Many of us know fruits like ‘mazhanje’, ‘tsubvu’ and ‘matunduru’ which are only found in the SADC region and considered ‘exotic’ fruits elsewhere
By Mohammed Thiane
One of the factors that has fascinated me since my arrival in Senegal, is how everything available from market stalls to corner shops, and in the supermarkets, is imported – and I don’t use ‘everything’ lightly.
For many, including the local people, its assumed that because much of Senegal is very dry and prone to drought, that this allows for limited farming.
But with very little research, I have discovered that in fact, Senegal grows export-level (and delicious!) mangoes, groundnuts/peanuts, and tomatoes, to name a few.
I also recently discovered that in Zimbabwe, there are many farms growing blueberries – for export. In all the years I lived in Zimbabwe I had never seen or tasted a blueberry. My only (fond) recollection of ‘blueberry’ anything, was the Blueberry muffins from Spar…Oh my…
As I mentioned in my last article, part of my regular breakfast meal involves tea.
Now, this is not just any tea. For Zimbabweans, if you mention tea, there is usually only one that comes to mind. Similarly, in Dakar, Senegal, this is the case. However, the surprising factor is, that the tea that most people will seek out here, is from China.
Chinese tea at an African breakfast table for the past 50+ years. Imagine how much time it took for the Chinese to establish this trend in Senegal? Not easy, but incredibly profitable – long-term.
A Senegalese person will have 8-10 cups of tea and coffee a day to keep themselves hydrated and to help them digest heavy meals. coffee is imported from Cote D’Ivoire before the Senegalese add their own spices for a special national flavour.
No tea and coffee is produced in Senegal.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Zimbabwean tea and citrus products – many of you will know what I’m talking about – were the BEST on the market, both locally and internationally.
Economic and political circumstances obviously take their toll on the capacity and quality of production in a country, but in my mind, that does not undermine that country’s natural fertility.
It is true, that during a crisis, a country will lose a good number of skilled people.
This is certainly true of the countries I am most familiar with.
However, that does not take away from the knowledge and memory of the local people.
If you remember consuming a home-grown product for an extended time or growing a particular vegetable with your grandparents ‘kumusha’, it can be done again.
It can be done in a manner that resurrects the quality we have all experienced, and we can find ways to re-grow the reputation of world-class goods. I applaud those pushing to achieve this, despite the odds!
Did you know, that Cote D’Ivoire is the largest exporter of cocoa beans in the world? Kenya’s coffee is well-known globally, as is Ethiopia’s. So why did we rarely, if ever have Kenyan coffee on our tables, or thank our parents for a chocolate bar from Cote D’Ivoire?
Simply – someone else was prepared to pay more for it, or our leaders weren’t speaking to each other at that time. Or maybe short-term profit-margins looked too low and long-term growth and sustainability wasn’t considered. This is unlike the Chinese, who worked hard towards long-term economic projections that are now paying off.
From what I understand, trade agreements are reciprocal. If you are a successful nation with enormous resources, you have the power to say, “You give us what we want, and we’ll give you enough of what you need, to keep you coming back for more.”
As a basic example, Senegal does not grow enough rice to sustain its people, so it imports cheap rice in very large amounts.
However, this requires money. The Senegalese grassroots fishing industry has been decimated by overseas fishing companies being given access to the local waters.
Needless to say, they don’t use 2-man boats and hand-strung nets, or only take what they need, or have Africa’s success in mind.
Senegal imports close to US $8 billion in goods – almost double its exports. This includes the majority of their main foodstuffs – rice, sorghum, millet, and FRUIT. Fruit is sold at relatively high prices – US $1 for two pieces.
In Zimbabwe, I remember spending afternoons filling up on the fruit trees in my friend’s backyards if I didn’t like what the maid had made for lunch. It’s normal to see people passing bags of avocados to neighbours there too.
Many of us know fruits like ‘mazhanje’, ‘tsubvu’ and ‘matunduru’ which are only found in the SADC region and considered ‘exotic’ fruits elsewhere. Could we be ‘passing more bags back and forth over the neighbour’s fence’ with our African neighbours?
So, my challenge to you, today, is this: as Africans who know what incredible products grow easily in our ‘backyards’ how do we step past the in-fighting and politics that we think restrict our interaction with neighbouring nations?
What products can you – even as an individual – trade with Africans across the border, or the Equator, that you know they would enjoy as much as you do.
I challenge you to contact your local Ministry of Trade and Commerce for lists of products produced in your country, and to do some research into gaps in the markets elsewhere? Be part of a panel of like-minded people looking to use what they have to make things move for long-term growth.
Perhaps be prepared to start at lower profit margins, but imagine the potential of more and more opportunities to enjoy the ‘fruits’ of this incredible continent.
Thiane is a Senegalese who grew up in Zimbabwe, and is writing for The Sunday Express, and broadcasting for Jit Television from Dakar
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