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Africa Shipping — Do It Yourself

Shipping sweet potatoes, butternut squash and melons from West Africa to Europe and China is not as far-fetched as one might be led to believe, even in the current economic climate. Cool Logistics Global caught up with Oliver Huesmann, business development Consultant for Agro-Safim, a horticultural business conglomerate based in the West African State of Guinea-Bissau.

Foto: Oliver Huesmann, business development consultant for Agro-Safim at Bissau Port

Agro-Safim’s project to develop fresh produce exports is taking shape after some initial success last year exporting fresh produce to countries including Angola, Portugal, UAE, Spain and Germany.

“We could ship 1200 reefer boxes as soon as the season begins next January. The sweet potatoes and butternut squash will also be destined for China, the melons mainly for Europe,” Huesmann told Cool Logistics from his ‘home office’ in Malaga.

Endowed with rich soil, ideal for planting fruits and vegetables, Guinea-Bissau’s season extends from January to June before the rainy season sets in. Once October arrives, the mercury hits 31 degrees Celsius, relative humidity averages 80% and serious planting can begin. By January the harvest period is in full swing.

The challenge has been to convince ocean carriers to call in Bissau Port. Maersk has a service calling in the West African state twice a month. However, the Guineans need access to a weekly service, which currently doesn’t yet exist.

As mentioned at the 5th Logistics Hub conference in Berlin earlier this year, which was held alongside Fruit Logistica, Huesmann has been looking at ways to secure a separate shipping service from the West Africa state destined for Rotterdam via Algeciras or to China. The idea is to use 200–300 TEU type vessels which could take no longer than 9 days to Rotterdam. To China the journey via Algeciras could take 31 days.

Agro-Safim is a vertical company with interests in power generation, agriculture, first mile transportation and even cold storage and general warehousing. The project to export fresh produce is benefitting from German development aid from GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit). Agro-Safim’s plantations are located 50 km from the packing house whence truck/trailers are used to take the produce on a short journey of 12km to the port. The company operates its own truck fleet and container chassis. Another option would be to explore airfreight. The local airport is at a distance of 14km from the packing house. However, given the current insecurity of airfreight due to Covid-19, and the lack of infrastructure for aircraft loading, exploring the air transport option would be far too early, Huesmann admits.

Meanwhile the company has been investigating the option of chartering required tonnage. “We could set up our own shipping service with 50 boxes a week,” he says, adding that they are looking at possibly using two to three ships. A stopover in Senegal on the route north is also being considered in order to defray some of the logistic costs.

Admittedly the COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on the project. A packing machine, which was due to arrive from China earlier during this season, has been held up because of logistical challenges in Asia. The machine is expected to arrive packed into 6 or 7 separate dry-box containers shortly.

“We already have the equivalent of 560 container loads planted in the ground”, says Huesmann. “Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 we lost a few consignments mainly because the carriers were unable to offer a service. As a result, some of the produce had to be destroyed”.

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