Trade Data Analysis

Africa’s food trade: overview

Africa’s food trade: overview

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Due to population growth, rapid urbanization and changes in dietary patterns, there is fast-growing demand for agricultural products in global markets and in developing countries. Even though the African continent has vast agricultural potential, we have witnessed over the past three decades a rise in food imports.

This has raised the concern over Africa’s ability to afford its food bill and ensure food security in the continent, while at the same time aiming to eradicate poverty. Poverty reduction strategies that have been reviewed before show that agriculture does deliver more poverty reduction than other sectors, especially in the lower-income countries (Africa included), because it has strong links with other sectors and because poor people participate more in growth from agriculture than in growth from other sector.

Thus, the role of agriculture in poverty reduction in Africa cannot be over-emphasised as demonstrated by African government’s willingness to promote the sector through their commitments to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which aims to boost investment to stimulate growth in the agricultural sector.

Using data mainly for the period 2012-2016, this report seeks to provide an overview of Africa’s food-trade. This is achieved by using trade data from the United Nations (UN) International Trade Centre (ITC) TradeMap database.

Food products in this report include edible products including fisheries classified under agricultural products in the harmonised system (HS) classification of commodities (HS01-HS22) with exception of HS06 (Live trees, plants, bulbs, roots, cut flowers etc).

The Big Picture

Africa has the potential to feed itself as well as export surplus food to the rest of world, however, this has not been happening. Part of the problem is attributed to technical, infrastructural and institutional constraints that bog the Continent. Furthermore, trade distortions arising from (both internal and external) economic and agricultural policies (especially the protection and subsidies from developed countries and taxation on food production within Africa) have affected food productivity, production and trade in Africa.

Trade data over the review period 2012-2016 reveal that on average Africa’s food trade deficit was around US$30 billion annually. However, we note that while exports have remained largely unchanged over the review period, imports have been on the decline, from a high of US$ 83 billion in 2012 down to US$ 65 billion in 2016 representing a 6% decline using compound annual growth rate (CAGR). If current predictions according to analysts hold, the import bill is expected to rise to US$ 110 billion annually by 2025.

Looking at the global food trade, Africa’s imports and exports are only a small fraction of the world total food trade. Over the review period 2012-2016, African food imports and exports each represented on average about 6% and 4% of the world’s food imports and exports, respectively.


Africa’s food trade: Trade data overview | September 2017 - Author(s): Taku Fundira
Africa’s food trade: Trade data spreadsheet | September 2017 - Author(s): Taku Fundira
Africa’s food trade: Infographic | September 2017 - Author(s): Taku Fundira

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