The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement was signed by 44 African Union Member States at the historic summit of the African Union (AU) held in Kigali in March 2018. Thereafter, the number of signatories rapidly increased to 54 of the 55 AU Member States, representing a remarkable degree of consensus across the continent. Since then, ratification by 24 AU Member States resulted in the Agreement entering into force on 30th May 2019 and trading within the 33 AU Member States (As per December 2020) that had ratified the Agreement started officially on the 1st January 2021. It is believed that the arrangement will create a single African market of more than a billion consumers with a combined GDP of U$2.5 trillion.The AfCFTA creates a continental free trade area building on the relevant progress already achieved in various regions of Africa. Article 8 of the agreement states that
the Member States that belong to other Regional Economic Communities (RECs) which have already attained higher levels of elimination of customs duties and trade barriers shall maintain, and where possible improve upon, the higher level of trade liberalization among themselves.
In regard to agriculture, intra-African agricultural trade is particularly underexploited owing to high import tariffs, other non-tariff barriers (such as health and safety standards), low productivity, and a lack of rural connectivity. So, the AfCFTA is expected to among other solutions rectify this and encourage intra-African agricultural trade for food products and for inputs as raw materials in agro-industries. In this light, this study commissioned by the Panafrican Farmers Organization (PAFO) articulates on how best to position African Farmers Organizations (FOs) networks in the context of the AfCFTA. The focus of the study is to assess the extent of involvement by the African FOs in the negotiations process and how best to build the capacities to fully participate in the implementation of the AfCFTA for the benefit of the African farmers in particular.
Agriculture forms a significant portion of the economies of all African countries and as a sector it contributes towards major continental priorities, such as eradicating poverty and hunger, boosting intra-Africa trade and investments, rapid industrialization and economic diversification, sustainable resource and environmental management, creating jobs, human security and shared prosperity. In many African countries, agriculture is the predominant sector of the economy, accounting on average for 25% of SSA’s GDP and well above this level for many countries. Given the important role of agriculture in SSA’s economies and its position as the largest employer, it is and should indeed be central to the transformation it deserves. The AfCFTA has the potential to contribute towards agricultural transformation through increased interactions of African farmers, wider market for both farm inputs and
agricultural products and unified efforts to improve value chains across the continent. The role of African Farmers Organizations (FOs) is and will continue to be critical in supporting farmers in the context of the AfCFTA. As the whole African continent works towards ensuring that the single African market created by the AfCFTA truly works for all Africans, the African FOs have the mandate to support African farmers and thus have to be positioned rightly to play their role. Though most farmers are not in the business of ‘trading’ but rather in the business of ‘producing’, their products ‘agricultural produce’ are the essential products for agri-business trade thus they need to be supported to be part of the “value/ supply chains”.
This requires sensitization campaigns to increase the level of awareness, training (capacity building) to ensure appropriate level of understanding, advocacy for removal of any barriers and mobilizing all the needed support. It is important to note that, though the AfCFTA is a trade agreement in general terms, there are some specific provisions that will directly affect agriculture. Agricultural products is part of intra-African trade that will among others be directly affected by the AfCFA implementation through the elimination or reduction of tariffs, duties and other financial charges. The African Union (AU) has even noted that an important potential benefit of the CFTA is increased food security through the reductionof barriers to trade in agricultural products among African countries. Clearly, the CFTA is likelyto affect patterns of agriculture production and trade within Africa. This is because intra-African agricultural trade tends to experience higher levels of protection than trade for other sectors. In this light, the AfCFTA specific provisions that will directly agricultural and agribusiness in Africa include the following;
i) Elimination or reduction of quantitative restrictions
ii) Rules on non-tariff barriers (NTBs)
iii) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs)
iv) Inbuilt measures to offset adverse impacts of liberalization (Exclusion lists, Trade remedies and safeguards and Trade facilitation)
In regard to the perceptions by Regional Farmers Organizations’ (RFOs), the knowledge is more at the top levels than the lower levels. Across the continent, it is widely recognized that the knowledge and awareness on the AfCFTA is more accessed by the high level representatives of the African farmers in their respective organizations but not by the farmers themselves and thus the need to ensure the awareness reaches even the grassroots level farmers and relevant players. According to the representatives of PAFO’s members’ network in all the five (5) regions of the continent, the awareness is more at the top and much more needs to be done to take it to the grassroots level as well.
All in all, the general perception by the RFOs is pessimistic with an appreciation that the AfCFTA presents opportunities for all Africans including African farmers. They are also quick to add that for the farmers to fully benefit from related opportunities, there is a need to increase awareness and even go beyond to facilitate deeper understanding which facilitates the farmers to go beyond their traditional role of just producing to participating in the agribusiness eco system and positioning themselves the supply/ value chains. This requires intensive and extensive awareness, training and capacity building programs.
Given the significant contribution of the agricultural sector to the African economy and the important role played by the farmers on the continent, there is a need to mobilize support for the African Framers for the full participation in the AfCFTA by implementing the following recommendations;
i. Implementing the recommendations of African RFOs
ii. Continued advocacy on key policy issues
iii. Strengthening farmer’s organizations across the African continent
iv. Designing a specific support program
v. Targeted/ specific support to PAFO
vi.Linking family farmers to markets and relevant value chains
vii. Engaging and coordinating relevant partners and stakeholders
viii.Strengthening the PAFO-AUC partnership
ix. Utilizing the AfCFTA to promote food security and enhance agribusiness
In an effort to implement the proposed recommendations, the following five (5) Strategic Interventions will be considered to facilitate the delivery of the relevant support to the African farmers through their respective FOs for effective participation and to benefit in the context of the AfCFTA, namely:
i) Enhancing research on key relevant issues to ensure evidence based advocacy on relevant matters affecting farmers on the African Continent.
ii) Strengthening the institutional capacities of African FOs at various levels.
iii) Strengthening partnership between the African Union Commission (AUC) and PAFO.
iv) Building more partnerships and alliances with various organizations across the continent with relevant missions.
v) Supporting African FOs to be involved in the AfCFTA process through awareness campaigns and capacity building programs.