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Sub-Saharan Africa has long been a byword for extreme poverty. Common images of Sub-Saharan Africa involve famine and civil conflict, and economists have consistently found extremely poor growth results even after taking all other results into account. The phenomenal growth that has transformed much of Asia for a long time seemed to have been passing Africa by. However, in recent years, African economies have began to revive thanks to increased integration with global markets. In today’s podcast episode, I will be exploring how Africans are seizing the opportunities created by globalization. In part one, I will discuss how the dramatic growth of the cashew industry has helped Côte d’Ivoire diversify it’s export base, how the rise of the avocado industry in Kenya has allowed small-holders to dramatically increased their income, and how Senegalese entrepreneurs are leveraging their networks to conquer export markets in synthetic hair.

The delicious chocolate we consume in our hot cocoa and snickers bar has long fueled the prosperity of Côte d’Ivoire. In 2017, Côte d’Ivoire produced over 2 million tons of cocoa beans, making it by far the largest producer in the world. However, the majority of Ivorian exports consisted of commodity, making economy extremely vulnerable to commodity price shifts. The price of raw cocoa is only a fifth of what it was in 1978 after adjusting for inflation, resulting in an economic collapse. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa grew in the south of the country, attracting large numbers of migrants from the north of the country and from neighboring Burkina Faso. The resulting political tensions culminated in two civil wars between 2002 and 2011. The negative impact of the over-reliance of Côte d’Ivoire on cocoa has in recent years been alleviated by the rapid growth of the cashew industry. Over the last 15 years, cashew production in Côte d’Ivoire has increased 6 fold and
Côte d’Ivoire is the third largest grower of cashews in the world. Three quarters of
Côte d’Ivoire’s cashews go to Vietnam and India, and the price of cashew operates on a different commodity price cycle than cocoa, and cashew prices have been steadily increasing over the last 30 years. Moreover, cashews thrive in the dry climate and sandy soils of the north of the country allowing for a greater dispersion of prosperity and a stabler political economy.

Although cashews are produced by Côte d’Ivoire and other African nations, the value added is captured by processing nations like Vietnam. However, improving institutional capacity in African countries is allowing farmers to capture more of the value. One example of this is the rapid growth of the avocado industry in Kenya. Global demand for avocados have soared in recent years, and Kenya’s mild climate and fertile soil create ideal growing conditions for avocados. Approximately 70% of all avocados in Kenya are grown by smallholders, and a smallholder can earn 10 times as much growing avocados than she can growing coffee on the same plot of land. Avocados are such a valuable commodity because avocados begin to spoil almost immediately after harvesting, severely restricting supply. Historically, the overwhelming majority of Kenya’s avocados were consumed domestically, or at most exported to the middle east. However, in recent years shipping giant Maersk has developed new reefers, specialized refrigerated containers for transporting fruit, specifically for the avocado market. Major investment in roads, rail and ports have reduced the time it takes to get avocados onto ships and groups of avocado farmers have organized to negotiate for lower input prices and gain certifications to export to Europe. The combination of these factors have allowed Kenya to export to Europe for the first time. In 2018, Kenya exported more than $150 million of avocados, and avocado exports to Europe have more than tripled over the last decade.

Export success in Africa is increasingly extending beyond agriculture into labor intensive manufacturing. An example of this can be seen in the rise of the synthetic hair industry in Senegal. Senegal’s synthetic hair industry’s roots lie in the commercial networks of the Mouride Brotherhood. Many members of the Mouride Brotherhood were forced by environmental collapse to abandon peanut farming to become petty traders and small businessmen in Europe and United States. Many Mouride women started hair salons in the US, and men became wholesalers supplying hairdressers with supplies. In 1978, Cheikh Gueye, a prosperous trade in New York City, realized that he could take advantage of Senegal’s cheap labor to make synthetic hair. Cheikh Gueye partnered with Korean entrepreneurs to supply Senegal’s domestic market with hair. More businessmen started wig factories to supply a growing local market, and by the mid-2000s, the factories gained the scale and efficiency necessary to become globally competitive. Moreover, during this same period, rising wages in China, which produces three quarters of the world’s synthetic hair, created opportunities to Senegalese manufacturers. In 2018, Senegal exports $58 million of synthetic hair, a six fold increase compared to 2008. Although Senegal is the eight largest exporter of synthetic hair, synthetic hair makes up a small portion of the Senegalese economy. Nevertheless, synthetic hair exporters are gaining valuable experience in export oriented manufacturing that can in the future be applied to a host of other industries, and help drive future industrialization in Senegal.

Côte d’Ivoire’s cashew industry, Kenya’s avocado industry, and Senegal’s synthetic history are all examples of Africans taking advantage of globalization. What is perhaps most damaging about the images of African famine and poverty that we are familiar with is that it takes agency away from African people. However, this podcast should make it clear that the people of Africa are more than capable of taking advantage of opportunities when available. Industries such as those discussed today are becoming more and more common, and should make it possible for more people and sub-Saharan Africa escape poverty in the coming decades.

Francophone Africa in Flux: Ethnicity and Political Crisis in Cote d’Ivoire , Jean Maddox Toungara
STATUS OF AVOCADO PRODUCTION IN KENYA, Lusika Wasila, Jm Njuguna, , Evelyn Okoko
Informal Trading Networks In West Africa: The Mourides Of Senegal/The Gambia And The Yoruba Of Benin/Nigeria, Stephen Golub
Brotherhood solidarity, education and migration: The role of the Dahiras among the Murid muslim community of New York, Cheikh Ante Diop

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