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UK-Africa trade and investment: is it good for development?

Just ten days before Brexit is declared, the UK is hosting a major investment summit, attended by the PM, Boris Johnson and an array of royals. There is much hype about the event (check out, #UKAfricaSummit, #InvestinAfrica, for example), with hopeful, win-win-win rhetoric abounding, linked to forging new partnerships for a post-Brexit future. Ghana, it seems, is being given top treatment as a favoured destination, while despite being ‘open for business‘, Zimbabwe seems to have been snubbed.

UK aid policy these days is very much focused on promoting UK trade interests abroad. Whether DFID survives as a separate entity or gets incorporated into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will soon be known; but whatever happens, the UK government has adopted a global business promotion approach for UK firms, on the assumption that this will help meet the SDGs.

I have no objection to private sector investment and trade, but quite whether all such initiatives meet the criteria we assumed were central to UK aid policy is another matter. Indeed, questions have been raised about the allocation of funds to some quite dubious outfits. The linking of aid and trade of course has a history in Britain. Remember the Pergau dam controversy, when aid was used as a sweetener for a deal (in this case for arms)? This scandal of course led to the commitment to untie aid, a separate development department with a cabinet minister and an Act of Parliament specifying how aid must be spent. This consensus on aid since the mid 1990s however is under threat.

Trade and investment can of course help reduce poverty, promote women’s empowerment and be good for children’s rights, as the gloss from DFID suggests, but the opposite may be true too. There are many different business models – and so labour, environmental and rights regimes – with very different outcomes for ‘development’. We’ve been looking at some of these issues over the last few years across a number of projects (in fact all with DFID funding), and there are some important conclusions, relevant to the new UK government’s focus for aid.

The project, Land, Agriculture and Commercial Agriculture in Africa (led by PLAAS), compared three broad types of commercial agricultural investment. These were estates and plantations, medium-scale commercial farms and outgrower schemes. The team worked in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia and looked at each business model in each country, examining the outcomes for land, labour, livelihoods and so on. The cases included investments with some UK-linked companies, including the much-hyped Blue Skies company in Ghana, which packages and exports fruit produced by smallholder outgrowers. There is also the rather bizarre sugar outgrower scheme in Zambia, operated by Illovo, now largely owned by British Foods, whereby smallholders’ land is incorporated into an estate, and they are paid revenues for the use of land. The full set of publications was produced as a special Forum in the Journal of Peasant Studies, with an overview, and papers on Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.

Our findings showed that the ‘terms of incorporation’ into business arrangements really mattered. Too often estates/plantations operated as ‘enclaves’ separated from the local community, possibly providing employment opportunities, but frequently with poor conditions. Those investments that had substantial linkage effects included those with smallholder-led outgrower arrangements, where leverage over terms was effective. Meanwhile, consolidated medium scale farms potentially had positive spillover effects into neighbouring communities through labour, technology and skill sharing linkages.

A decade ago, at the height of Africa’s land rush, many such investments were deemed to be ‘land grabs’, but our work as part of the Future Agricultures Consortium argued for a more nuanced assessment of what works for who. Not all investments are bad, but not all are good either. Linking investment to the FAO’s ‘Voluntary Guidelines’ is essential, as this allows investors, governments and recipient communities to make balanced appraisals, avoiding investment riding roughshod over local land rights and livelihoods. Our review of the Guidelines for the LEGEND programme, highlights what is needed.

Another project, part of the Agricultural Policy in Africa (APRA) programme, has focused on agricultural investment corridors in Kenya (LAPSSET), Tanzania (SAGCOT) and Mozambique (Beira and Nacala). Alongside Chinese, Brazilian and other investors, UK investments are evident in all sites, notably through support from AgDevCo and UKAID in the Beira corridor (although many initiatives have been affected by Cyclone Idai during 2019).

Again, our findings highlight the design of corridor investments, and the importance of facilitating a ‘networked’ approach, with multiple linkages from the core investments (usually around infrastructure, large estates and mining) to the wider hinterland. Too often extractive ‘tunnel’ designs emerge, with limited impacts on wider development.

Our conclusions are reflected in AGRA’s excellent 2019 report produced by Tom Reardon and colleagues, focusing on the ‘hidden middle’. This argues that private sector investment that has the most impact is usually small, often informal, and deeply linked into local economies. Clusters are usually spontaneous, not planned as part of grand corridor or investment hub schemes. And when you look, the link between the vast number of smallholder producers and consumers is increasingly filled with many entrepreneurial private sector actors working in transport, processing, logistics and so on.

These private sector players are not ‘missing’, as is often assumed, but instead ‘hidden’ from view. The focus on ‘investment’ and ‘private sector’ (as in the trade summit) usually emphasises large, formal operations, branded as UK plc. But it is the smaller, local outfits that are driving change in African agricultural value chains, and in need of support and investment. Will the focus of the UK Africa investment summit be on supporting such smaller initiatives with the real potential for transformation, and developmental gains? From what I have seen, I somehow doubt it.

As the UK scrambles to compensate for the errors of committing to Brexit, holding the UK government to account in respect of its aid spend focused on support UK-led investment in Africa will be crucial, lest business imperatives override development goals, and larger UK investors get the upper hand, crowding out (hidden) local alternatives.

Investing is certainly possible in ways where the ‘terms of incorporation’ for local people and the ‘linkage effects’ for local economies are positive, and where land rights are protected in line with internationally-agreed guidelines. But it does require a sophisticated approach that goes beyond the promotional gloss and the hype of international trade fairs.

There’s plenty of good research on the implications of trade and investment on development in Africa, including that commissioned by DFID. Let’s hope the arm of the UK government that is promoting trade and hosting presidents from across Africa in London this week makes use of it.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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What will Brexit mean for Africa?

June 23rd saw the UK vote for Brexit. A populist rebellion was provoked by an internal dispute in the Tory party, and chaos has been unleashed. We don’t know the full consequences yet, but it’s not going to be good.

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Commentaries before the vote speculated on implications. First there’s trade. The UK is an important trading partner with Africa, and deals with the EU govern much of this. Only this month an EU Economic Partnership Agreement was agreed with the Southern African Development Community, allowing free trade access to Europe for some countries. Now all these arrangements have to be renegotiated bilaterally through the World Trade Organisation, and its 161 members. It will be a slow and costly readjustment, creating much uncertainty. Baffled by this madness, Chinese official commentary put in nicely: Britons were “showing a losing mindset” and becoming “citizens of a nation that prefers to shut itself from the outside world”.

Then there is aid. The UK has been a substantial contributor to the EU aid programme, providing 2 billion euros, including 14.8% of the European Development Fund. While I would be the first to admit that not all of this was effective or efficient, it does allow a broader mandate than the increasingly narrow focus of the UK aid spend. And the UK influence on the portfolio has always been important.

But perhaps more important than the flows of cash is the influence of the UK on European development debates. Whether the UK government or NGOs, think tanks or research institutes, adding to the discussion about, for example, the impact of EU domestic farm subsidies on African agriculture, or providing input into the framing of development efforts, has been really important. This has been particularly so since the establishment of the UK Department of International Development in 1997 and the G8 Gleneagles agreement in 2005, and a commitment – amazingly across governments of different political hues – to a progressive aid agenda, particularly in Africa. This role in European positioning globally will be much missed.

The Brexit campaigners argued for ‘taking back control’ of aid and trade. But in a globalised world, this small island mentality is absurd. Britain thankfully no longer rules the waves, nor has vast swathes of the globe as colonies under its control. But sometimes the rhetoric suggests we do – or should do. This is of course naïve and arrogant, and betrays an extraordinary lack of understanding of contemporary global political economy.

The UK’s diplomatic ‘soft power’ has been often exercised most successfully through the EU, as part of a joint commitment to change – whether around issues of conflict, migration or development. This allowed a common voice, and a more measured position. This was certainly the case in Zimbabwe. With, until recently, serial failures of UK diplomacy, the EU has provided a useful bridge and a more effective approach to engagement, through a succession of EU ambassadors to the country, who did not carry the colonial baggage of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This will be sorely missed, and not only in Zimbabwe.

The UK voters who pushed for Brexit were worried about jobs, livelihoods and immigration. Those who will lead the country as result do not have these concerns at the centre of their agenda. They have a vision of free trade and further economic liberalisation: exactly the processes that will undermine yet further the poor and marginalised who voted to leave. This is the tragic contradiction of the ‘democratic’ result, and will lead to more strife into the future.

A cross-party and sustained commitment to internationalism, social democratic freedoms, human rights and inclusive global development, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, may not survive this sea-change in political fortunes in the UK. The racist slogans and posters and the narrow nationalism that dominated the campaign reveal an uglier side to British (perhaps English) politics; most shockingly shown in the political murder of MP Jo Cox – a passionate campaigner for more progressive views on social justice and development.

Who takes over in the UK following the resignation of the PM, David Cameron, really matters. Not just in the UK, but in Africa too. At the last election in 2015, I argued on this blog that we should “be scared, very scared” about the prospect of a shift at the top of the Tory party. Now this is certain, everyone should be very worried indeed. We don’t yet even know the candidates, but the political opportunist Boris Johnson is at the head of the race.

Johnson’s attitudes to Africa can only be described as backward and colonial. His slur on Barack Obama revealed much. His tales of his holiday in Tanzania frame Africa as a last wilderness, threatened by growing African populations, and could have come from a colonial explorer from the nineteenth century. His rants on Zimbabwe betray a shallow understanding of history and politics, and as one commentator described it, an “obnoxious and overbearing British imperialist mentality”. His close links with a certain section of the UK political elite (many in the House of Lords), who have consistently prevented a sensible debate on Britain’s relationship with Zimbabwe, show his political prejudices. It is not good news.

With the pound collapsing, remittances to Zimbabwe will be more expensive for the diaspora, and the prospects of investment will decline. The chaos in the global markets provoked by this crazy populism will take time to stabilise, and will affect the poorest more than the rich. And the nasty side of British politics, rejecting a progressive internationalism, will undermine the UK’s standing in the world. We all will be poorer because of Brexit, including in Africa.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Abbatoirs and the Zimbabwe meat trade

Continuing the blog series on meat and livestock, this week I am going to focus on abbatoirs and the meat trade, again drawing on our work in Masvingo. Just as we have seen with the retail and production ends of the value chain, the ‘middlemen’ who source animals, slaughter then and supply butcheries have also been changing.

In the past the Masvingo trade was dominated by a narrow group of abbatoirs – essentially Carswell and Montana, together with the CSC (Cold Storage Company). They were organised around an external trade, mostly to Harare. With the CSC now effectively defunct, the big two remain, and continue to have a healthy trade in the province. Still around 90% of their meat ends up in Harare, although Montana has a number of shops and butcheries elsewhere. Both have networks of buyers who work across the rural areas, sourcing animals which are then transported to the Masvingo-based abbatoirs. They both rent farms near town to act as holding and fattening areas, so as to assure even supplies and higher value. Several thousand head are held on farms near Masvingo at any one time, involving paying grazing fees of $3-5 per beast per month. With the decline in beef production in the Highveld following land reform, assuring supplies from Masvingo is essential.

Local producers however complain about the prices at these two abbatoirs, plus the fact neither pay for the ‘fifth quarter’ (offal etc.), yet this is sold on. In recent years some other abbatoirs have sprung up serving a different market. In Masvingo there are currently three, each reflecting differences in the customer base.

Kismet is linked to a farm and so has direct access to animals. In addition the owners buy at auctions in Mwenezi, Bikita and elsewhere. They have restaurant and butchery in town, and so have a fairly well organised and vertically integrated business. They offer service slaughter, but most people currently prefer Gonyohori abbatoir. Farmers come to abbatoir for service slaughter, and the abbatoir has very good links with butcheries in town. Mr Machingambi says: “I link producers and buyers at this abbatoir”. Although there is no refrigerator, butchers know when meat is available and around 5 beasts are slaughtered each day. Nearly all the meat is economy grade. As Mrs Foroma explained “Meat is meat” in the market she supplies to, and Gonyohori supplies is efficiently and complying with safety standards. The only other abbatoir, Tafira, has gone downhill recently, and used to be the favoured place for service slaughter. The links with the butchery and restaurant trade are not so well developed, although on relative has a butchery in Zvishavane.

The other option is to buy from ‘under the tree’ pole slaughtering sites. Most butcheries do not prefer this because of the health risks, but some argue that as long as the meat is fresh, it is fine, and much cheaper. A number of people operate such sites, although they are constantly being closed down by the municipal health authorities.

Another option is to buy from meat traders who purchase animals, have it slaughtered and sell it on. Again there are complaints about health standards, but the supply is regular and efficient. Mr C explained his business: “I entered the business of meat trading through bartering scotch carts for oxen. I make good carts, and there is a demand. I now buy cattle from those who urgently need to sell” He sources from Mushandike and surrounding areas, and moves them in his 1.5 tonne truck. He rents space in a shop and distributes to butcheries after slaughter. “I regularly supply butcheries. I’m now a petrol attendant, so everyone knows where to find me”, he explained.

Others have entered the trade, finding it lucrative. A group of veterinarians in the district office for example buy up heifers and barter them for oxen or cows who no longer produce milk. They leave heifers with local farmers they trust and exchange across the district. They can also buy for cash. Animals are then slaughtered in town either for cash, or as part of advance deals with butcheries and restaurants. The syndicate buys up to 5-6 cattle per month, and given their expert knowledge and access to farmers they make a good profit to supplement their meagre government salaries.

Finally, there are ‘beef committees’ operating across the rural areas where single animals are bought by a group, usually of civil servants resident in the rural areas. Teachers, police, extension workers and others may be members. This allows a supply of meat which by-passes butcheries and supermarkets, allowing premium deals to be struck.

All such transactions are expected to be regulated, often by multiple authorities. This can sometimes cause confusion and cost. The police have to be involved for any transport of meat or live animals, as a way of preventing stock theft. The veterinary department too must provide certificates for movement, to avoid disease spread. And slaughter places are supposed to be regulated by the health authorities, particularly in urban, municipal areas. Farmers, traders, butchers and abbatoir owners complain that this plethora of regulations, and the involvement of so many different people can be a problem. If someone arrives late or not at all a deal may be lost, or meat may be left unrefrigerated for a long time. Sometimes transport is provided to the relevant people to facilitate the process, but the right people have to turn up with the right forms at the right time. Sometimes too the process is smoothed by a bribe or a gift, and increasingly this has become the pattern. But this too can slow down transactions as officials bid for a better level of compensation.

The beef value chain is certainly complex and diverse with multiple different actors at each stage. But it does seem to work: cheap, safe meat is provided to the customers that want it, and quite a number of people get gainful employment in the process. But is the current, often highly informal, system efficient and effective? Too often we deem anything informal as in need of reform, with a need to formalise, structure and regulate. Yet this system is responsive to diverse demands, and apparently flexible to changing supply situations. Indeed, the main thing that seems to slow things down, and add sometimes unnecessary cost is the complex system of regulation, now associated with bribes and payments. While such regulations and controls are clearly necessary, a more streamlined system is clearly needed to improve returns and value.

As next week’s blog shows, this is even more important in the context of rural livestock marketing.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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Zimbabwe’s poultry industry: rapid recovery, but major challenges

Zimbabwe’s poultry industry has shown massive growth since 2009. A range of sizes of units have sprung up everywhere – from the medium size units of 1000 birds to massive industrial scale operations. Chickens are big business.

Meat consumption has changed significantly in Zimbabwe over the last 20 years. Beef used to be the most consumed, with Zimbabweans eating on average 13kg per annum in the 1980s. According to a recent USAID report (see below), today this has dropped to only 3.3kg, the lowest in the region. Chicken and pork in particular have replaced this, with chicken consumption is now half of all meat consumed. Beef has dropped to only 35%. Meat consumption has rebounded since 2009 as the economy has improved, now estimated to be 11000MT per month, up by 20%. But the pattern of consumption has changed. This has been driven in part by taste, but also austerity as people looked to cheaper sources of protein. According to the USAID report, the retail price of economy beef which has the highest demand is between US$4.60 – US$5.00 per kg compared to the average chicken retail price of about US$3.30 per kg.

After the stabilization of the economy, many invested in poultry as a sure-fire way of making money. The data in the graphs below are from a recent World Bank report, showing the rapid increase in both broilers and layer production of day old chicks, according to Ministry of Agriculture (MAMID) data.

Day old chick production (layers)

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 Day old chick production (broilers)

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But there are significant challenges to these new producers.  These centre in particular on competition from cheap imports, including illegal dumping. ZIMSTATS shows that in 2011 chicken imports were 25,500 MT at a value of $13.644 million or an average of only $0.53/kg. The low price suggests much of this is offal (including ‘waste’ pieces), which is illegal to import. Additionally the volume exceeds the official quota by over 100%, representing 20% of the total demand for chicken nationally, according to a recent USAID report (see reference below).

In addition the costs of feed have escalated. Soya production has been slow to rebound in Zimbabwe, and imports are costly as only Zambia produced GM-free soya in the region. These imports are expensive as Zambia tries to protect its own growing poultry industry. This really took off when Zimbabwe was suffering outbreaks of avian influenza in the early 2000s, and then subsequently when the Zimbabwe economy collapsed, and along with it its poultry industry.

The 2013 budget statement laid out the challenges for the Zimbabwean industry clearly:

• Stiff competition from cheap imports for both table eggs and meat, threatening viability of producers;

• Rising input costs, particularly maize and soya meal, following poor harvests; and

• High volumes of illegal imports which are being sold in the domestic market at sub-economic prices

The USAID study highlighted the challenge of cheap and illegal poultry imports for the meat industry as a whole. Much of the imported poultry meat comes from Brazil which has a massive poultry industry. Products that cannot be sold in the Brazilian markets are often transported elsewhere in the world. Feet, skin, necks and other ‘offal’ are frozen and packaged and sold at rock bottom prices. Chicken pieces too are packaged and sold, again at highly competitive rates. Go to any Zimbabwean supermarket and you will find 1kg of chicken pieces being sold at $3, sometimes considerably less.

How these prices can be so low is beyond me. Maintaining a cold chain from Brazil to Zimbabwe must cost a fortune, let alone the cost of the product and its processing and packaging. While there are import quotas, many believe these are being exceeded through illegal imports. The import of offal is also illegal due to health and safety concerns. The USAID study recommended tighter import controls and the banning of offal imports, arguing that cheap imports were not only damaging the poultry industry, but also the beef industry as cheap meat alternatives were suppressing demand.

This is not just a Zimbabwean problem. In 2012, the South African government slapped on surcharges, provoking a row with the Brazil. Brazil responded by taking the dispute to the WTO, claiming that the South African’s protectionist actions were threatening the new friendship developed between the nations as a result of the BRICS partnership. It seems the diplomatic heat, and the threat of a WTO case that the South Africans have backed down, at least for now.

Undeterred by this dispute from across the border, Zimbabwe has now responded to the same problem. The 2013 budget statement noted:

“Due to unfair competition from imports of chicken, local breeders are increasingly cancelling orders for day old chicks as they fail to secure customers for their chicken as imports from outside the SADC/COMESA region retail at prices significantly lower than locally produced chicken, notwithstanding the 40% duty levied on imported chicken…. Investigations indicate that chicken imports are either smuggled or are grossly undervalued for duty purposes. In instances of smuggling, the necessary veterinary and health hazard permit controls are undermined….”.

From mid-November, the government introduced a higher customs duty “in order to level the playing field between imported and locally produced chicken”.

This is an important and welcome move. Let’s see if it has the effect it needs to. Hopefully the Brazilians will be less heavy-handed with Zimbabwe where the market is much smaller, and a trade dispute can be avoided.

Unfortunately, the issue is not just about formal trade. As already noted it is perhaps the illegal trade which is most significant, and damaging. This is well embedded in local Zimbabwean business networks, sometimes with high-level connections, and veterinary control and customs enforcement capacity remains weak. While chicken smuggling is perhaps less dramatic than drugs or diamonds, it has just as devastating an effect on the economy, lives and livelihoods.

Sukume, C. and Maleni, D. (2012). Beef CIBER Study. Constraints to Competitiveness. Unpublished report to the Zimbabwe Agricultural Competitiveness Program, DAI/USAID

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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