This is an assault course not a supply chain

Benin produced 600 metric tonnes of food in 2008; 200,000 less in 2007 and 1 million less in 2005. And yet, as Jean Prosper Koyo, UN Food & Agriculture Representative in Benin points out: “Everyone is focussed on production but there is so much else that needs to be reformed.” They say you can’t buy what you can’t see and, you can’t see or buy any product if the physical route to market doesn’t exist or, has been damaged by the elements or war. 

In the case of Benin; 42 out of 77 communes lack market worthy roads, many of them simply unusable during the rainy season. In fact, the National Food Security Plan (2008) noted that the majority of Benin’s Agricultural Production areas become inaccessble. For this reason, US$ 2 billion has been allocated in 2008 for remedial action on 2000 kms of rural pathways.

The message is clear and has a resonance elsewhere in the developing world. Improving yield is key but connectivity to markets is crucial. For example, in India, it is claimed that up to 40% of fruit and vegetables rot on their way to market due to a whole raft of inefficiencies. In the case of Benin the knock on effect can be linked to poor health amongst children: 40% of under 5s in 2006 had stunted growth and, 23% were underweight. With little chance of reaching the market, there is cash generated to improve diet.

The picture is bleak and it gets bleaker. After the assault course that is the reality of the route to market, the story gets worse at the market itself. The informal markets have poor exchange rates and the official ones don’t recognise the Nigerian currency from the neibouring state – which has petro surplus to spend. And the Government Agency responsible for setting prices , ONASA, has failed to factor in the global food price hikes on export markets since 2005.

As a well placed source commented: “This is not a supply chain; this is an assault course. And, with roads out of action, fruit and veg would have to be able to swim like fish to make the market.” There is frustration in these words but the point remains. Connectivity is needed if any of the improvements in yield are to reach the marketplace where money can be made and sustainable growth established.

Logistics, not yield, is the only way to transform the future.

Source: African Press International.  

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