The real engines of Africa s economies
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Lopes D' Almeida, Gisele. 2002. The real engines of Africa?s economies. Spore 97. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The engine behind Africa s economic potential is the food processing sector, and it is of fundamental importance to strengthen it, give it breathing space and accord it its proper strategic role.When we set up the Interface network it was precisely...
The engine behind Africa s economic potential is the food processing sector, and it is of fundamental importance to strengthen it, give it breathing space and accord it its proper strategic role. When we set up the Interface network it was precisely to respond to the problems that the sector was experiencing in the face of the impact of globalisation on the economies of sub-Saharan Africa. It has grown into a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences for sector professionals, and it currently covers thirteen countries in West Africa, ranging from Mauritania to Nigeria, including the western Sahelian countries. It is gradually growing in the countries of central, eastern and southern Africa, and we hope that it will finally become a genuinely pan-African organisation. Its core and its foundation will always be the knowledge and savoir-faire of those African entrepreneurs who are working away in the regional and international trade of agricultural produce, and fishery, livestock and forestry products, whether raw or processed. It is all up to us In our sector, we have become used to seeing a lot of initiatives being developed to promote trade of our food products. They often include the participation of agencies from outside, and they are all, course, more than welcome, just as long as they meet the concrete needs of our entrepreneurs. The fact is that we have to get used to living in the context of globalisation and the liberalisation of world markets. This means that African food products have to compete with European food products which are often heavily subsidised and promoted even in our own domestic markets. Quite honestly, it is hardly imaginable that a donor agency would seriously back small- and medium-scale African enterprises to market their products in direct competition with their own country s. This is, then, a struggle which we shall have to lead and win on our own. Hence our concern in Interface to examine the opportunities which globalisation could hold in store for us, rather than finding ourselves on the wrong side of an unequal competition with European products. Here we have to be more inventive and more creative in finding viable niches in the international market place. Secondly, we have to devote more attention to developing our local, sub-regional and regional markets. We know from experience that they can be developed profitably, and we can improve their performance by having better access to key information, such as product supply and prices. Biotechnologies Finding and keeping niches on the international market, however, supposes that there is an added value to our local resources. Yet we can only really achieve this if we too can benefit from scientific progress and technology innovations in the area of biotechnologies. We can also take firmer control over our own production, in terms of quality and quantity, if we improve our post-harvest techniques; these will enable producers in each region to fully exploit their own specific advantages. Similarly, if we are able to manage our production in response to demand, then we should be in a position to organise entire production and delivery chains by sector, to minimise post-harvest losses, to position ourselves clearly in the market and to offer consumers products and labels of quality which they will know and appreciate. One of our prime concerns is to see biotechnologies being used to add value to our traditional and indigenous food products. In this regard, if we are indeed to believe that the goal of the consultative group on international agricultural research is really to eliminate poverty, then it is surely here that it has much to do. If not, then this slogan will remain just as a dream for a long time yet. Surely it is essential to recognise the leading role that must be played by the private sector in Africa in the economic development of the continent, and in particular by small- and medium-scale enterprises. They have to be found a special place in decision-making bodies if they are to play their part as the motor of development to the utmost. We may well be a network of the agri-food entrepreneur but we fully recognise our societal role. Indeed, one of the major policy thrusts of Interface is 'to build beyond food security and to improve environmental management, nutritional standards, public health and the general well-being of African communities in the context of the struggle against hunger and poverty.' Our success in this will depend on the initiatives of entrepreneurs themselves, and on their own ability to locate and obtain the resources they reckon they need. In this, there is a supportive role to be played by programmes which will the entrepreneurs to access information, technology, markets and finance. [caption to illustration] Gisèle Lopès D Almeida is a born-and- bred business woman, by profession and by training. A national of Cape Verde, she runs the Interface network from its base in Dakar, Senegal. Interface was launched five years ago in May 1997 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso as a network of African entrepreneurs in the food processing sector. You can contact the author of this Viewpoint at: Interface BP 7456, Médina Dakar, Sénégal. Fax: + 221 824 60 26 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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