Food Quality - the missing bit in Africa's $1 trillion food industry opportunity
Africa has lately shown itself as an economic powerhouse being the home to 4 of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world with Ethiopia and Rwanda taking the top 2 leads globally. The four countries in this list including Ivory Coast and Tanzania are economies largely reliant on Agricultural contribution to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the main economic activity for the larger population. Agriculture is undoubtedly a fundamental pillar to Africa’s future. In fact, the World Bank estimates that Africa´s food market could hit $1 trillion by 2030. Considering that the continent has most of the world’s arable land and more than half of its population is employed in the sector, with a little support Africa's agricultural sector is at the verge of a revolution. Despite the potential, Africa is still producing too little quality food to even feed its population alone at the moment.
Food Quality and Africa's Challenges
While the continent is still in a battle to solve some of its problems like poverty, Agriculture has proven to be a perfect solution and a long time focus for most of the governments and agencies fighting this. The bottom-line solution to the problem has been proven to be highly dependent on the food quality. And in a continent faced with such challenges like climate change that threatens the future of agriculture while the governments are not positioned to battle it in the near future, the need to start thinking about the quality, sustainability and safety is fundamental.
Food safety and quality is not only necessary for better public health in the fight to such challenges as poverty but also enhanced competitiveness of foodstuff on the market. Most of Africa´s produced food is locally consumed while another huge percentage is also exported within the region and outside. Locally, in the need to promote a healthy nation, there is going to be need of initiatives to promote value addition and reinvent the supply chains in the product process. This calls for the need to highly consider the quality of the locally produced foods as well as its safety to bridge the arrival at the $1 trillion potential.
The scope of the local market
In several African countries, subsistence farming is part of the culture that is coupled with food street vending.
This in many cases has caused challenges and continue to pose threat to the health of the people and while regulation of such contexts as subsistence farming and street vending could be an impossible task for the government, it is necessary to consider this part of the driving factor towards achieving the one trillion market potential of the food industry in Africa. It could be the moment for the African governments to convert these informal economies into revenue-generating set ups to start implementing mechanisms that promote safe and quality food even in the streets. In reality, when a country provides safe and nutritious food to its local markets, it ensures growth and health that reflects prosperity in the economy.
All countries in Africa have food safety standards. They however all range from very few and rudimentary standards to antiquated standards developed during colonial times to more modern standards reflecting the spirit of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). (Leake, 2015) But just like many other countries, regardless of the level of the food safety laws, they still face challenges of their own. Some countries like Kenya have well established and strict Food quality and safety laws but that has not hindered numerous instances of fraud especially in the retail sector. Just in the current year, there have been several reports of contamination and adulteration by unscrupulous value chain actors, with the most shocking being addition of formalin, a chemical that is typically used in mortuaries as reported by the Standard Media Group. The regulatory bodies are determined to ensuring safety standards but still face challenges like poor coordination and inadequate personnel and laboratory testing capacity.
The same challenge that is replicated in many other African countries could be a huge barrier to meeting the multi billion dollar potential. When some products that do not meet the safety and quality requirements still find their way into the market and into the consumer´s hands, it gets there following the incorrect channel reflecting the loss in the value and target.
The International Focus
African agricultural produce and food is loved all over the world. From coffee, tea, flowers, fruits and even vegetables. This a huge part of the national GDP in most countries. Given the strict international standard requirements in most of these export countries, the producers and the exporting countries are expected and required to meet the standards to the letter. This has pushed many governments to monitor this closely as it doesn't just affect the exporting companies, but the countries could be banned from ever exporting the same products or many others in the same countries or the whole region. This has been such a perfect boost to the African agricultural economy.
This process has gone beyond just a regulation but just like it is internationally, a matter of conscience, need and competition among the producers to meet the same standards even without push. Thanks to such initiatives and global certifications like the Global GAP, ISO 22000, Rainforest Alliance and IFS just to mention a few that do not just obligate the producers to comply with set international standards but also assure consumer welfare. This has ensured increased international demand - what has been a huge gain to the African countries.
This however is not the case with all the African countries with the potential or interest to export. Not all food industrial companies in these countries are able to follow demands highlighted by international bodies. Many of these nations in the developing world do not have the resources to participate in international trade because of the difficulties in complying with the requirements of the food safety standards. The underlying reasons for this are outdated laws, lack of knowledge in terms of limited coordination between organizations handling food safety issues, under-funding of national research institutes and lack of awareness for standards and quality. (Rahmat et al. 2016) In some cases, some of these countries do not have updated and enough food testing and quality assessment laboratories. Other companies that bridge the need for international testing have also not seen the potential in these countries and they are left without options but just not to export. This has and will continue to hurt Africa's potential to reach the trillion-dollar target by 2030.
Africa's agricultural potential is huge. Despite the challenges these countries face, there is a need to redefine the food market both locally and internationally. With a continuous demand and increase in Africa's export and import both regionally and internationally, food quality assessment and safety should get a huge priority. The governments need to start equipping themselves with the updated requirements and provide the necessary support to both local and international companies supporting the need to ensure safe and quality. This will in turn positively contribute to their individual economies and highly accelerate the trillion-dollar potential and even beyond.
The World Bank. (2013, March 4). Africa’s Food Markets Could Create One Trillion Dollar Opportunity by 2030 [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/03/04/africas-food-markets-could-create-one-trillion-dollar-opportunity-2030
Linda L. Leake, MS (2015, February 20). Food Safety in Africa. Article published by Food Quality and Safety. Retrieved from https://www.foodqualityandsafety.com/article/out-of-africa/2/?singlepage=1
Suharni Rahmata, Chew Boon Cheong, Mohd Syaiful Rizal Bin Abd Hamid. (2016). Challenges of Developing Countries in Complying Quality and Enhancing Standards in Food Industries. Challenges and Innovation in Management and Entrepreneurship. Volume 224, pgs 445