Agriculture: successful market gardening in French-speaking Africa

Eric Ky

In French-speaking Africa, fruit and vegetable production has grown by more than 50% in ten years (between 2004 and 2014), according to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). That is no less than 43 million tonnes for West Africa and 18 million for Central Africa, thanks in particular to an increase in cultivated areas (+ 4 million hectares over the period).

This strong increase concerns both crops produced to satisfy the local markets, which are the majority, and those intended for exports, which represent less than 10% of volumes in each country.

“There is a significant development of market gardening, as seen in Senegal, where the climate is very favorable and where an efficient logistics system has been put in place”

Thus, the quantity of Ivorian mangoes shipped to Europe increased by nearly 50% in 2016 while Senegal announces that it has moved closer to self-sufficiency in the cultivation of onions and potatoes, with the latter producing nearly 90,000 t for an annual consumption of 95,000 t.

“There is a significant development of market gardening, as we can see in Senegal, where the climate is very favorable and where an efficient logistics system has been set up”, confirms Hubert de Bon, researcher specializing in this sector at the Center de international cooperation in agricultural research for development (CIRAD).

Objective: self-sufficiency

Why such an interest ? Above all, because these crops hold the promise of significant revenue, but also of savings. On export, they represent inflows of foreign currency, often complementary to those of major cash crops such as cocoa, peanuts or cotton. Income that is not subject to the speculative shocks of the world markets, because the prices of fruits and vegetables are generally stable.

As for the crops sold locally, they make it possible to limit imports from countries outside the CFA zone as much, and therefore foreign currency outflows. The development of market gardening serves “the objectives of food self-sufficiency, in particular for fruits and vegetables of great consumption such as potatoes”, notes Macoumba Diouf, in charge of market gardening at the Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture.

In our country, fruits and vegetables are primarily intended for local consumption

Aware of this issue, the States are taking measures to facilitate the marketing of national productions, such as the blocking of imports during the harvest period, as in Senegal, to preserve the production of onions, or the development of infrastructure allowing ” extend the cultivated areas, as in Côte d’Ivoire.

“In our country, fruits and vegetables are primarily intended for local consumption. In the context of climate change, we have therefore set up a total irrigation program to be able to produce in all seasons, “said Nouhoun Coulibaly, Director General of Planning at the Ivorian Ministry of Agriculture.

Visibility

For producers, however, the export market remains the most interesting. “On watermelon, for example, we earn three times as much, or 1,000 CFA francs for export, against 300 when we sell to local traders, except in times of high demand, such as Ramadan”, explains Hamidou Kane, of the Senegalese cooperative Delta Prim.

For this structure, which also produces melons and butternut squash in the Senegal River valley region, near Saint-Louis, the export also offers better production planning over the year. “These are contracts that run over several months, which gives us visibility and allows us to make the plots more profitable”, he adds on the sidelines of the Paris Agricultural Show, where he came to full of contacts, after having participated in the Fruit Logistica fair in Berlin a few days earlier.

The binary distribution of production, with, on the one hand, those intended for the local market and, on the other, those that will be exported, is changing rapidly. In large urban centers, the middle classes are at the origin of a new demand for choice, price, quality and consumption patterns.

Informal sector

They boost the share of supermarkets in the distribution sector, until then dominated by the informal sector. “There are customers who are looking for products of equivalent quality to those exported. This market remains small, but it has grown in recent years, for example by around 30% per year for bananas, ”observes Jean-Marc Gravellini, vice-president for Africa of the French group Compagnie fruitière.

To serve urban supermarkets, the market gardening sectors suffer from a lack of cooperative organizations and mid-size farms.

For the moment, the majority of producers do not have access to these distribution channels: the production of fruit and vegetables is overwhelmingly provided by thousands of small farmers, solely focused on the informal market. “Until now, small farms did not guarantee us a sufficiently regular production in quality and quantity, while export companies, large farms, were not designed to supply us”, explains Gérard Blin, food director. of Mercure International, which operates the Casino franchise in French-speaking Africa.

“To serve urban supermarkets, market gardening sectors suffer,” he says, “from a lack of cooperative organizations and mid-size farms. Nevertheless, initiatives appear and allow us to develop local purchases, as in Congo, with for example the recent installation of Domaines de Djeno, near Pointe-Noire [600 t of eggplants, cabbages, zucchini, carrots, melons and other salads planned for this year]. ”

Battle

In turn, exporters are gradually taking an interest in this local demand. For the past two years, Compagnie fruitière has been established in Côte d’Ivoire, where it markets market garden products (partly from third-party farms). “For us, these are small volumes, around 1000 t today, but the remuneration levels are quite satisfactory”, explains Jean-Marc Gravellini, who counts among his customers the Carrefour group, installed for a year. in Abidjan and which plans to open other stores on the continent soon.

The prospects opened up by this growing local market are all the more attractive as the battle for market share is getting tougher in Europe. Not only are the Senegalese cherry tomatoes of Compagnie Fruitière seeing their “commercial window reduced” to a few months a year (due to the explosion in greenhouse production in the northern Mediterranean), but, above all, its bananas are facing challenges. growing competition from Central American countries.

“Indeed, ‘dollar bananas’, which are much cheaper thanks to economies of scale, are taxed less and less when they enter Europe, and this is very worrying,” he explains. What threatens the model of the Fruit Company, designed for export thanks to access without customs barriers to the European market.

When La Compagnie fruitière goes green

Faced with growing demand in Europe, the Compagnie fruitière group is developing its organic, even bio-fair trade offer for its products intended for export. “This is a strong trend, a growing market. Consumers pay attention to quality, production conditions and their environmental and social impact, ”explains Jean-Marc Gravellini, group vice-president for Africa.

In Ghana, the bio-fair label has been obtained for bananas, while in Cameroon fairtrade certification concerns a large part of its farms. Schemes that the company intends to develop more and more, going from 20% organic now – with about five years of experience – to 50% in the years to come.

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