Greening Africa’s trade

Tuesday June 04 2024

Trucks with transit goods from the Mombasa Port get stuck in a jam at Bonje area in Mombasa County, Kenya on April 18, 2023. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Ouma Olum

From March 23 to 25, 2024, the global freight and logistics industry experts gathered in Amsterdam, Netherlands for the second annual Smart Freight Week, hosted by Smart Freight Centre (SFC).

This event marked a substantive step toward greening Africa’s trade, featuring critical stakeholders like the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA), the Central Corridor Transit Transport Facilitation Agency (CCTFA), the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (Feaffa), the Shippers Council of Eastern Africa (SCEA), and TradeMark Africa (TMA).

The conference’s theme, “A Journey to an Efficient and Zero-Emission Logistics Sector”, underscored the alarming rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from freight activities along Africa’s major trade corridors.

Despite Africa’s low global emissions at less than three percent and relatively minimal per capita emissions, its rapid increase in emissions — ranking third under the fastest-growing emissions category as indicated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 6th Assessment Report — threatens its trade potential with the global market demanding environmentally friendly products and is an urgent call for immediate and decisive action.

Read: OBBO: Let’s buy disused land in Africa and create new states for refugees

With freight emissions projected to double by 2050, driven by a tripling in global freight demand, reducing emissions is not just a choice, but a pressing necessity.


The necessity is twofold: First, it is a moral obligation from global commitments like the 2015 Paris Agreement and a practical imperative for market access.

Africa’s export markets, especially the EU market, valued at €21 billion ($22.82 billion) in 2021, are hungry for sustainably produced goods and services. This demand is driven by regulations such as the EU Green Deal, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), and the EU Deforestation Regulation, which seek to achieve the EU’s ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Second, carbon footprint is a key competitiveness metric, with research showing that over half of European adults are willing to pay more for such “green” products. Therefore, by reducing the carbon footprint and enhancing the climate competitiveness of Africa’s key exports, we can secure a niche market and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

To address the increment of GHG emissions along trade corridors, TMA’s green trade programme is implementing several initiatives, such as shifting Kenya’s fresh produce transportation from air to sea freight, under the EU-funded Business Environment and Export Enhancing Programme (Beeep).

These initiatives are complemented by promoting modal shifts like road to rail or inland water transport and advocacy for green trade policies. The goal is to reduce transport emissions and, by extension, trade-related emissions across the continent.

To achieve this, under its USAid-funded Economic Recovery and Reform Activity (USAid-Erra), TMA has commissioned a baseline study to gauge emissions levels and identify feasible, accurate, and timely mitigation actions targeting the northern corridor. Similar studies are planned for the central and other corridors as well.

In addition to emissions reduction, TMA is committed to climate-proofing infrastructure to ensure its resilience against extreme weather conditions.

The recent El Niño rains, which have inflicted significant economic losses and suffering on many, highlight the necessity of resilient infrastructure.

A TMA-funded project, the Hargeisa by-pass road in Somaliland, exemplifies the economic advantages of climate-proofing infrastructure. It features elevated and lengthened bridges anticipating the most severe storms and floods.

Read: BUWEMBO: We must confront emergency of our failure to learn

Moreover, TMA promotes regional food security in the Horn of Africa by enhancing trade corridors and eliminating trade barriers, facilitating food movement from surplus countries like Uganda to deficit regions.

This effort is crucial as the World Trade Organisation forecast suggests that without adaptive measures, Sub-Saharan Africa could face crop yield losses of up to 40 percent by 2080, emphasising the criticality of an efficient regional food trading system.

Additionally, such systems mitigate the broader issues of food loss exacerbated by climate change, which affects weather patterns and promotes the spread of crop pests and diseases. By speeding up food movement to markets and promoting structured trade, TMA aims to reduce these post-harvest losses while ensuring food safety compliance.

These initiatives —decarbonising trade, improving trade infrastructure resilience against climate impacts, and boosting intra-regional food trade—are pillars of TMA’s commitment to sustainable trade practices.

Africa stands at a crossroads. The choices made today will determine its future position in the global market and its role in combating climate change.

By embracing green trade practices, Africa can not only meet global market demands but also lead by example in the global effort to achieve a sustainable, zero-emission logistics sector. The journey may be arduous, but the destination—a greener, more sustainable future—is not only possible but also promising and well worth the effort.

Ouma Olum is Green Trade Director at TradeMark Africa