The high cost of West Africa's “free trade” in food

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Abdul Rahman, a cargo driver loading tomatoes, is charged each time he crosses the border from Burkina Faso into Ghana. “They’re always taking too much money from us and we don’t know the reason why they are doing that,” he said. “In Ghana also, the customs and the police also do the same things to us. We are appealing to the government and to other stakeholders to do something about it.” 

Abdul’s experience — and frustration — isn’t unique. 

West African countries rely on global and intraregional trade to supplement national food supplies. The region is home to a diversity of agro-ecosystems and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) aims to promote regional agricultural trade among its member countries. 

However, several breaches of free trade regulations have been reported. A major issue posed to drivers transporting food comes in the form of checkpoints, where drivers have little alternative than to buy their way out. The associated costs, including loss of time, are contributing to the overall low intraregional trade. A WLE supported study on urban food systems found that urban households in Ghana and Burkina Faso depend significantly on rural-urban food flows.

As long as the community is failing to address the explosion of formal, semi-formal and informal trade barriers, the transportation of regional food products appears more affected than the transportation of global goods on the same roads.

Such barriers seem even more salient in an era where communities are struggling with pandemic related impacts. “While in the midst of assessing the consequences of COVID-19, for example, for rural-urban or global food supply, we should not forget our failure to address other common barriers which undermine efficient food supply,” says Dr. Pay Drechsel, WLE flagship leader for Rural-Urban Linkages.  

In this short video, hear why certain drivers pay higher checkpoint prices than others, and learn about what this means for intraregional trade. 

Further information on: www.urbanfoodplus.org and WLE