Global Policy Forum

Poor Infrastructure Undermines


By Meghan Sapp

Inter Press Service
March 11, 2007

A container ship is docked at Ghana's Tema port, stuffed to the brim with frozen food products, including thousands of metric tonnes of poultry parts recently arrived from Brazil. These are unloaded into cold storage facilities until they can be transported to the capital of Accra or elsewhere in the country. And then the electricity goes out.

In several West African countries, like Ghana, electricity isn't constantly provided. This creates a major health risk as imported poultry partially or completely defrosts -- allowing bacteria such as salmonella to flourish -- before the system goes back online, according to Zakaria Yakubu: programme coordinator for Grassroots Africa. Based in Accra, this international non-governmental organisation works on food security issues and nutrition; it has been campaigning locally to reduce frozen poultry imports for health reasons.

Once imported poultry leaves the port, matters can get even worse. Its next destination is usually middlemen who sell the meat to shopkeepers or stallholders in local markets; these traders also have difficulties keeping the poultry frozen. Supermarkets like those seen in wealthier countries are rare in many parts of Africa, even in capital cities.

"Chicken sold in local markets is often sold in the open sun, which is not only unhygienic, but the chicken often defrosts in the sun before it is sold. The unsold chicken is put back in freezers overnight, set out in the sun again the next day to be sold, then reverts to the freezers. This process can go on for months," said Yakubu. Imports destined for the north of the country, he added, are packed up in open trucks cooled by ice cubes or ice blocks, rather than in the freezer transport trucks seen in developed nations. As a result, the meat is poorly cooled or defrosted before it even reaches its destination, which is often hundreds of kilometres and many hours' drive away.

Africa has become the main destination for poultry parts: the chicken left over once high-value breastmeat has been removed. African consumers prefer "on-bone" meat, so poultry producers from Brazil, the European Union (EU) and the United States are exporting what they can't sell in their home markets to Africa cheaper than poultry can be produced there. Those exports of frozen poultry have flooded many African markets, leading to the collapse of local poultry production. In Cameroon, for instance, frozen poultry imports started in earnest in 1994, and by 2003 had expanded vastly. The country was importing 22,154 metric tonnes of frozen poultry annually in a society that only consumed around 30,000 tonnes. Because of the pressure of cheap imports, the local poultry industry had shrunk by about 37 percent every year.

Cameroon, Nigeria and other countries have made moves in recent years to stop imports altogether in an effort to rebuild the damage done to local poultry sectors. Thanks to pressure from local non-governmental organisations on Cameroonian officials, imports were limited to 5,000 tonnes to allow the local industry to prove that it could meet demand. The industry subsequently grew by nearly 54 percent between September 2004 and September 2005, when it was able to produce 32,000 tonnes of poultry a year, more than satisfying local demand. Imports came to a halt. But other nations -- including Ghana, Togo and Sierra Leone -- have been unable to block imports, and their economies are suffering.

Cees Vermeeren, Brussels representative for the Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in the EU, says the problem of substandard cooling facilities in ports and retail outlets is something that needs to be dealt with locally. But, parties abroad may also have a role to play.

"Though it's up to the governments to resolve the infrastructure issues, since exporters have an interest that their produce is handled well, they might be open or able to give some after-sale service support," he noted. "Local producers marketing poultry meat have an interest in proper chilling equipment and facilities as well."

The EU has pledged to help developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (referred to as the ACP) develop their domestic infrastructure so they can better participate in world trade -- this under the auspices of Economic Partnership Agreements. These accords must be in place by the end of 2007 to bring ACP-EU trade into compliance with the World Trade Organisation's regulations -- and would see ACP markets being opened to European goods. However, some fear that nations in the ACP will not be able to withstand competition from these goods.

"The only way the poorest countries can cope with aggressive and legitimate exports…is by organising themselves and their own internal markets," says Thijs Berman, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who recently drafted a report on animal welfare in poultry, and is a member of the parliament's agriculture committee. "We need to develop general infrastructure in these countries like better ports, rail transport, roads, even broadband internet, and especially cooling facilities for meat industries."

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More Information on Lack of Hunger Relief and Other Food Aid Challenges
More Information on World Hunger
More Information on Poverty and Development in Africa


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.