Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Why beef and lamb exports to West Africa are good news for English farmers

Talking about potential global market opportunities for beef and lamb is one thing, but there’s nothing quite like getting to know potential markets first hand. Guest blogger Jonathan Eckley, EBLEX export marketing executive, writes about his recent fact-finding mission to West Africa with a delegation of exporters representing six UK companies.

There’s never what I would call a quiet working week in the EBLEX export team, but one continent and three countries in five days proved quite a challenge, albeit a useful one.

We’ve said before that West Africa provides plenty of potential export opportunities for the beef and lamb sector. After all, Ghana has a population of 25.2 million, projected to increase by more than 4 million by 2020. Similarly, the Cote d’Ivoire population of 22.4 million is predicted to rise to 25.5 million by 2020, and Benin from 9.9 million to almost 12 million by 2020. And with population and economic growth, so increases the demand for protein.

With this in mind we thought West Africa would be an interesting market to investigate further, particularly for the export of offals. And what an interesting and enlightening visit it proved to be, taking in the contrasting environments of Ghana, Benin and the Cote d’Ivoire.

Exports to Ghana have grown steadily. Combined with economic growth, it naturally makes it an interesting market to investigate. Ghana is one of the major economies in the region and provides an important entry into the wider West African market. We are already conducting some trade there. In terms of offal, we are competitive as it’s a commodity we don’t use extensively in the home market.

Arriving in downtown Accra, UKTI helped us commence a two-day programme on behalf of EBLEX and BPEX. It included a market briefing with an excellent presentation from the legal adviser for the British Commission which gave an interesting insight into the market, as well as practical advice. The programme also included a presentation from the Bank of Ghana on trading in the region.

It even included a speed business-to-business session at the Commissioner’s residence – very useful one-to-one meetings. In addition, visits to distributors and provided invaluable experience in seeing how things are done on the ground there. Frustrations about time keeping on the programme aside, it proved both interesting and valuable for delegates in making some key contacts.

A flying visit to Benin showcased the contrasts in the region. One minute, we were in a street market where meat was being sold. The next, we were passing a trading company, the scale of which provided a stark contrast to the street market we had seen up the road, with hundreds containers of product. It illustrated one thing. While there are obviously the super wealthy, there is clearly an emerging middle class which presents a potential market. The common thread? Growing demand for protein and an opportunity for our exporters.

No time to hang around though. After a brief touchdown in Togo we headed to the Cote d’Ivoire. Abidjan appeared to be much more modern and, given its history, very closely linked to France. Again, UKTI helped us with the programme, identifying key importers and distributors with valuable meeting sessions and visits to two big companies in the country. We left in the knowledge that, while it is a massive market for fish, it is most certainly an emerging market for red meat.

Our five days were logistically challenging, made even more so courtesy of my suitcase going AWOL on arrival and unlike all great magic tricks, failing to reappear. Despite these challenges, the trip was well worth it, providing hands-on experience of markets that you simply wouldn’t get from reading facts and figures alone. As we know, the meat trade is fundamentally about making contacts and establishing trade relationships. There’s no substitute for going somewhere and finding out for yourself what it’s like and West Africa is no exception. A hectic schedule, yes, but it’s fair to say everyone came back with food for thought to either enhance trade relationships or to look to commence trade in the region, with some business already being done as a result. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about – paving the way for our industry to make the most of the huge potential West Africa offers exporters.