For some time, many African countries have had minimal benefits from the much hyped African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) by the United States of America government in a bid to increase the export of African products to the US.
Approved by US Congress and signed by former US President Bill Clinton in 2002 the ACT was “to assist the economies of Sub Saharan economies to improve the economic relations between the United States and the region”.
The Act provided trade preference in terms of quota and duty free into the US for 18,000 items under the AGOA generalized system in addition to 4,600 available to non-AGOA items.
Many countries did not benefit from AGOA because of the logistical nightmare of transporting goods from Africa to the US and competing with those from other countries whose infrastructure may be developed.
Countries like the Republic Of South Africa, which ships 87 containers a day to the US, on the other hand have benefitted considerably.
The USAID funded project, Competitiveness and Trade Expansion Program (COMPETE) with a mission to; help reduce barriers to trade and developing value chains in 16 East African countries and maintaining the East and Central Africa trade hub whose major success story is Gahaya Links through the “peace basket” invited the CEO of Talier Trading Group to take an “assessment” of the prospect of the specialty foods sector in the region including Rwanda.
Talier Trading Group, the brains behind the African Specialty Foods brand name “Taste of Africa” believes that, “Africa has a wonderful opportunity to define itself to the US consumer with their cuisine…just as India, Thailand and other emerging markets have”, according to the CEO of Mr. Jim Thaller.
He says his company connects intends to connect African producers to US chain stores and not specialty stores. With more Supermarkets in the State of New Jersey than the whole of France, according to Mr. Thaller, with good packaging and pricing, Rwandan specialty foods do have potential for exports.
Previously much of the African specialty foods market in the US was dominated by South Africa with 60% of the market but other countries have since reduced that share to 30%.
The specialty foods concept simply refers to foods unique to a community or society. If you had in mind Italian, Chinese, Mexican foods, drop the idea! It is the “Rwandan specialty” etc.
Is there food unique to Rwanda that has not been produced and possibly “pirated” by other society? The answer is yes, there is “isombe”, “Inkangaza”, “amamesa”, “inturire”, “isogi”, “umushogoro” etc.
Can value be added to it? Can it be processed, stored and shipped overseas? Can it be packaged to the required standards? Is there enough capacity to meet the envisaged expanding market all year round?
Can it meet the regulatory, health and certification standards? Can it meet nutritional and shelf life analysis? Do you have what it takes to meet the production, facility, personnel and administrative rigour?
Then get started. It should be noted that with good steady production and marketing, national and regional markets come calling.
According to Thaller, “the African specialty food requires education… not only about the food products, but Africa in general. American consumers have little knowledge of Africa but are anxious to learn”.
With the success of “Rwanda coffee” another product would be handy in changing the world opinion about Rwanda.