This section presents and discusses the empirical results from the food security–trade facilitation regression models. The first-stage results from pooled OLS estimation of Eq. (3) are reported in Table 3. In a nutshell, these results show that the proposed instrument (distance to the frontier) is negatively and significantly associated with all the trade facilitation indicators. Expectedly, the results suggest that the closer a country is to the frontier (higher DTF score), the better trade is enabled across its borders. The second-stage results showing the effects of trade disfacilitation on alternative indicators of food security are reported in Tables 4, 5, 6, and 7. Reported in each table are seven regression models. The impact of the composite trade disfacilitation index on food security is reported under Column 1 in each table. Columns 2–7 correspond to the food security effects of each trade facilitation indicator – documents to export, documents to import, time to export, time to import, cost to export, and cost to import.
Before delving into the core results, we momentarily consider the diagnostic statistics reported at the bottom of each table. The null hypothesis that each trade facilitation variable can be treated as exogenous is rejected across almost all the specifications. This result undeniably confirms our suspicion of trade facilitation being endogenous, hence the use of an instrumental variable estimator. The validity of our proposed instrument – the distance to the frontier score for trading across borders – is assessed via the Anderson conical correlation Langrangian Multiplier (LM) test for under-identification and Cragg-Donald Wald F test for weak identification. In most cases, the p values of the LM and F tests are less than a 5% significance level. This leads us to reject the null hypothesis of under-identification and weak identification of the regression models. This implies that the DTF score (i.e., the instrument) is not only correlated with each trade facilitation measure (i.e., endogenous regressors), but this correlation is also strong or statistically significant at the conventional error levels (as shown in Table 3). While the exclusion restriction is not directly testable, its satisfaction is justified previously (see Sect. 3).
Turning to the main results, the coefficients of the composite trade disfacilitation index are both consistent with theoretical expectations and statistically significant at 5% level. Poorer trade facilitation (higher composite index) is found to significantly exacerbate Africa’s overall food insecurity (higher prevalence of undernourishment in Table 4). This result is buttressed by the ensuing reduction in food availability (lower dietary energy supply adequacy in Table 5), a decline in accessibility (greater depth of food deficit in Table 6), and imperiled utilization (reduced access to improved sanitation facilities in Table 7). The results reveal that all other things held constant, a 1% increase in the trade disfacilitation index is significantly associated with 1.6% increase in the prevalence of undernourishment, 0.36% decline in the adequacy of dietary energy supply, 1.8% increase in the depth of food deficit and 0.26% decline in population with access with improved sanitation facilities. While the effects may not be direct, these results suggest that poor trade facilitation can exert harmful effects on food security in Africa. However, differential effects exist among the four pillars of food security. Access is the worst affected dimension, followed by availability and utilization in descending order. These results are primarily supported by the claims of Mukhtar (2017).
As aforesaid, trade facilitation is a multilayered concept. It is, therefore, essential for policymakers to know which aspects of the logistical process of international trade need to be reformed to leverage the beneficial effects of trade facilitation and expedite progress towards eradicating hunger and poverty. To identify which dimensions of trade facilitation reforms are most promising in Africa’s fight against hunger, we now analyze the results (Models 2–7) from employing the six primary indicators. The results show that a higher number of documents required to export is associated with poorer food security outcomes, holding all other factors constant. However, this association is only statistically significant for the availability and utilization pillars of food security in Tables 5 and 7 respectively. Similarly, one more documentary requirement for imports is found to increase the prevalence of undernourishment by 0.07%, reduce dietary energy supply adequacy by 0.02%, increase the food deficit gap by 0.08% and diminish access to sanitation facilities by 0.01%. These coefficients (in Tables 4, 5, 6, and 7) are statistically significant at the conservative error levels. These results demonstrate the adverse effects excessive documentation could have on food security outcomes in Africa.
With lackluster agricultural output growth vis-à-vis population growth, most African countries tend to rely on food imports to bridge domestic food supply gaps. To the extent that Africa has been a net food importer since the mid-1970s (Rakotoarisoa et al. 2012), and annual food import bills projected to soar sharply from $35 billion to $110 billion by 2025 (African Development Bank 2016), imports are central to Africa’s food security. Improving domestic food productivity remains a useful policy option to win the war against chronic hunger and food insecurity in the long-run. However, food imports will continue to be vital in filling food supply gaps and improving food security in the short-to-medium run. In contrast to 3–6 import documents required in more developed and food secure countries (i.e., 3 documents in North America, 4.5 in the Euro area, and 5.15 in high-income countries (World Bank 2015)), over 8 documents are required per shipment of imported goods in Africa (see Table 2). Such burdensome documentation and customs procedures create unnecessary delays at the border and foist considerable losses on importers due to spoilage of imported consignments (Durkin 2017). Therefore, simplifying and harmonizing import documentation procedures will not only speed up border processing and customs clearance but also the movement of foodstuffs along the food chain from surplus to deficit areas. With annual global food losses or a waste of 1.3 billion tons (Gustavsson et al. 2011), cutting documentation-induced delays will be instrumental in minimizing caloric losses from the farm to the plate, closing the food deficit gap and augmenting food availability (World Economic Forum 2014; Mukhtar 2017).
Further, the adverse effects of excessive export and import documentation are substantiated by the estimated impacts of time costs on food security. From Tables 4, 5, 6, and 7, the coefficients of both time to export and import are both theoretically consistent and statistically significant across all specifications. Each extra day an export consignment is delayed, corresponds to a 0.02% increase in undernourished population, 0.004% decline in dietary energy adequacy, 0.022% increase in the food deficit gap, and 0.003% fall in the population with access to proper sanitation facilities. Similarly, as shown in Tables 4, 5, 6, and 7, a day’s delay in importing is found to swell the undernourished population by 0.013%, dampen dietary energy supply adequacy by 0.003%, widen the depth of food deficit by 0.014% and shrink the proportion of the population with access to sanitation facilities by 0.002%. With the bulk of Africa’s trade involving time-sensitive agricultural commodities, the importance of achieving efficiency in intra-and inter-continental trade and reducing the time taken to export and import cannot be overstressed.
In addition to cumbersome documentation and customs formalities, numerous checkpoints and roadblocks hamper intra-African trade (Mercier 2018; Barka 2012). These translate into lengthy waiting times and erratic delivery times for traders. Per our sample, it takes on average 31.05 days to export and 37.1 days to import in Africa (see Table 2). These trading durations are 5–9 times longer than what it takes for countries at the frontier to export (6 days) and import (4 days) in 2015 (World Bank 2014). Overall, such hold-ups inhibit the timely availability of dispatched goods, including food products, from external markets and aggravate food insecurity situations. Gustavsson et al. (2011) reported that 40% of food losses occur at retail and consumer stages in developed countries. However, in developing countries, over 40% of the food losses is owed to several factors, including border delays, poor trade-related infrastructure, and inadequate post-harvest processing and storage facilities at the early and middle stages of the food supply chain. Djankov et al. (2010) found that time delays reduce trade, with a relatively larger impact on exports of time-sensitive goods, precisely perishable agricultural products. A decline in trade, in turn, may imperil food security.
While the coefficients of most control variables are not robustly statistically significant, the direction of their effects deserves some discussions. By focusing on the models for which trade facilitation variables are significant, we identify some consistent patterns in the estimated results. Contrary to our hypothesized expectations, our results suggest that trade openness is inversely associated with food security outcomes, albeit insignificant. While this result contradicts the findings of Dithmer and Abdulai (2017), it is consistent with Mary (2019), who showed that higher food trade openness leads to increased hunger in developing countries. This result, to some extent, substantiates our argument that merely opening borders to international trade may not necessarily lead to improved food security, unless trade is effectively facilitated. One reason is that most of the world’s poor and undernourished people dwell in rural areas, where weak transport infrastructure and other market imperfections impede the movement of (imported or locally produced) food from surplus areas (Mary 2019). It is also likely that an increased supply of low-cost, imported foods may suppress local food prices as well as the incomes of producers and rural households, who heavily depend on cash from marketed surplus to access healthy foods through the market (Sibhatu and Qaim 2017).
Further, improved political stability is associated with a reduction in the prevalence of undernourishment, increment in dietary energy supply adequacy, and decline in depth of food deficit. Though not robustly significant, this outcome is consistent with existing evidence that adverse political shocks, conflicts, and terrorism are injurious to food security, possibly due to significantly constrained production and access to markets during political upheavals (Dithmer and Abdulai 2017; van Weezel 2018). The results also show that agricultural growth may not necessarily translate into better food security outcomes. This may be because even though the relationship between agricultural production and food intake is intuitively direct, it is mediated by several individual, (intra)household, and community-level factors that may enhance or negate the effects of agricultural growth on nutritional status. This finding is consistent with the well-established consensus that (non)agricultural growth alone is insufficient to reduce malnutrition unless it is coupled with strategic investments in complementary areas, such as education, health, women empowerment, and infrastructure (World Bank 2007; Ecker et al. 2012).
The coefficients of GDP per capita are rightly signed, suggesting higher incomes may facilitate access to diverse goods and services, which are beneficial to food security and overall wellbeing. Inflationary pressures are associated with improved food security outcomes: lower prevalence of undernourishment, higher dietary energy supply adequacy, and lower depth of food deficit. This finding is consistent with Sakyi et al. (2018), who found that inflationary tendencies can be welfare-enhancing in Africa. These beneficial effects may be true for net selling households, whose supply of commodities may rise with upward price movements, especially when markets are given sufficient time to adjust. For net sellers, this may lead to higher farm revenue, higher purchasing power, and better access to (non-self-produced) diverse, healthy foods in the market.
Lastly, a higher rate of population growth is associated with reduced food security, as increasing population means a higher demand for food. This may result in added pressure on scarce resources and food shortages. These undesirable effects of accelerating population growth rate are seen in higher prevalence in undernourishment, lower dietary energy supply adequacy, wider food-deficit gaps, and lower access to sanitation facilities. The effects of the climate variables are mixed, with rainfall (temperature) shocks being associated with better (worse) food security outcomes.