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The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could transform agricultural value chains in the continent, boost food security and smallholder farmers’ incomes, according to a report launched in Nairobi on Monday.

According to the Malabo Montpellier Panel report, “Trading up: Policy innovations to expand food and agriculture trade in Africa,” the continental trading bloc will spur growth of agri-business and create new jobs.

“Strengthening intraregional trade can foster economic growth through productivity increases, generate new employment opportunities, reduce entry barriers to regional value chains and markets for smallholders and improve food, nutrition security,” the report said.

Agricultural experts said African smallholder farmers could leverage on enhanced access to capital, markets, inputs and technologies guaranteed by the continental trading bloc to improve yield and strengthen response to climatic shocks.

“Rule-based open trade is essential for an efficient and sustainable African food system, and keeps food prices more stable, which is good for producers and consumers,” said Joachim Von Brain, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

Experts said Africa’s agricultural value chains will benefit immensely from the continental free trade area amid enhanced access to skilled labor and digital tools to boost post-harvest management and market linkages.

“As mechanization and digitization expand across food systems, new entrepreneurship opportunities beyond the farm will emerge in the agri-food sector, creating the potential for high-quality, sustainable jobs across Africa,” said Debisi Araba, a member of the panel.

Success of intra-regional trade in agricultural produce hinges on enhanced data sharing, upgrading of infrastructure, action on non-tariff barriers and improving the resilience of smallholder farmers amid climatic shocks and pandemics, the report said.

“If organized and managed carefully, intraregional agricultural trade in Africa can improve socioeconomic development and livelihoods across the continent, benefitting all actors along the value chain as well as consumers in rural and urban areas,” it said. Enditem

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