Current Trade News

Every day, hundreds of millions of payment transactions are completed across the African continent. They're done using myriad technologies including cards, mobile money, and digital payments. By far the most, however, are in cash. Each of these competing payments is trying to dominate and defeat cash, with siloed "winner takes all" consumer payment offers, but which payment type can most effectively promote financial inclusion, helping grow economies and jobs along the way?
Given the success of mobile payments in Africa over the past decade or so, you might be surprised to learn that it isn't the technology most likely to be a game changer for meaningful financial inclusion for the informal productive economy. Instead, the best hope for financial inclusion and growth on the continent is a digital payments platform that is merchant centric, and that benefits the artisans, SMEs, and small farmers. A payment that empowers the productive economy.
Cash and mobile money
At present, cash is still king in many African countries. According to one report, cash accounts for over 50% of transaction value in South Africa. This is despite South Africa having one of the most mature banking and payment spaces and the deepest card penetration rates on the continent.
Despite the growth of digital payments, cash isn't going away. In fact, a report from The Currency Association shows that the value of cash in circulation grew steadily in six major African countries between 2008 and 2017.
That's understandable. Cash is easy to understand. Cash is trusted. You hand over a set amount and get the goods or services you desire. It's also so culturally entrenched that it doesn't require learning new behaviours or learning for merchants to "trust" that somehow your valuable goods are being exchanged for money in an account somewhere.
Despite its ubiquity and being the most deeply entrenched incumbent payment, there are serious downsides to cash.
Cash is costly and does not provide the digital transparency that financial institutions need to provide small merchants with helpful products and services. Cash that is taken into a business and then goes out again leaves no trace of it ever having been there, at least to the bank that is trying to serve the business. It is opaque by nature, which makes it difficult for the bank to understand a business. That opacity effect locks out small businesses and those operating in the informal sector from being included in the formal economy. Although counted as "included" for having a transaction account, cash-based businesses present too much cost and risk to be banked with higher value financial services and credit.
Mobile money throws up similar issues and introduces consumer fees which are also a significant inhibitor to financial inclusion, particularly if the P2P payment is on a 3rd party platform. One of the biggest drawbacks is the peer to peer (P2P) nature of mobile money payments (like cash, it goes in and out of a business without a record of the transaction). A merchant can spend or deposit cash and P2P payments anywhere. This is convenient but the flow of payments cannot be seen or predicted and therefore cannot be collateralized. This leaves the business as unbackable beyond a low value, fee-based transaction service.
The power of digital payments
Digital payments provide a track record in data that forms the basis of a formal banking relationship. It's for that reason that digital merchant-centric pull payments, where a customer presents credentials to a merchant and authorizes the merchant to "pull" the payment from the consumer's account, should be the norm.
This ability is provided to a merchant by an "acquiring bank", which assures that the payment will be received by the business' account at that bank. Because the payment cannot be redirected, it is a reliable indication of the business' cash flow. These payments can be collateralized and be used to guarantee a loan, to collect premiums, to set aside savings for pensions and investment, or for payroll services. This should be the focus when it comes to financial inclusion for the productive and informal economy in Africa: using a digital payment as a gateway to higher value financial services.
For merchants, there must be a much bigger benefit to accepting a digital payment at a fee than simply being able to move away from cash. That exponentially larger benefit comes in the shape of a formal relationship with an acquiring bank and the financial services that come with becoming a bankable business. There are many incidental benefits of any good digital payment platform, including contactless payments, instant clearing, and bill payment. Bit consumer convenience is not enough. Both the consumer and the merchant need to want the digital payment.
Merchant-centric payments deliver consumer and merchant benefits such as loyalty schemes, but only this type of payment can provide the digital transparency and reliability necessary to deepen a business relationship with an acquiring bank where the real value can be realized.
Much has been said about Africa's potential, but if that potential is to be unlocked, then small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMES) need to be empowered with access to the same kind of formal financial services that large businesses have access to. Digital mobile merchant payments are a gateway to meaningful financial inclusion for the informal sector. Whoever manages to provide this stand to make a real contribution.
Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Economic Cooperation with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on the final day of his two-day working visit to the 'rainbow nation'.
Chakwera arrived in South Africa on Thursday through Waterkloof Military Airbase in Pretoria and held bilateral talks with his South African counterpart before signing the agreement.
The Malawi leader said he is grateful to Ramaphosa for hosting him in Pretoria and called for South Africa's support as he starts his duties as SADC chair next year.
"During our bilateral talks, we agreed to enhance our cooperation in various fields of development including trade, health, migration and labour for the mutual benefits of our people.
"This has been cemented by the signing of memorandum of understanding on economic cooperation we have just witnessed. It is my hope that in future we will sign several MOU's that strengthen our cooperation through framework of the joint commission of this cooperation," said Chakwera.
On his part, Ramaphosa said: "We have just welcomed the signing of economic cooperation agreement and further agreed to work together to identify specific areas, which South Africa and Malawi through their companies continues to do business.
"We also endeavored to put more emphasis on people-to-people cooperation between our two countries given that we are one people and our people have been travelling between our two countries for generations."
The South African leader said the cooperation need to be advanced in areas such as culture, sports and recreation in an effort to bring the people of the two countries closer.
"We reviewed the state of peace and security in Africa, specifically Southern Africa and noted the need to collaborate efforts at addressing issues of peace and security in our region," he added.
Chakwera who flew on a chartered Malawian Airlines plane returns home.
His delegation included Cabinet ministers Eisenhower Mkaka (Foreign Affairs), Patricia Kaliati (Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare), Richard Chimwendo Banda (Homeland Security), Khumbize Chiponda (Health), Sosten Gwengwe (Trade) and Ken Kandodo (Labour).
Some of the ministers visited about 100 Malawians in detention at Lindera Repatriation Centre.
The trip to South Africa is the fifth for Chakwera since becoming Malawi's sixth President following his triumph in the court-ordered Fresh Presidential Election on June 23, 2020. To date, he has visited Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
FAO lowers forecast for world cereal production, but this year’s output still expected to reach an all-time high
Global food prices continued rising for the fifth consecutive month in October, led by cereals, sugar, dairy and vegetable oils, according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks international prices of the most traded food commodities, averaged 100.9 points in October 2020, up 3.1 percent from September and 6.0 percent above its value in October 2019.
The FAO Cereal Price Index climbed 7.2 percent from the previous month and 16.5 percent above its value in October 2019. The surge was mainly driven by wheat prices amid shrinking export availabilities, poor growing conditions in Argentina and continued dry weather affecting winter wheat sowings in Europe, North America and the Black Sea region. Maize, feed barley and sorghum prices also remained under upward pressure in October, while those of rice subsided.
Source: FAO
UNCTAD has assessed the state of play in the two countries and identified policy actions required to harness e-commerce for development.
Tanzania is well-positioned to integrate into the global digital economy, thanks to its growing economy and a rapidly developing innovation ecosystem, a new UNCTAD assessment says.
The assessment of the country’s readiness to engage in e-commerce has revealed its potential to become a leading contender in online trade in east Africa, especially on mobile finance and digital payment fronts.
However, the lack of a national e-commerce strategy is holding Tanzania back, the assessment observes.
Also, the country has neither mainstreamed e-commerce into its national and sectoral development plans nor into inter-ministerial or public-private sector dialogue, further throttling progress.
“The coronavirus crisis has brought to the fore the value of e-commerce and digital solutions in enabling economic activities and broadening options for consumers in times of lockdowns,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.
“E-commerce can help maintain trade flows, an important part of tackling the fallout from the crisis, especially in least developed countries.”
Following the assessment, UNCTAD recommends several policy actions to grow Tanzania’s e-commerce sector.
They include crafting a national e-commerce strategy, enhancing information, communications and technology (ICT) infrastructure, creating a conducive legislative climate and providing incentives to startups.
Promising signals
The assessment acknowledges Tanzania’s promising signals in key areas. It has rolled out a series of e-government services, soon to be extended to its semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar.
The country’s economic growth has averaged 6% to 7% annually over the last decade. Increasing public and foreign investments also bode well for its future.
UNCTAD’s assessment found growing awareness of the benefits of new technologies among the country’s public sector, another positive sign.
Tanzania is well-connected in terms of hard infrastructure, but the cost of smartphones remains high, contributing to the low internet use – around 30% – among its population.
Challenges to overcome
The assessment identifies a slew of challenges the country needs to overcome to optimize its e-commerce potential.
Tanzania lacks specific e-commerce legislation and its legal framework is inadequate to create a conducive e-commerce business environment, limiting trust among users of digital technologies.
The growth of e-commerce is also hampered by the population’s limited awareness, exacerbating the lack of trust, the assessment finds.
While efforts have been made to develop ICT human capital and innovation hubs are growing fast, skills in digital entrepreneurship and e-commerce remain narrow.
Access to financing is also limited, with micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) facing difficulties obtaining bank credit.
High interest rates stand in the way of e-commerce expansion, while angel investment and venture capital funds are few and far between.
The use of formal financial services remains limited, mainly due to high costs and a lack of knowledge among most Tanzanians.
Malawi: An untapped potential
In neighbouring Malawi, a similar UNCTAD assessment found that e-commerce has the potential to move the country closer to achieving its development goals, but the sector needs to be structured and organized.
“Clear policy directions and higher visibility of the digital economy should be prioritized in the national development agenda,” the assessment says.
Though a policy framework for ICT development has given rise to an embryonic digital ecosystem in the country, Malawi has no stand-alone policy and strategy on the digital economy and e-commerce development agenda.
The country also lacks a blueprint for formal dialogue with the private sector and civil society on e-commerce and digital economy issues.
Other challenges include Malawians’ lack of trust in online systems, low level of internet access, low technology adaptation by firms, lack of access to financing and weak IT skills across the population.
Making progress, hurdles to beat
According to the assessment, Malawi has recently made improvements in the ICT infrastructure, with the extension of fiber-optic backbone and cross-border interconnections, the launch of 4G and the establishment of a universal service fund.
However, less than 14% of Malawians use the internet due to the high cost of access. The quality of internet service and last mile connectivity are also low, discouraging investment in e-commerce in the southern African nation.
To accelerate progress, Malawi must beat other hurdles such as red tape, costly and time-consuming procedures that slow e-commerce uptake, the assessment says.
More than 80% of surveyed private sector actors cited an unsupportive regulatory environment as a barrier to e-commerce solutions in the country.
Financial institutions in Malawi provide meagre and relatively costly credit to MSMEs, and the products and services they provide are not aligned to e-commerce business models, the assessment notes.
A few financial support schemes provided by donors, local and regional incubators/accelerators and partner financial institutions, however, bode well for the inclusion of potential e-commerce projects.
The Tanzania and Malawi assessments are among a series of 27 conducted by UNCTAD in least developed countries since 2017 with the support of Germany, Sweden, the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.
"Now, more than ever, the world's poorest countries need support to bolster their economies. Based on the assessment’s recommendations, we look forward to working with the Malawian government, UNCTAD and other partners to help the country move towards a bright digital trade future," said Ratnakar Adhikari, the executive director of the EIF.
Source: UNCTAD
The Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Department of Climate Change and Metrological Services in the Ministry of Forestry and National Resources would like to inform all farmers and general public, that the rainfall forecast for the 2020/21 season is generally favorable for agriculture production. Most of the areas of the country will generally receive normal to above normal total rainfall amounts by the end of the season, specifically:
• During October to December 2020, most of the southern and central areas are expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall amounts while most northern areas are expected to receive normal to below-normal rainfall amounts.
• During January to March 2021, most areas in the south, center and the north are expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall amounts. However, pockets of dry conditions are expected mostly over south and central seasonal rainfall forecast and seasonal forecast probabilities.
The forecast implies that during the 2020/21 rainfall season, there is high chance of many parts in the country receiving good rainfall. However, since La Nina conditions are established, extreme weather events such as floods in prone areas are likely to occur due to heavy rains while some parts of the country are likely to experience pockets of prolonged dry spells during the season.
Source: Daily Times.
One of most the prominent challenges facing Africa is providing food security for its citizens. While many farmers still rely on traditional techniques to coax a living from the land, there are opportunities to use cutting-edge technology to drive Africa towards a food-secure future.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that over 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. A steady increase in hunger since 2014 together with rising obesity, clearly indicates the need to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen food systems and protect people's livelihoods.
It seems only fitting then, that in 2020, the theme for World Food Day is 'Our Actions are Our Future'. Accelerating innovation in agri-tech will enable data-driven farming that can optimise yields, boost farm productivity and increase profitability - all while feeding a nation.
AI in agriculture uses cutting-edge data, advanced analytics and machine learning to bring centuries-old farming knowledge into the modern age, giving farmers the tools to optimise crop yields and mitigate the effects of climate change through tools like smart irrigation. With agriculture sustaining 70% of Africa's livelihoods, Microsoft is committed to ensuring that all farming communities are equipped with the latest tools including AI, IoT and edge computing to improve productivity and sustainability across the sector, leveraging our extensive partnerships and initiatives network in the process.
There has been reference in the recent past of AI replacing people in jobs, but what happens when AI and IoT devices enables people to spend less time on menial manual labour and more time boosting productivity and crop yields? AI and cloud technology can be used to monitor soil, climate changes and more to make better decisions on when, where, and how much to plant on farms. Precision farming, brought about by the adoption of advanced technologies into the agricultural sector, will revolutionise food production.
In Kenya, SunCulture helps farmers improve their crop yields through solar-powered irrigation systems. Using IoT technology, SunCulture customers are generating 10x more annual income, experiencing a 300% increase in crop yields, and saving 17 hours of manually moving water per week. And by leveraging TV white spaces (TVWS) technology that expands high-speed internet access to underserved areas, SunCulture is bringing precision farming to more smallholder farmers.
The Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft to collaborate in helping Nigerian farmers become more productive, reduce costs, practice sustainable agriculture and achieve better agricultural outcomes through the deployment of the FarmBeats platform, which harnesses sensors, drones and cameras for seamless data collection, helping farmers improve crop yields as well as increase income. As many as 8 million farmers and 4 million hectares will be positively affected.
Particularly for smallholder farmers, it's a challenge to get reliable weather and market information in real time that can help with agricultural decision-making. But almost every farmer has a phone in their back pocket.
A mobile platform has recently been built by a team of Microsoft developers to democratize access to information using a feature or a smart phone. Farmers can access information on pest and soil diagnosis, market prices, agricultural news, success stories from neighbouring farmers, weather, soil testing and personalized recommendations for maximizing yields based on their soil tests, with an intended initial impact of 100 000 farmers.
Other agri-tech social entrepreneurs are effecting real changes for farmers and their supply chains. Twiga Foods is a mobile-based business-to-business food supply platform that links smallholder farmers in rural Kenya to informal retail vendors in cities. N-Frnds brings the power of digital via mobile to subsistence and smallholder farmers in Africa and other emerging markets, and has nurtured a community of farmers who can communicate with each other without the need for an internet connection or mobile data. It also provides access to financial services for market segments that are traditionally underserved by formal banking and insurance.
Microsoft believes in increasing access to agricultural knowledge through collaboration. It takes an entire ecosystem to initiate change, and that includes companies, government departments and agencies, and a network of startups and entrepreneurs, all with a common goal of solving food insecurity.
Microsoft, through the 4Afrika initiative has collaborated with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to co-create technology solutions in Africa as it works to improve food security for 30 million farming households across 11 countries by 2021. The partnership stands alongside investments such as our support of the World Bank's 1 Million Farmers Platform, which aims to bring one million farmers onto a digital platform over the next three years.
We are also working with ministries across Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt to drive impact in agriculture. In Egypt, in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture, the engagement includes intelligent crop detection and water demand forecasting. Key focus being on a successful farmer engagement to promote good agricultural practices, secure data sharing between agricultural entities, and connected farms that enable data collection through agricultural IoT sensors. Additionally, in South Africa, Microsoft commissioned Research ICT Africa, in partnership with the University of Pretoria, to help identify opportunities within the industry to make farming more efficient and cost-effective, and highlight key regulatory and policy issues to address.
The Kenyan National Agriculture Platform is a key initiative to drive digitalization in agriculture. Earlier this year, Microsoft started engaging with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives (MoALFC) to collaborate in accelerating digital transformation in the agricultural sector in Kenya.
Across the continent, from South Africa to Kenya, Ghana, Egypt and beyond, we are working hard to enable agri-tech through various channels and partnerships. Technology has the potential to change the face of farming, using smart tools and platforms for precision farming, predicting weather patterns, and maximizing the use of scarce water resources. By harnessing agri-tech, we can help solve the pressing issues around food security to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #2 of Zero Hunger, and enhance economic development in the process.