By Kenneth Jukpor
Mr. Noel Kossonou is the Policy Facility Manager of West African Food Markets Programme. During the launch of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Trade Liberalization Scheme ‘ETLS’ handbook by Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) in collaboration with Borderless Alliance, he discussed withMMS Plus on several challenges limiting regional trade especially on food items. Kossonou also revealed some policies inhibiting the economic gains of agro-export in Nigeria, whilst he explains the crucial role of Nigeria in fostering regional trade. Enjoy it:
You mentioned earlier that Nigeria’s export ban on maize has affected the agro-export sector of the Nigerian economy and the West African sub region. Can you shed more light on this?
Nigeria is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Treaty within the African region. However, since 2007 we observed that Nigeria has placed a ban on the export of maize under its fiscal policy. This is contrary to the regional trade or regional integration that the members of states in the region hope to achieve.
Despite this ban, it has been observed that Nigerian traders have been taken these maize produce out of the country illegally. Farmers in Nigeria especially in the Northern region have continued export maize out of the country but if there was no ban the revenue earning from the product would be enormous while it would also provide jobs for Nigerian teeming youths. Hence, it is important that the necessary authorities look at this issue because it limits production of grains. If there is more production, there would be more trade across the region and the small farmers can plan to yearly increase his yield which would economically benefit him, his immediate family, the society and the nation at large. Therefore, we are seriously advocating the removal of that ban or the introduction of other ways that would encourage cross border trade of these food items.
Are there other policies that you think Nigeria should rejig?
Nigeria should be the beacon of trade facilitation in the continent. It should play the role as a trade facilitation champion in the region. Other nations in the continent expect Nigeria to play this role. As a Ghanaian, this is what I look up to Nigeria to do. The nation should be in the forefront tinkering strategies to enhance regional integration.
Intra-African trade remains minimal. What are the prospects of this trade? How can African nations improve it?
In 2016, intra-African exports made up 18 percent of total exports, compared to 59 and 69 percent for intra-Asia and intra-Europe exports, respectively. The figures for imports are similar. There have been slight improvements in the past 10 years, though, as the share of African countries’ exports within the continent have slightly increased but the share of imports, on the other hand, have remained stagnant, despite the increase in total import volume.
The prospects are enormous and intra-regional trade would definitely boost the economies of the nations in the continent. We must take strategic steps to trade among ourselves to develop our economies and create jobs for the youth. We cannot continue to rely on donor funding or aids to build our nations because we can do it ourselves. We have to stop patronizing other nations outside the continent for goods and services available in Africa. The trade restrictions and other bottlenecks must be eliminated. It would not be an immediate accomplishment but we can improve on this and gradually the trade within the continent would improve.
Today’s workshop on the launch of the ECOWAS ETLS handbook is a step in the right direction. It shows that member countries in the region already understand the importance of promoting cross border trade in the region and simplifying the processes.
Tell us about your organization?
The West Africa Food Markets (WAFM) Programme is a five-year programme being implemented by Palladium Group. The programme is funded by UKaid. After observing the vulnerability of the Sahel to food crises and recognizing the potential of regional trade through its effect on price stability and supply availability, the UK Government through its Department for International Development (DFID) developed the West Africa Food Markets (WAFM) Pilot Programme to tackle the causes of market failures in West Africa’s staple food markets.
The project supports businesses to launch innovative ventures that increase production, processing and marketing of staple crops through cross-border trade. It also provides grant funding to agribusinesses that have the potential to grow and create impact through scalable models and strong smallholder supplier networks across national and regional markets. We believe the success of food markets is tied to policy, regulatory and market realities. Therefore, our policy work seeks to engage with a wide range of key stakeholders to pursue realistic and much needed changes to the policy environment. By prioritizing the increased availability of staple foods across our four focus countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria) we are boosting purchasing power, regional trade and the resilience of farmers and people to hunger and malnutrition.
This initiative is expected to improve the trade of maize, millet, sorghum, cassava/gari in the Ghana – Burkina Faso and Niger – Nigeria corridors. The programme operates as a broker and facilitator in staple food markets, providing incentives and resources to support businesses in launching pro-poor innovations and to catalyze policy and regulatory reforms.
The ultimate beneficiaries are farmers and consumers in food-insecure regions of the Sahel in the target countries. They are expected to benefit in terms of increased availability of staple foods and purchasing power, as well as increased resilience to hunger and malnutrition during the regular hungry seasons and periodic shocks. The programme also contributes to DFID’s Sahel Disaster Resilience Strategy by improving the functioning of food markets in the Sahel in order to make food more affordable to poor people.
This phase is ending and the next phase would be to increase the number of value chain countries in the region.
There have been cases where agro-products for exports get damaged as a result of poor storage facilities at ports and border posts. How do we overcome this burden that has crippled many farmers?
The situation has improved in terms of facilities that aid agro-exports in the West African region. There have been several state-of-the-art joint border posts like the Seme-Krake joint border post. However, ECOWAS would have to take steps to provide the necessary storage facilities like coldrooms and other facilities if they weren’t provided. The member countries should also be encouraged to provide these facilities because having staple food damaged at the border isn’t the best. The private sector can also take up this opportunity to invest and partner with the government in Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) arrangement. The government is the enabler of businesses. The most important thing is for the government to ensure that the right policies are available and the private sector can take advantage to do more investments and create jobs.
Looking at the African Food Market, how would you rate the continent in terms of its ability to produce the food needed for consumption in the region?
Currently, when you look at some reports in the region like the Club du Sahel report, you would find that Cape Verde is having some food security issues. The situation is also similar in the North Eastern part of Niger, some parts of the Burkina faso and also in Northern part of Nigeria as a result of the insecurity created by the Boko Haram. There are several pockets of food insecurity in the region. However, Africa has the ecological advantage of producing more food in the region if there is no conflict and we mitigate the effects of climate change. The West African region should have food sufficiency. It should feed more, trade more and trade with the rest part of Africa and the other countries.
The most important thing is getting the right policies and the commitment of all members of ECOWAS to make sure that we move the sub-region and the whole Africa forward.
How prepared is the region to tap into the aspect of improving the value chain by processing agro-products before export?
Processing the food is very important. However, it also comes with a lot of requirements and standards. It should be part of a comprehensive approach to food production, processing and cross-border trade.