The Africa Continent Free Trade Agreement (AFCFA) is an AU flagship project that feeds into the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). It means the AFCFTA has to accomplish deep trade that is synonymous with trade diversification.
Africa spends more than US$35 trillion on food imports and this figure is expected to rise as the continent’s population rises. Boosting trade within the agricultural sector in Africa as part of trade diversification becomes a means to promote food production in Africa.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the futility of over reliance on global markets for food security. Most global markets have been regrettably impacted severely by Covid-19, with the death toll rising to more than 400 000 people.
The supply food chains from these countries broke down amid efforts to contain the pandemic.
Lockdown measures in the global markets have decimated production in the agricultural sector, while in some cases farmers were stuck with surpluses which could not reach the consumers.
Delivery to foreign export markets has been greatly curtailed as domestic demand is being considered ahead of foreign demand.
Africa as a region that has been reliant on food imports from global markets has been affected.
The global level food security situation is not clear. Statistics compiled at global level reveal that there is enough food, however, research by other organisations reveals a food deficit in Africa.
Food export restrictions and the absence of transparent data have distorted the food situation across countries.
Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) studies have revealed how consumer patterns and consumer behaviour changes in uncertain times.
Households limit food consumption in an effort to stretch the depleted financial resources.
The consumption of the staple food rises while the demand for fruits and fresh vegetables declines giving rise to malnutrition.
According to research, international trade plays a crucial role in the food system as one person in every six people is fed as a result of the movement of food through international trade.
Research by the Africa Development Bank further reveals that there will be perennial food shortages in Africa if the agricultural sector remains unharnessed. The AFCFTA has to vigorously pursue the trade and agriculture linkage to eliminate hunger and poverty.
The AFCFTA has a special role to work with the regional economic communities (RECS) in the mobilisation of the agricultural sectors so that countries are able to produce more food and mitigate against food security. Once Africa can feed its population and has excess, it becomes insulated against food supply shocks, food demand shocks and food scarcity triggered by pandemics such as Covid-19.
In some instances, international trade may pose threats to local businesses including farmers. These smallholder farmers produce 80 percent of the food we consume. Nevertheless, it also helps to note that international trade uses the market forces to accelerate efficiency within markets through distribution and price stability of food and food related products.
Trade liberalisation through tariffs is part of the regulatory framework employed by AFCFTA to boost intra-Africa trade including agriculture.
However, the member states especially within the eight recognised regional economic committees, will have to increase their co-ordination around the schedules of tariffs on food and related products.
AFCFTA has recommended 90 percent liberalisation on general tariffs, 7 percent on sensitive goods while 3 percent is totally excluded from trade liberalisation tariff schedules.
The AFCFTA has been largely influenced by WTO, which notes that in the absence of proper co-ordination among regional economic communities serious challenges may emerge as countries opt to have food commodities listed in the 3 percent schedule of sensitive goods in an effort to mitigate against food shortages.
In addition, WTO research reveals that when trade tariffs on goods are removed as barriers to trade, non-tariff barriers to trade begin to emerge, replacing trade tariffs.
The non-tariff measures are important in safeguarding the health of the consumers but they impede trade at the same time if they go unchecked.
These non-tariff mechanisms may have negative impact on food products being traded within the regional economic communities.
The AFCFTA has to effectively ensure that co-ordination within the RECs takes place and agro–industrialisation in Africa achieves the projected US$1trillion by 2025.
This agro–based channel will create an upper middle-income class through expanded agro-based value chains that will not only create jobs but stop importation of food as well.
Food security with its attendant complexities is crucial for the survival of any country. Covid-19 exposed the intricacies associated with food importation.
The dynamics associated with food such as nutrition, availability, storage and logistics calls for proper co-ordination among the African countries.
Africa is also facing the outbreak of locusts and floods that will destroy crops further heightening food insecurity.
In order for the AFCFTA to be able to overcome the challenges and meet Africa’s growing food demand, it will need input from governments, developmental partners, and private sector to achieve a favourable position on food security. Africa is endowed with more than 50 percent of arable land and not withstanding climate change, she can feed herself.–herald.cl.zw