40 billion is being incurred annually. While meeting immediate consumer demand, this trade is potentially narrowing the space for local agro-food sector development. Moreover, Africa needs trade with and investment from the EU, that will grow rather than substitute for the development of local supply chains –especially those driven by smallholder women farmers. This is particularly the case given the commitments entered into under the regional Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU which could limit the use of non-tariff trade policy tools which are still used extensively in Africa.

This website will provide information and analysis on how trade agreements are affecting African food systems and the trade policy options that are available to improve the food balance sheet. African governments are faced with the challenge of creating the economic and policy environment that will allow their citizens to capitalize on the opportunity presented by Africa’s rising population. Patterns of food production growth which have taken place since 2008 have not always taken into account evolving patterns of consumer demand, with insufficient investments having been made in post-harvest processing packaging, storage and distribution, given the trend towards more convenient types of food. This is seen as creating great opportunities for African agro-food sectors, since the production, processing and marketing investment required to meet this rising and evolving consumer demand offer the opportunity to create many new jobs; particularly for Africa’s bulging youth population. If unaddressed, the foregone employment creation opportunities could fuel further trans-continental migration flows which are such a source of concern to EU policy makers.

While the continued use of tariff and non-tariff measures could lead to temporary price surges for food stuffs currently imported from the EU and cause harm to the majority of consumers, African food systems stand to benefit immensely in the medium to long term. The EU as a developed region, has every interest in making sure that its companies benefit from growth in African countries and are able to access new markets. A key consideration moving forward, will be how to reconcile broader EU trade and investment interests with African aspirations for the structural development of their agro-food sectors, given the trade agreements entered into with the EU.  This will pose serious policy challenges for African governments seeking to develop and structurally transform their local agro-food sectors. Understanding the nature and extent of these challenges and formulating appropriate policy responses both individually and collectively could have an important bearing on the prospects for a structural transformation of African agro-food sectors.

Professor Mandivamba (Mandi) Rukuni

Professor Mandi Rukuni is a development analyst and strategist in agriculture, finance, and education.  A Zimbabwean national, Professor Rukuni is currently Director of the BEAT Doctoral Academy through which he is Professor Extraordinaire, University of Africa, Zambia, and adjunct Professor at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

His career started 36 years ago with the University of Zimbabwe and served as Professor and Dean of Agriculture. He subsequently worked with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for 11 years as Director for Africa Programs. He has served as a consultant and advisor to many international organizations and served on several international boards.

He has over the last 5 years devoted a significant amount of effort as strategic advisor to the Africa Union/NEPAD programs including Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Land Policy Initiative (LPI) and the Rural Futures Program. He has received several honours and awards and has published 15 books and more than 100 articles.