Buying from Africa for Africa: By Supplying Products and Services to International Aid Agencies, Small African Enterprises Are Improving the Prosperity of Their Businesses and Communities

By Cochin, Sylvie Betemps | International Trade Forum, July-October 2008 | Go to article overview

Buying from Africa for Africa: By Supplying Products and Services to International Aid Agencies, Small African Enterprises Are Improving the Prosperity of Their Businesses and Communities


Cochin, Sylvie Betemps, International Trade Forum


More than half of the annual aid procurement market, worth an estimated $10 billion, is destined for Africa. Supporting African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including businesses owned by women, to access this market has enormous potential for economic growth and development.

Rising food prices, HIV/AIDS and malaria, climate change, population movements and civil unrest have resulted in complex and pressing emergency and development needs in Africa. In turn, aid agencies need access to essential products and services in order to respond. Coordination and partnerships between humanitarian organizations, development agencies, governments, trade support institutions (TSIs) and private firms are vital for providing an effective response.

Helping aid agencies, helping business

Africa has a competitive and dynamic private sector, which is able to supply products and services of quality. However, aid agencies often lack the time and resources to identify new local sources of supply and African SMEs have limited knowledge about the aid procurement market, which they think is too complex to access.

The most recent ITC Buying from Africa for Africa event, held in Johannesburg (South Africa) on 3-5 November 2008, introduced more than 75 enterprises from the Southern African Development Community region to 30 international aid agencies looking for competitive African suppliers and innovative products. Among the organizations present were several United Nations (UN) agencies (the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees the UN Children's Fund and the World Food Programme) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Care, Goal, Medecins sans Frontieres and World Vision.

Launched in 2001, the Buying from Africa for Africa initiative has resulted in new business for African companies worth more than $70 million. This has contributed to the expansion of regional trade, private sector development and the growth of local economies, including in least developed countries.

Business generated with aid agencies has led to the creation of jobs in sectors that are key for local development and in which a large part of workers are women, such as the agricultural and food sector, the soap industry and textiles.

Promising partnerships

A French NGO found a manufacturer of small boats for the transport of emergency items within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to replace previous procurement from Europe, which came at higher costs and longer delivery times. …

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