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The challenges of fresh food logistics in Africa

The challenges of fresh food logistics in Africa

For most food products, the journey from farm to fork is a complex, multi-step process. The food we eat on a daily basis reaches us through intricate and deeply integrated supply chains, with products moving from producer to consumer via an interconnected network of processors, distributors, and retailers. Food logistics is crucial to overseeing the efficient forward flow of food along this supply chain. It encompasses the packaging, shipping, and delivery of food products downstream, essentially tying the entire chain together.

Poor logistics is symptomatic of supply chain mismanagement and underdevelopment. and can cause food loss, waste, and inefficiencies on a local and national scale. Typically, fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk experience the most losses. Fresh food’s limited shelf life and sensitivity to handling, transportation, and storage conditions necessitates efficient logistical systems to minimise spoilage and waste.

In Africa, poor infrastructure, lack of institutional support, and adverse environmental conditions hinders fresh food logistics across the continent. These obstacles create an array of problems that impact the efficiency and reliability of the African food supply chain.

This article discusses the challenges associated with fresh food logistics in Africa, focusing on the need for a secure and sustainable food supply. It emphasises the critical issues faced at local, national, and international levels and highlights the essential steps required to address these challenges effectively.

Importance of efficient fresh food logistics in Africa

Food safety and security are ongoing challenges in many African countries and are often exacerbated by poor supply chain management. Despite having over 30 million smallholder farms, abundant natural resources, and large areas of arable land, much of the continent still struggles to produce enough food to feed its population. According to the FAO, food loss and waste contributes heavily to this deficit, with almost 16% of food produced in Africa being lost before it reaches the consumer.

Unlike much of the developed world, Africa experiences the majority of its food loss and waste during the early and middle stages of its food supply chain, with comparatively less food wasted at the consumer level. This points to deficiencies in the supply chain and strongly implies that logistical processes are the weak link in Africa’s food system.

This is further supported by the fact that the World Bank’s 2023 Logistics Performance Index ranks several African countries among the worst in the world for logistics competence, customs management, infrastructure, and international shipments.

Poor food logistics in Africa not only results in reduced productivity and increased food loss but also impose a significant financial burden on consumers, with added costs related to logistics increasing the price of some goods traded within Africa by up to 75%.

Local fresh food logistics challenges

At a farm level, issues with fresh food logistics are widespread in Africa. The process of getting fresh food out of a farm and into the hands of downstream distributors and processors is hindered by poor market accessibility and limited infrastructure.

In remote rural areas, poor transport connectivity prevents many smallholder farmers from moving their products in a timely and safe manner, increasing the risk of damage and spoilage. Consequently, enhancing transport infrastructure to facilitate the end-to-end movement of goods would greatly reduce food loss. For instance, constructing roads and transportation links in remote areas would enable farmers to deliver their produce to larger markets before they spoil.

Modernising the vehicles themselves could also prove beneficial. Equipping farmers with refrigerated storage and vehicles would extend the perishability of fresh produce, as high temperatures are one of the primary causes of spoilage in the region. Cold chain logistics may prove difficult though, given the high cost and inconsistent supply of electricity in some parts of Africa.

National fresh food logistics challenges

Nationally, the main challenges in fresh food logistics stem from limited infrastructural investment and inadequate Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Long distance transport is often hampered by substandard road, rail, and freight systems. Meanwhile inadequate trade technology, poor demand forecasting, and limited ICT implementation frequently result in ineffective inventory management, logistical issues and further wastage. This is exacerbated by the lack of cold storage facilities.

International fresh food logistics challenges

At the international level, political instability and poor regulatory frameworks harm both international and intra-African trade. Overall, intra-African trade is lower than it’s European, North American, and Asian equivalents. This is largely due to market fragmentation, poor national relations, protectionist trade policies, regional conflicts, and regressive border policies. This combination of factors contributes to higher costs and reduced competitiveness of intra-African trade, ultimately stifling economic growth and regional integration.

African border controls are notoriously inefficient and prone to delays due to overly bureaucratic processes and border corruption, further limiting the development of effective supply chains. Consequently, the need for comprehensive policy reforms and infrastructure development is critical to improve intra-African trade and to integrate the continent more effectively into the global economy.

Supply chain optimisation

Fresh food logistics, particularly in developing regions, presents a multitude of challenges. These issues are multifaceted and can permeate food chains at both a rural and national level. Addressing these challenges requires a holistic approach, encompassing infrastructural development, policy reform, technological advancement, and capacity building.

At Farrelly Mitchell, we act as trusted partners to governments, multilaterals, NGO’s, and DFI’s looking to improve capacities, optimise processes, and build robust agrifood systems. We have a successful track record of projects in Africa, having supported policymakers in regulatory design, institutional development, and program development, as well as monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of these undertakings.

If you are looking to enhance your agricultural logistics and supply chain processes or require practical guidance and actionable advice, we can help. Contact our food and agribusiness experts today to enact true change and seize a brighter future.

Author

Nathan Davies

Regional Director (West Africa)
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