A two-way street

Regional integration in southern Africa through supermarkets

Walk into any supermarket and you will find a mix of products to stock the kitchen. It’s easy to assume that many of the goods on offer are sourced locally and from nearby countries. In the region of southern Africa, however, imported goods are often shipped from another continent instead of transported from neighbouring nations.

A new UNU-WIDER mini-documentary explains why. 

A Two-Way Street is now available in full.

Opportunities for regional trade are being missed

Ongoing border control issues regularly result in delays and significantly higher costs to transport goods between countries. This has translated into difficulties for suppliers’ cost-competitiveness. 

 ‘We care about growth in South Africa and in the southern African region. But at the moment it’s too much of a one-way street,’ says das Nair. 

There also seems to be a one-way movement of products from South Africa outwards. Researcher Reena das Nair of CCRED, who has also recently written a blog on small suppliers and supermarket chains, explains that supermarkets offer a good way for suppliers to supply products in their own countries as well as throughout the southern African region. Current practices, unfortunately, are not ideal.

 ‘We care about growth in South Africa and in the southern African region. But at the moment it’s too much of a one-way street,’ says das Nair. 

The mini-documentary shows how trucks leave South Africa full of export goods bound for supermarkets in neighbouring nations; on the return trip home, they typically go empty. 

‘Where the opportunity lies is getting those trucks to come back carrying output that’s been produced in the partner countries,’ says researcher Thando Vilakazi. Not only would the two-way movement of goods between countries reduce costs for exporters, it would enable access to the largest markets for greater regional integration.  

Mini-documentary draws on broader research project on southern Africa

In addition to researchers who worked on the project, the mini-documentary features local expertise, including a Johannesburg fresh produce market agent, a transporter, and a driver in the region. 

The policy lessons outlined in the mini-documentary come out of the Regional growth and development in southern Africa project. The research findings were presented at our conference on growth and development policy, which was organized in collaboration with the National Treasury in Pretoria, South Africa, in late 2016. 

A Two-way Street is part of UNU-WIDER's new video series on southern Africa, which is now available on our YouTube channel. 


The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.