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Babagana Ahmadu of the African Union Commission

Working for change

Babagana Ahmadu, Director for Rural Economy and Agriculture for the African Union Commission, shares his thoughts on how Africa's smallscale livestock producers can capitalise on the global food price hikes, and ways to improve trade and animal health on the continent.

Crisis or opportunity?

As populations increase and incomes rise, the global demand for meat and milk is growing. But poor livestock keepers in the developing world will not necessarily benefit. Today, African countries contribute only two per cent to the global livestock trade, much of which is industrial production - this generally excludes small producers. A rethink of policies towards livestock production, disease management and control and trade is, I believe, central to achieving growth and poverty reduction in Africa.

The current global spike in food prices is extremely serious for Africa's poorest and most vulnerable people, particularly the landless, and those living in cities. They will be hardest hit by food price rises because they spend up to 90 per cent of their household income on food.

On the other hand, high prices should act as an incentive to increase production in Africa and farmers, including livestock keepers, who sell food into the market will benefit. Because most of the world's livestock production is produced from grain-fed animals, global prices of meat and milk are also rising and are set to stay high for the next 5-10 years. This is an opportunity for Africa: most livestock in the region are not reliant upon grain feeding but upon pastures and crop by-products. We therefore have the potential to supply quality products at competitive prices.

Changing the system

Through years of neglect and under-funding, the capacity of Africa's livestock support services - whether dealing with production, marketing or veterinary issues - is, by-and-large, woefully poor. This has to be reversed. We must ask, What are the most appropriate investments? Clearly the old-style support services are inappropriate, but what makes sense today and who should pay?

There are several reasons why Africa's livestock sector has been held back. International standards governing the global livestock trade currently focus on the geographical origin of a product, and the disease status of that region. This favours developed countries that have removed significant livestock diseases (for example, foot-and-mouth). Countries or regions where these diseases are endemic have little chance of fully eradicating them in the near future, and have limited options for accessing lucrative international markets.

Raising the standard

With the disease control systems established in the colonial period, poorer producers were often left out of the picture, with most veterinary control and market development efforts focused on large-scale commercial farming zones. Today, such exclusions are neither politically acceptable, nor do they make economic sense. Bringing a wider group of producers into the market has multiple benefits - increasing rural growth, as well as reducing poverty.

A 'commodity-based' approach to international standards means focusing on the quality of each product and how it was produced, rather than where it originated. This would not undermine disease control and eradication measures, as countries would actually have greater incentives to strengthen veterinary services and improve disease control. We must also establish new approaches to product certification, which are accepted and trusted by trading partners.

Trade linkages

There is a need to open up markets regionally and globally to ensure livestock keepers can take advantage of high prices. We must improve our negotiating capacities, and form alliances for improving trade and changing standards at a sub-regional and Africa-wide level. The African Union can play an important role in this.

What Africa wants to ensure is that international standards are fair, that is science-based, safe and transparent. We want to see internationally-recognised animal health standards for trade in defined livestock products, sourced from healthy animals providing an appropriate level of protection. We believe that this will encourage investment in Africa's livestock sector, just as there has been considerable investment in the horticultural and fruit sectors.

Finally, we must be proactive in seeking out new global and regional markets, establishing new trade networks, evaluating market information, and working with importing countries. The growing markets of Asia, and indeed urban Africa, will be just as, if not more, important in the future than trade networks set up in the colonial era. If this is done, then huge potential could open up for Africa.

Date published: May 2008

 

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