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Ethiopia’s Trucking and Logistics Sector is Ripe for Tech Optimization and Disruption

By Andrew Larsen | Wed Aug 24 2022
 
Five reasons why we believe strategic investment in Ethiopia's trucking, transportation and logistics sector could unlock the country for major growth: 
  • Implementation of technology has dramatically decreased trucking costs in other East African countries, specifically Kenya.
  • Investing in transportation, trucking and logistics in Ethiopia can increase the country’s international competitiveness.
  • The sector is ripe for technological optimization with solutions including route optimization, vehicle space optimization, matching supply and demand, price transparency and delivery time predictions.
  • The Ethiopian government is interested in engaging private investment in this sector.
  • While there is a 49/51 majority Ethiopian ownership requirement for all shipping and freight forwarding agency services, trucking within Ethiopia is 100% open to foreign company ownership for loads over 25 tons.

From late 2020 through February 2021, the United States Agency for International Development, Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (USAID BHA) conducted a Private Sector Landscape Assessment (PSLA) to identify areas of aligned interest between USAID BHA priorities and the private sector operating in Ethiopia in order to create more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive programs in Ethiopia. From this research, USAID BHA identified Ethiopia’s trucking, transportation, and logistics sector and the promotion of urban to rural linkages for the country’s rural business ecosystem as high impact opportunities for development and growth.
To build on the findings of the PSLA, USAID BHA partnered with RENEW to conduct a three phase project covering a 12-month period. The first phase of the project, which was completed in June 2022 included a market assessment on the current state of Ethiopia’s transportation, trucking and logistics sector, with recommendations for private sector engagement and assistance opportunities. In phase two of the project, which kicks off in Q3 of 2022, RENEW will test and pilot project ideas in the field. Phase three will focus on scaling successful pilot interventions.  
Below, RENEW has summarized what the project team views as exciting opportunities based on our Phase I market assessment findings regarding Ethiopia’s transportation, trucking and logistics sector.
In 2016, Ethiopia scored 2.37 out of 5 in the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index – significantly lower than neighboring and similar countries. The stakeholders most impacted by persisting barriers in the transportation, trucking and logistics sector are local SMEs, exporters, end consumers and humanitarian organizations. For example, while Ethiopia’s textile labor costs have been comparable to labor costs in southeast Asia, the transportation of a 20-foot container of garments from Ethiopia to Germany costs 247% more than from Vietnam and 72% more than from Bangladesh. Similarly, when comparing Ethiopia’s logistics costs with those in other parts of the world, RENEW found that while shipping in Ethiopia costs $0.11 USD per ton per km, it costs just $0.02 USD in India and Pakistan, and $0.05 USD in China. This underscores the untapped potential for Ethiopia’s industries if transportation costs are reduced and optimized. Logistics and transportation costs are similarly high throughout East Africa. Moreover, in a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2021, the cost of moving a product from a factory to the consumer in Africa adds an average of 320% to the manufactured good’s cost, which can lead to a markup as high as 700%. 
Unlocking Ethiopia’s and Africa’s potential is dependent on the reduction of these costs and provides a significant opportunity for the private sector to invest in technologies that will reduce trucking costs and position East Africa as an international competitor.
Overall, research indicated that poor infrastructure, limited applications of technology, and a shortage of vehicles were key barriers to efficiency and growth in the sector. For context, industry experts estimate that Ethiopia currently has 16,000 vehicles, while Kenya (with less than half the population compared to Ethiopia) has over 100,000 vehicles. Moreover, 44.6% of trucks in Ethiopia are more than 10 years old. To make matters worse, 50% of trucks are below their maximum operational capacity.
That being said, the Ethiopian government has indicated that it is eager to promote private sector engagement and innovation in the transportation, trucking and logistics sector. For example, Minister of Transport, H.E. Dagmawit Moges indicated in a 2020 op-ed that “the transport and logistics service has for too long been traditional, overly [centralized] and rigidly controlled,” and utilizing innovative technologies to meet the “immediate demands and needs of citizens should be the focus.”
Considering these factors, the project team believes the sector is on the cusp of explosive growth that would be hastened with the introduction of emerging logistics technologies, greater transparency and increased competition, all of which could be accomplished through a well-coordinated effort by humanitarian organizations and private sector actors.
To inform our strategy, the project team has conceptualized the trucking, transportation, and logistics sector as two separate operating environments as demonstrated by the graphic below:
First, A-B transit, which is controlled by the government-owned Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services Enterprise (ESLSE), does not provide a significant opportunity for successful intervention investment. Additionally, non-profit organizations including TradeMark East Africa, have already signed MOUs with the Ethiopian government to address challenges facing this part of the process. Rather, RENEW believes there is a compelling consideration for private sector engagement and investment in technological tools supporting the B-C-D portion of the process. We term this “the opportunity zone.” Currently, truck owners and companies operating in the opportunity zone are not sufficiently tech-enabled and contracts are controlled by middlemen and commission agents, which increase costs for consumers and humanitarian organizations. To sum it up, B-C-D trucking is a de facto “gig economy” controlled by brokers with cell phones, manually distributing jobs amongst their contacts. In our estimation, technological tools could greatly decrease inefficiencies and costs. Through conversations with industry experts, the project team has determined that the below technological interventions are needed in order to optimize B-C-D logistics in Ethiopia:
  • Cargo tracking to predict arrival times
  • Price transparency tools
  • Route optimization for speed and fuel efficiency
  • Vehicle space optimization
  • Vehicle supply and cargo owner shipping demand matching to activate idle vehicles
Importantly, technological disruptions have been successful in other East African countries. For example, in 2016, a private logi-tech company called Lori Systems, developed a tech-enabled platform to optimize Kenya’s trucking sector. Since 2016, the company has reported that it has reduced trucking costs by up to 20% just by implementing technology. By developing a targeted tech-enabled investment approach, we believe the same could be true for Ethiopia. 
Just as important, emerging logi-tech companies with visions and ideas for implementing these solutions already exist in Addis Ababa. Given the current context, RENEW believes that private sector engagement and interventions that focus on technology and avoid purchasing and/or financing asset-heavy trucks (due to limited forex to purchase spare parts, high relative cost of fuel, and limited skilled labor to service vehicles) is a strategy worth considering. From here, the project team plans to build on findings of this market assessment and determine if capital can be mobilized to benefit Ethiopia’s trucking, transportation and logistics companies operating in the opportunity zone. In doing so, Ethiopia’s domestic, regional and international trade potential could be unlocked. 
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