How Walmart is Advising President Obama on Food Supply in Africa

By Shelley Broader
April 30, 2015
Hand Holding Green Wheat Stalks

As a major food retailer, we are concerned that almost one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been found to lose as much as 36% of their harvested food, mainly during processing and distribution. With our company’s retail footprint in sub-Saharan Africa—almost 400 stores in 12 countries on the continent—we’re committed to helping improve Africa’s perishable supply chain.

Last year, I was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa with a mandate to provide recommendations that encourage commercial engagement between the U.S. and Africa, and I chair the subcommittee on trade and supply chain development.

So, on April 8, our council met at the White House, and I presented some important supply chain recommendations related to trade facilitation and agriculture cold chain development.  Our recommendations were based on conversations with subject matter experts within Walmart, from our global sourcing teams to our transportation leaders, including multiple divisions within Massmart. It was truly a team effort!

We proposed, among other things, that the U.S. government lead a study on the current state of perishable food marketing in Africa. The study will identify efficiencies along the supply chain for all products and enable new distribution opportunities across the continent by addressing perishable food loss.

It makes sense that a key driver toward producing more food is minimizing food waste, yet building a perishable food supply chain in Africa poses particular challenges:

  • Poor logistics service can lead to time-consuming and expensive workarounds.
  • Lack of adequate transport and treatment facilities can mean products must be shipped by air instead of by sea, making them more expensive adding costs that diminish competitiveness.
  • Without full consideration for the market demand for different products, opportunities can be lost as a result of misplaced investment, increased spoilage and limited consumer choice.

Improvements in ways to keep food cold during transport - the cold chain - and food storage could significantly reduce food waste, increase agricultural exports and help develop local and regional supply chains for all food, including grains and perishables like meat, fish, vegetables and dairy, all important nutritional products to the people of Africa.
As a council member, Walmart is demonstrating its commitment to Africa and highlighting the important role retail can play in building supply chains and helping consumers, small businesses and farmers while also advocating for priorities that drive business efficiency. We have three more meetings with the council, and I look forward to reporting back to you on additional ways we are helping the African food supply chain.