Experts in the food and nutrition subsector have declared that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) presents a viable opportunity for nutritious food dealer small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) to grow their business and affect Africa positively.
They collectively stated this at the launch of the Nutrition Conversations Africa webinar series with the theme ‘How nutritious food SMEs can leverage on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)’ convened by a communication and educative media company, Wandieville in partnership with a Swiss-based foundation, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
In his opening remarks, the executive director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Dr. Lawrence Haddad, averred that SMEs are essentially the backbone of most food systems in Africa, pointing out that AfCFTA which came into place on January 1, 2021 was a great opportunity for African SMEs especially those supplying nutritious foods because it offered a platform for them to grow and shape their food system in a way that is more equitable, sustainable and nutritious.
“They are certainly the source of most foods that are purchased by consumers in Africa especially those from lower- and middle-income groups. And they need support and opportunities to grow and shape their food system so they are much more sustainable, equitable and nutritious on the food systems that many European and North American countries have,” he said.
Haddad said the initial webinar under the platform addressed ways in which nutritious food SMEs could take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
In his remarks, the director, agriculture and agro-industry of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Martin Fregene, pointed out that SMEs in Africa failed to launch off efficiently or totally failed to launch fully due to challenges arising from financing, saying the bank through the agriculture and agro-industry directory had made it possible for African SMEs in the food and nutrition sector to access finances that would enable them to scale up their businesses and offer more efficient services to the consumers.
“We have three programmes that have come into effect as a result of the African Continental Free Trade agreement. One is the wholesale credit guarantee schemes which will see the AfDB guarantee up to 80 per cent pay back on financing for banks supporting SMEs in nutrition. Second is the Agribusiness Deal Room which will provide direct financial support to SMEs in agriculture and nutrition and third, we are working at financing cross border agricultural and nutritious food movement by financing the development of physical infrastructure and building food safety facilities in different African countries to allow easier movement of safe and nutritious foods without major challenges,” he added.
A statement by Wandieville project manager, Jane Ugochukwu, said in Africa, large populations are often vulnerable to the burden of malnutrition due to various contexts which must be factored in the conversation.
The commissioner for Agriculture, Kaduna State, Hajiya Halima Lawal added:“This is the right time to embark on this conversation. We do know that malnutrition occurs when people do not have the right food to eat or they maintain a diet that doesn’t provide them with the right nutrients, particularly in Africa because of our socio-economic and political factors, we are more vulnerable. Again, poverty is another factor that could affect the availability and affordability of these foods that ordinarily you would expect people to be able to access.”
Further highlighting the need for intra-continental learning,GAIN-Kenya country director, Leah Kaguara noted that “multisectoral approaches to developing policies that will aid our SMEs who provide 70 per cent of foods consumed in our households is important in our fight against malnutrition. Kenya for instance loses 373 billion shillings annually in her efforts to combat malnutrition which shows that this is a problem in the entire African continent. We need to share learnings, networks and linkages within our 55 African countries so that we can overcome this problem.”
“Demand generation must be accompanied by intentional awareness campaigns to the consumer, about the benefits of nutritious foods. “It is time for small and medium size enterprise (SMEs) to promote and raise the standard of our indigenous foods and products such that the consumers have a mindset change highlighted,” Uduak Igbeka, Africa regional manager, Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network (SBN) at GAIN said.