Now here is one important truth when you think about exporting from Africa (or importing from Africa if you are based in the Diaspora): African countries at large have a huge export deficit, which means that they import much more then they export, and this is something African governments are very keen to change. So the good news is: you will find overall a lot of support and readiness to export. But there is more you need to be aware of to come up with a smart export concept.
There are two other important aspects you need to consider. One is that some African producers would love to export, but that they have simply not the capacity to produce a certain quantity and produce that in a regular and reliable manner, because finding buyers and keeping them means to meet their requirement in regard to quality, quantity, and consistency. So here is a gap – we‘ll get back to this in a second.
The other is that you should export something that is of real demand in other markets. Be driven by the market need and not necessary by your own opinion or tastes (don‘t make emotional decisions).
Keeping that in mind, here are a few approaches for smart African export.
Don‘t export the raw product. Instead, add value to the product locally and export that. This is will be the export trend and right now, there is a lot of space and little competition for you. So instead of exporting green beans, export an African roasted coffee brand, instead of leather export bags and shoes, instead of fruits process fruit concentrate and export that to juice companies abroad.
Intra-African trade is growing at a much faster rate than exports to other markets. Think Pan-African and consider your markets there. You will also find more relaxed import regulations for agricultural produce or dairy at the receiving end.
Bulk or a certain quantity is very important for exports. If you think you do not have the capacities find new ways to build them. One is to partner with other smaller businesses or producers in your area building a cooperative and you export the sum of your products.
The other is to be aware of avenues to increase your capacities. The US, for example under the AGOA agreement42 assists African companies with finances, training, and other means to build their capacities to enable them to enter the US market. See if you are eligible. Contact your local USAID or US embassy office to find out more about such opportunities or research the AGOA guidelines for your country online.
Partner with Africans in the Diaspora and vice versa. This is how Africans on the continent and those residing in the West can really assist each other. Such partnerships would be very popular and you will have one partner at the exporting and one and the importing end. A wonderful way to cooperate and be up-to-date with your market.
Make the most of selling to Europe! Africa is literally at the doorsteps to Europe, yet when you stroll through Europe‘s supermarkets you will find that most fruits, vegetables, and commodities imported from abroad are not from Africa, but from South America or East Asia, which is much further away.
Market your exports using relatively cheap but highly effective inline marketing strategies, visit trade shows in various countries exhibiting your products locally and elsewhere. Be visible, engage, this is how you will win business links and buyers.
Most Africans are not members of any government related association, which is a real shame, because you seriously miss out. As an exporter you should become a member of the local chamber of commerce and sign up to other institutionalised export bodies.
Such memberships will enable you to visit regular networking events in your industry, access relevant training, receive the latest in your country‘s export sector, and maybe you will one day be contacted when your association gets approached by investors or buyers looking for local partners (which is happening quiet a lot!). Further, this kind of accredited membership gives you immediate credibility when doing business in new markets for the first time.