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Accelerating agricultural transformation in Central Africa

November 18, 2015

A little more than one year after the African Union (AU) Malabo declaration on “accelerated agricultural growth and transformation for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods”, the spotlight is once again on Central Africa. And it is once again in Malabo that the CTA partners are meeting between 16 and 18 November 2015, at the invitation of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), for a regional conference on the theme “Promoting regional agricultural trade and value chains for 2025: Malabo speaks to Central Africa”. At a time when the Centre is establishing regional business plans in order to better respond to the needs of the ACP countries in terms of agricultural and rural development, this conference is part of a proactive, ambitious and concrete approach.

Central Africa: an incipient regional integration

Agriculture plays a key role in economic development in Central Africa, even if there are strong differences form one country to the next. Although in some countries in the sub-region, more than 60% of the population lives in rural areas, and the sector employs 50% of the population, the vast majority of Central African countries are heavily dependent on food imports for their food security. Production and processing weaknesses are the main causes of this shortfall, which regional trade integration could significantly improve. But there is also a lack of an effective strategy for adapting to climate change.

Regional economic integration is not non-existent, far from it, with two communities: the CEMAC (Central African Economic and Monetary Community) and the ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States), whose actions are sometimes more juxtaposed than complementary. The CEMAC, which brings together six countries (Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and Chad), is the oldest. It established a free trade area in 1994, with a customs union and a Common External Tariff (CET). For its part, the ECCAS brings together nine countries (Angola, Burundi, Cameroun, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, and Chad), with a free trade area in place since 2004, without any customs union, but a common agricultural policy since October 2014. A Regional Agricultural Investment and Food Security Programme (PRIASAN) has also been developed in the context of the CAADP/NEPAD process.

Despite these institutions and programmes, intra-regional trade is currently negligible: less than 2% in 2010. The trading partners of the Central African countries are above all the EU (32% of the region's trade), the United States (23%) and, increasingly, the emerging economies (including China, with 16%).

Better targeted interventions

“Strengthening food and nutritional security by promoting inclusive and climate-smart value chains and promoting intra-regional trade”, that is the objective of CTA’s regional business plan (RBP) for Central Africa, which defined 6 regional business plans at the beginning of 2015 (West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, Caribbean and Pacific), with three cross-cutting priorities : supporting the development of agribusinesses in the ACP countries; promoting the development and adoption of climate-smart agriculture; and strengthening links between nutrition and agriculture. The objective of CTA’s RBPs is to create synergies and facilitate closer interactions with its partners, while supporting its actions in a targeted way, at regional level. 

In Central Africa, the fact is that there are still many obstacles to the development of intra-regional trade despite the fact that the region, at the crossroads of large and dynamic regional economic communities of Africa, namely the ECOWAS, the COMESA and the SADC, has great potential for intra-regional trade. Accordingly, one of the first actions to be implemented involves is to ensure that trade is better structured and strengthen inclusive value chains. For that, it is important in particular to support the regional value chains having the potential to structure regional trade (cereals, livestock and food crops), invest in innovative financing tools and information and communication technologies to improve market access.

Dialogue and exchanges at the forefront of the action

“Enhancing investment finance in agriculture” and “boosting intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services”, two of the commitments of the African Union Malabo Declaration, are the key themes of this event. Transforming agriculture, harmonising agriculture and trade policies, and developing value chains will take centre stage in the debates, which will bring together key public and private sector stakeholders involved in agricultural trade and the development of priority sectors in the region. Dialogue and exchanges are thus at the heart of the action, as a means of coordination, the core element of enhanced, sustainable integration.