Out of Africa
Africa has always been a location with big potential - the continent is endowed with plenty of natural resources, a pleasant climate and cultural diversity.
Of late, it has rapidly been establishing its status as a leading hub for the logistics industry, although appetising as Africa is for market players, the continent poses challenges that are not for the faint of heart.
Africa is bigger than Europe, United States and China combined. Logistical problems exist, particularly in land-locked countries, and a generally poor infrastructure is one of the major factors that contributes to the lack of a seamless supply chain, restraining growth.
In spite of the obvious turmoil surrounding Africa - which, apart from the infrastructure, includes poverty, corruption and political upheavals - it is still a significant resource for perishable products, such as coffee, tea, flowers and seafood.
Due to lower production costs and ideal climatic conditions for flower and vegetable production in the region, there is an increased demand for African perishables in the rest of the world.
Ultimately, in order to capitalise on the market and export these products from Africa, operators need to be physically present within the continent to establish transportation flows, which often encounter difficulties due to the unfavourable customs regime and a high level of bureaucracy.
Several private-sector investments from international firms have been made in order to improve matters, one of which has been Dubai World.
It recently announced a raft of projects throughout Africa, particularly a huge investment via DP World in the port of Maputo, Mozambique. Another example would be Swift Freight International.
We established early on a network of offices throughout Africa that would coordinate our transactions and ensure a steady and solid transportation flow of our goods.
Now, Swift has 24 offices in 14 countries within the continent. The concept of a sea-air combined transport from the Far East into Africa via the UAE, led by Dubai, became viable because of the benefits that the country offers.
In the UAE, the sky is the limit. An open sky policy, huge investments in ports, airports and infrastructure, plus the establishment of substantial free zones, all ensure an easy flow of cargo, making the federation a global commercial hub.
Consequently, Swift Perishable Logistics (SPL) was born as a result of the founding of Dubai Flower Centre (DFC), one of the initiatives that fast-tracked Dubai as a major transhipment hub for the perishable market.
DFC was designed to boost the overall perishable cargo-handling capacity at Dubai International Airport. SPL was one of the anchor tenants of DFC, and has long been taking advantage of worldclass cool chain facilities, plus access to the growing markets in the Middle East, high quality and cost-effective transhipment, and the free zone for logistics and commercial services.
Through the facilities of DFC, SPL became the first operator based in DFC to provide scheduled and ad hoc services using a sea-air service to bring in perishable goods from Africa via Dubai to the Middle East, the Mediterranean, CIS, Far East and Australia.
The future of Africa is vivid. But it needs to end the political turmoil that has been plaguing the biggest sources of perishable products, like Kenya. Unless the continent is united, not only will millions of dollars of potential investment be lost but so will the logistical impulse that is currently electrifying the local market.
Issa Baluch is chairman and CEO of Swift Freight International and past president of FIATA. He is the author of Transport Logistics, Past, Present and Predictions (www.transportlogistics.com).