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African farmers face difficult times after losing export market access

Millions of African farmers who grow fruits and vegetables for export have lost market access as flights are canceled and borders restricted.

April 17, 2020

3 Min Read
African farmers face difficult times after losing export market access

Millions of family farmers across Africa are facing economic devastation as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts exports and global food supply chains, according to a new report released by Selina Wamucii, a platform for food and agricultural produce from Africa’s agricultural cooperatives, farmers’ groups, agro-processors and other organizations that work directly with family farmers across 54 African countries.

According to John Oroko, chief executive officer of Selina Wamucii, intra-Africa trade is around 2%, while exports from Africa to the rest of the world range from 80% to 90% of total exports, a huge share of which is made up of agricultural produce.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately come at a time when our farmers depend largely on exports to markets outside the continent and also before the commencement of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that was scheduled to commence on July 1, 2020, thereby creating a single continental market of more than 1.3 billion people. Now, unlike no other time, we can see a demonstration of why the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area will be directly linked to securing the livelihoods of African farmers in the future,” Oroko said.

“COVID–19 is severely disrupting trade in key markets for Africa's agricultural produce, and African farmers are bound to experience a nightmare in export market access,” he continued.

African farmers are a relatively elderly demographic, and 70% of Africa’s food is currently produced by women, who are also primary caregivers across many of Africa’s rural regions. This means that a key segment of the farmers in the region is also at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Morocco tops the list of African countries whose agricultural exports face the highest risk, largely due to the country's over-reliance on the European market given its close proximity and well-established traditional trading ties. In 2018, Morocco's fresh fruits and vegetables (FFV), fish, seafood and cut flowers, worth $3.02 billion, were exported to the European Union, translating into more than 78% of the total $3.85 billion of those products exported by Morocco to the rest of the world in that year.

Kenya's agricultural exports also face a great risk mainly due to the over-reliance on fresh-cut flower exports, the bulk of which end up in the EU. Additionally, more than 50% of Kenya’s FFV exports and nuts go to the EU and China, which are markets that have already been shaken up. In 2018, FFV and nut exports from Kenya worth $223.11 million, out of the total $482.56 million exported, went to European markets.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers in Kenya and other East Africa countries were already suffering severe locust invasion, and now COVID-19 has worsened the situation. The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that a new wave of locust swarms is starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to farmer livelihoods, specifically in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. As a result, farmers are facing a double catastrophe from the impact of COVID-19 and the locusts at the same time -- a combination that will negatively affect their farm yields.

While the agricultural production in South Africa has not been adversely affected by COVID-19, logistics and border restrictions are likely to affect South Africa's agricultural exports. The country has closed 35 land borders and two seaports. Coupled with the fact that the county also has prohibited crew changes in all of its ports amid a looming container shortage, the export volume is bound to go down, especially for fish, seafood and fresh vegetables.

Other African countries that will experience significant drops in the FFV, fish and seafood exports are, in order of the projected severity: Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, Uganda, Mauritania, Tanzania and Egypt.

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