Modernizing Africa’s Fresh Produce Supply Chains without Rapid Supermarket Takeover: Towards a Definition of Research and Investment Priorities
After a burst of enthusiasm through the middle part of this decade regarding the supermarket revolution, there now exists a broad consensus that this phenomenon is likely to proceed much more slowly than once thought in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is especially true in fresh produce supply chains, where both the promise and the perils of supermarket expansion have received greatest attention. In nearly the entire continent, the so-called traditional marketing sector – open air markets, dispersed informal vendors, and traditional shops – is expected to play a dominant role in fresh produce marketing for several decades. If true, this finding has profound policy implications. Specifically, it suggests that private investment in modern, integrated supply chains cannot be relied upon to solve the multitude of problems that increasingly plague these traditional production and marketing systems over a time frame acceptable to most policy makers and donors. Public engagement, preferably through meaningful public-private partnerships and an accompanying re-definition of public and private roles, will be central to improving these systems. This paper first reviews the evolution of thinking on the supermarket revolution in Africa and presents empirical evidence from Kenya and Zambia. It then lays out a set of stylized facts and key gaps in knowledge regarding traditional fresh produce production and marketing sectors on the continent, and closes by outlining priorities for research and for public and private investment to modernize these systems in the absence of rapid supermarket takeover.
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