KAMPALA – In my village Mombokolo, endowed with good climate and fertile non-fragmented arable land, lives a vegetable farmer named Bosco. At the peak of the seasons in May and December, Bosco’s fields are ripe for harvest. Every passerby is openmouthed struck by the beauty of the field’s vegetables comparable, if they were human, to the beauty of the mythical Greek goddess Demeter. They wish to spend their savings knotted in pieces of cloth to transform this splendor to a fine meal on the hearth in their round wattle huts. On the reaping days, Bosco enlists energies of laborers from my village and the three neighboring villages who he mobilizes with his mobile phone. These laborers swing their sheaths with zeal till the sun goes down as they sing the coda and chant colloquys about Bosco’s harvest and how their savings must make a purchase. After harvest, Bosco reserves a full pickup truck for buyers in my village. He sells other ten pickup trucks of vegetables to my three neighboring villages which he distributes using his vehicle through the good feeder roads. The people in my village and villages beyond are his potential customers who dial him to deliver produce whose tongue biting goodness they were made aware of during their working days at his farm. Bosco, using the income from his farm, buys maize flour, cassava from other farmers within and out of my village. Bosco has mastered the art of ‘village intra-trade’. He has utilised the peace, communication and transport systems, integrated markets of families within his territory; his own village and the union of villages and supported businesses of other farmers as a customer. With this ‘village intra-trade’, Bosco is able to sell ten out of eleven pickup tracks of harvest to neighboring villages which he wouldn’t have sold in my village alone due to perishability and abundant harvest. This is because Bosco has the quality, production and supply capacity to feed his own village and villages beyond yet tax free and without cumbersome custom formalities at the borders of the pacific neighboring villages.
I believe that African governments should be turned into Boscos to copy his ‘village intra-trade’ for a robust African intra-trade to realise Africa’s own agricultural potential. If all African states were Boscos, they would integrate through the African intra-trade mechanism into the global economy and insulate themselves from extra-continental dependency for agricultural supplies. According to the 2003 African Union Declaration on Democracy, political, economic and corporate governance, the most urgent challenges facing Africa are the “eradication of poverty and fostering socio economic development” which can be achieved through openness to international trade and investment. We must remember that the largely rural and undeveloped parts of Africa place agriculture at the forefront of any discussion on African development and growth. Agriculture employs over 60% of the labour force, consists at least 20% of merchandise exports and total GDP for Africa yet has unexploited potential of enabling Africa achieve more. This link between international trade, amidst the unexploited African agricultural market of over 1.2 billion people, and the backbone economic rating of agriculture in Africa gives credibility to the pursuit of mechanisms to stabilize Africa intra-trade to realise her agricultural potential through Africa-specific preferential trade and market strategies.
The success of the African intra-trade and conversion to the Bosco religion is hampered by cults of poor performance of regional blocs, less competitive quality standards than products from other markets such as global North, production and supply bottlenecks. African Intra-trade will be achieved through strengthening regional integration, infrastructural development and private sector integration.
Firstly, African intra-trade is vulnerable to weak regional integration orchestrated by laxity in implementing regional trade agreements by member states. This is due to conflicting country interests, lack of national capacity to implement regional trade policies and heterogeneity among member states in and about the benefits of integration. To implement the regional trade agreements, the member states will integrate the regional trade rules and the procedures of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) into national law which will be a basis for the fulfilment of the legal mandate by member states. Regional integration should not only focus on elimination of tariff barriers but should also adopt developmental regionalism to focus on improving production capacity, address tensions between demand and supply and secure the traditional benefits of regional integration. This should take the shape of deregulation to ease non-tariff barriers such as cumbersome custom formalities and export restrictions that orchestrate bureaucracy, corruption that makes it difficult to attract capital and increases the cost of exportation. Strong regional integration will open Africa’s agricultural potential since it easies the trade in perishable goods and reduces the cost of exportation due to proximity.
Secondly, poor infrastructure has caused inefficient transport, production, supply and service operations that encumber African intra-trade. African countries should allocate at least 10% and 5% of their budget to finance physical infrastructure and energy respectively. A Commission to the Inquiry of Transport Development Agency in Africa (CITDAA) and a Commission to the Inquiry of Energy Development Agency in Africa (CIEDAA) should be formed to study the transport and energy bottlenecks respectively and monitor the governments’ approach. Africa should exploit her energy potential through Hydro Electric Power generation and utilization of renewable energy. This energy should be efficient and cost effective enough to increase the share of manufacturing in the African intra-trade. This will transform agriculture from peasant to modern, develop value chains to improve competitiveness of agricultural produce in response to globalization and changing consumer preferences. Africa’s communication systems should be digitalized to ensure availability of agricultural product information on demand and supply. This can be achieved by reducing internet costs and facilitating phone penetration. Poor institutional infrastructure also hinders the success of the Africa intra-trade by facilitating the implementation gap. Africa must adopt human capital development approaches that incorporate entrepreneurship training for every career. This will improve the service sector that is vital in African Intra-trade of agricultural products, fix the implementation gap and improve innovation. Africa should found the Africa Entrepreneurship Education Forum (AEEF) to bolster the continent’s entrepreneurial potential which will boost ‘agripreneurship’ and unlock agricultural product trade and exportation.
Lastly, private sector integration is important in promoting Africa intra-trade. Through this ‘new division of labour’, the private sector will focus on economic growth and governments will focus on infrastructure development and creation of macro-economic stability. Private sector integration is challenged by the large informal sector especially in agriculture. Governments should ease the process and cost of getting permits especially those in the agricultural sector and ensure that women have access to no or low interest credit support to finance the formalization and growth of their agricultural ventures. This will solve illicit trade and improve cross border relations. To achieve a sustainable private sector integration, the agricultural startups of the youth who comprise 60% of Africa’s population should be supported and innovation ensured via the 4 E’s of Education, Engagement, Entrepreneurship to create Employment. This will improve competitiveness of agricultural products through quality and quantity in the African market.
The ‘bosco-lisation’ of Africa to harness her agricultural potential should consider agriculture as the spine of Africa’s economy but yet the quantity and quality do not meet the demand on the African market and the competitive nature of other agricultural products from other continents amid weak bargaining relations amongst African nations. Interventions should improve production, supply systems and trade relations by strengthening regional integration, improving infrastructure and private sector integration. If Africa believes in African intra-trade and that she is a food basket, deductions on truth will only be drawn from the competitive quantity, quality and share of her agricultural produce in the African trade.
The writer, Kansiime Onesmus is a global health corp with EGPAF.