The Sahel and West Africa had a good agricultural season, so why does food insecurity persist?

Ousman Tall, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)

Every year the identification, analysis and mapping of areas at risk and populations affected by food and nutrition insecurity in the Sahel and West Africa are carried out. Conducted within the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA), this process is co-ordinated by the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS). It analyses country-level information of the 17 countries in the region using a harmonised, common framework called the Cadre harmonisé (CH). The CH analysis is based mainly on annual agricultural production and information from household and market surveys. Developed by West African actors, using international standards, the strength of the CH lies in its broad objectivity, consensual analysis and the incorporation of a wide range of stakeholder analyses.

The 2016-17 agro-pastoral season just ended in the Sahel and West Africa region and the agricultural and food situations are generally satisfactory. The CH analysis shows good rainfall and hydrological situations as well as crops and livestock production. Cereal and tuber production is estimated at 67.2 million metric tonnes and 166.7 metric tonnes constituting 17% and 15% increases compared to the past five year averages, respectively. Despite these gains, approximately 9.6 million people are in a food security crisis situation.  The report published following the March 2017 RPCA Experts’ meeting in Dakar and based on the CH analysis, highlights some of the causes of food and nutrition insecurity to include prices, markets and the conflict along the Lake Chad basin.  Building upon the report, there is a need to further expand on some of the other conjectural factors that affected food and nutrition security during the 2016-17 season.

The global economy has been faced with weak aggregate demand, decreasing commodity prices and high financial market volatility. There is a sharp decline in the prices of commodities such as rubber, crude oil, iron ore and gold that has led to substantial cuts in export values and fiscal revenues in the region. This has led to the depreciation of local currencies in Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone; amid increasing rates of inflation. The Nigerian economy which represents over 65 % of West Africa’s GDP has been particularly affected by the continuous depreciation of the Naira, which has negatively impacted the economy of the region. Nigeria’s population is more than 167 million, representing over half of the total population in the region. With 60% of this population living below the poverty line, a general depreciation of the Naira leads to increased food prices and affects households’ access to food. This was the situation during the 2016-17 agricultural campaign.

The promotion of regional trade and markets in West Africa and the Sahel has helped to stimulate agricultural development and food security. National policies promoting regional integration have also helped to strengthen trade across the region through advocacy for the free movement of goods and services. Integrated markets and trade across the region have led to increased economies of scale in production, especially in the agricultural sector where surpluses produced by smallholder farmers are linked to local and regional markets.  However, regional integration has been hindered by a number of constraints including inefficient transportation and trade barriers along corridors and at borders, resulting in high transaction costs and, inevitably, high food prices.

Rapid urbanisation is also impeding the attainment of food security in the region. In West Africa, it is projected that the urban population will reach 400 million in 2050. The youthful population is migrating to urban areas, leaving behind an ageing farming population in an agrarian economy that is highly labour intensive. The agriculture and food systems have not transformed adequately enough to take advantage of the youthful population migrating into urban areas.  This is becoming a serious social and economic issue for most countries in the region. Unfortunately, information on the nature of the food insecurity situation in urban areas is limited due to the focus of the food security analysis on food availability and other rural indicators.

The RPCA has developed the efficient tools and platform needed for the analysis and discussion of food security in the Sahel and West Africa. The CH has been expanded from its use in the Sahel to gradually incorporate the rest of West Africa. Nigeria is the last country to be incorporated in the CH analysis, with 16 of its 36 States covered. The next challenge is to analyse other structural and conjectural drivers of food and nutrition security from a national and regional perspective in order to better explain why a large number of the population is always food insecure despite good agricultural campaigns. Policy makers need to broaden the food security interventions beyond food availability to include other dimensions of food security: access, utilisation and stability.

Useful links

RPCA Food and Nutrition Situation in the Sahel and West Africa – final communiqué, March 2017

Maps & Facts: Food & Nutrition Situation, March 2017

Two cheers for lower food prices: Good for poor consumers and not the real issue for farmers

Jonathan Brooks, Head of Agro-food Trade and Markets Division, OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate

What’s the difference between a Mississippi mud pie and a Haitian mud cake? The answer is mud. The mud pie is a dessert containing vast amounts of chocolate. The mud cake is literally that, mud with some salt and margarine mixed in. At one time, only pregnant women in poor areas ate mud cakes, in the hope of getting some calcium or other minerals. But following the sudden rise in food prices in 2008, mud cakes became a staple for thousands of Haitians who couldn’t afford anything else. Haiti is one of the poorest countries on Earth, but its hungry were not alone in their misery. Food riots broke out in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America and the Caribbean.

International crop prices of crop started falling in 2012. The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016-2025 projects that over the next ten years, real prices of most agricultural products will decline slightly, but remain higher than they were prior to the 2007-08 price spike. Fundamentally, supply growth is expected to keep pace with demand growth, as population growth slows and the per capita demand for food staples becomes increasingly saturated in many emerging economies.

These projections assume continuing low oil prices and a sluggish recovery of the global economy, with abundant global food stocks to keep markets relatively stable. But merely a repetition of historic variability in oil prices, economic growth, and yields may well lead to another price spike within ten years. In addition, the uncertainties associated with climate change are starting to mount.

A major question is whether lower prices are to be welcomed, in particular whether they will benefit the world’s poor and hungry. Even before the food price crisis, when real food prices were lower than ever before, about 900 million people were not getting enough to eat (FAO). The 2007-2008 crisis was projected to add significantly to these numbers, given that the poor spend a relatively large share of their budgets on food, while the poorest farmers in the world are typically net buyers of food.

Fortunately, the worst fears were not realised and the total number of undernourished has continued to decline, to below 800 million in 2015. The impact of international price shocks was cushioned by three factors. First, domestic food markets in the poorest countries are often only partially integrated with international markets because they don’t have the ports, roads, storage facilities and other infrastructure required. This ultimately impedes development, but provides some isolation from international shocks. Second, many countries implemented policies to protect the incomes of the poor. The use of cash transfers seems to have been particularly effective at sheltering the worst off from the impact of price rises. Third, the recession of 2008-09 resulted in only mild slowdowns in most developing countries, and many of the poor could still afford to buy food.

Click graph to see full size

There is an argument that while poor consumers suffer from food price rises in the short term, in the longer term farmer need higher prices for it to be profitable for them to engage with markets, while increased output generates further benefits in terms of increased employment and higher wages.  However, this line or argument misrepresents the development process by failing to take account of the pressures imposed by market competition.

In developed countries, farmers who can continually reduce their costs, essentially thanks to technology such as adopting new crop varieties or exploiting economies of scale, will make profits. These profits will persist until other farmers catch up and prices fall from the cumulative impact on supply. Farmers who cannot adapt will of course be unprofitable at lower prices. This is no more than the competitive dynamic that we see in other sectors.

In developing countries, competitive pressures are mild or non-existent for subsistence farmers who are only weakly integrated with markets, but they kick in as infrastructure and local markets become more developed. Of course, few would suggest that the best way of helping developing country farmers is by failing to build rural roads, yet tariff walls and price protection can have just the same effect.

As farmers become more integrated with markets, higher long term prices reflect little more than the costs of productive factors (land, labour and capital), which means that the opportunities for profit are still confined to innovative farmers.

For farmers in both developed and developing countries, prices are therefore not the real issue. What matters is productivity. Higher rates of productivity growth lower prices in a way that is simultaneously good for consumers and beneficial for those farmers who are driving the productivity gains. “Laggards”, as Willard Cochrane termed them in 1958, face the choice of either improving their competitiveness or shifting into other economic activities.

Focusing on prices as the route towards higher incomes is in fact distracting because prices ultimately need to reflect the scarcity of natural resources. In many countries, for example, there is no pricing of water. That keeps costs low and contributes to lower prices, but also fosters unsustainable farming practices that will harm both producer and consumers in the longer run.

Lower prices are welcome to the extent that they derive from sustainable productivity growth. But from the standpoint of farmers, and the sector as a whole, prices are the wrong variable to focus on. As Paul Krugman put it: “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything”.

Useful links

Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals Jonathan Brooks on OECD Insights

Towards a Better Understanding of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR)

By Jennifer Sheahan, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC)

The time could not be more opportune to promote a better understanding of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) than now, during the 2016 Sahel and West Africa Week taking place from 12-16 December in Abuja, Nigeria. This is the single most important gathering of stakeholders to discuss food and nutrition security in the region. The week provides a fitting backdrop to review and discuss resilience action.

Between October and December 2016, 10.4 million people were identified as requiring food and nutrition assistance in the Sahel and West Africa. This situation is due to a combination of multiple, interconnected factors, including a lack of food availability, limited access to food and basic social services, and the effects of health and security issues. Over a number of decades, a proliferation of initiatives, projects and programmes of a development and humanitarian nature have emerged in the region to address food and nutrition insecurity. These initiatives, often implemented in an isolated, uncoordinated manner, outside of any overarching framework, have led to a duplication of efforts, a less than optimal use of resources and a source of competition between organisations.

Unifying Framework

The objective of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) – Sahel and West Africa is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by building resilience among vulnerable populations. Recognising that no single stakeholder or sector alone can adequately address the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity, AGIR promotes a collective and co-ordinated response from a range of stakeholders (inter-governmental organisations, government ministries, local governments, agricultural professional organisations, civil society and private sector actors, and technical and financial partners) across multiple sectors (agriculture, environment, health, education). AGIR brings all these stakeholders together, under a single, unifying framework, with a common objective and common terms of implementation, for greater, more effective impact. AGIR’s distinct unifying characteristic is underpinned by the political and technical leadership of the three regional organisations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), and the Permanent Interstates Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).  It is also supported by the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA), an international network for co-operation and co-ordination in the fight against food and nutrition insecurity. This solid institutional anchoring in the region, supported by the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat at the OECD, is essential for the buy-in of all stakeholders.

AGIR’s unifying function is further consolidated by a shared definition of resilience. This avoids stakeholders conceptualising resilience in their own way, at an individual project or programme level, without taking into account what needs to be collectively achieved for lasting results: “the capacity of vulnerable households, families, communities and systems to face uncertainty and the risk of shocks, to withstand and respond effectively to shocks, as well as to recover and adapt in a sustainable manner.”

It is important to emphasise that AGIR is not another initiative, project or programme.  It is not a financial mechanism. Rather, it is a unifying framework to which all actors striving for food and nutrition security in the region may adhere.

Regional Roadmap

To translate commitment into action, AGIR sets out its terms of implementation in a Regional Roadmap based on four pillars: improving social protection, strengthening nutrition, improving food production and income levels, and strengthening governance in food and nutrition security.

Across all four pillars, AGIR focuses stakeholder efforts on a common target: vulnerable populations, identified as lacking the most basic resources to protect their lives and livelihoods. These are poor and marginalised agricultural households, agro-pastoralists, artisan fishermen and poor urban and rural households in the informal economy.

Participatory Process

AGIR seeks to ensure that resilience is at the heart of national food and nutrition security policies; this is done through a “National Inclusive Dialogue” process bringing together stakeholders from different sectors to formulate “National Resilience Priorities”. This process involves a series of steps:

Step 1: review and identify existing policies and programmes that contribute to resilience and therefore the objectives of AGIR in terms of target populations and expected results;

Step 2: identify national priorities contributing to resilience and the assessment of the different stages of their implementation; and

Step 3: identify any gaps, such as in policies that need to be developed or strengthened to contribute to the resilience priorities previously identified, including the funding required to fill these gaps in terms of amounts and sources.

National Resilience Priorities are drawn from existing policies; it is this fundamental part of the process that is often misunderstood. Governments are not required to re-invent the wheel nor are they required to create parallel structures. The process is supported by existing policies, frameworks and network arrangements in different countries (e.g. Scaling Up Nutrition [SUN], Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition [REACH], National Agricultural Investment Plans [NAIPs]).

For AGIR to be successful, however, countries must take full national ownership of the process. This requires identifying and implementing National Resilience Priorities that are tailored to national needs. Countries must build consensus on the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity, the specific populations targeted and the expected results. Countries also must agree on concrete, operational arrangements with regard to funding, implementation and collectively monitoring and evaluating the National Resilience Priorities, at national and local levels. AGIR provides these operational frameworks to support national governments. It also facilitates dialogue between stakeholders to encourage more effective, collective action on resilience.

Progress in formulating and implementing National Resilience Priorities is reviewed twice a year by the AGIR Senior Experts’ Group. The Group also discusses opportunities for stakeholders to strengthen co-ordination. This unified approach to channelling stakeholder action under a single framework to address food and nutrition insecurity is the foundation upon which AGIR is built.

Paving the Way Forward

The progress made by AGIR to date is encouraging; eight out of the region’s 17 countries have validated their National Resilience Priorities. Three others are pending validation, and the six remaining countries are in the start-up stage of the process. Despite the progress made in policy-making, a lack of co-ordination persists on the ground. Without a clear view and understanding by all stakeholders of what exactly is being implemented, the lack of co-ordination will prevail.

In tackling this challenge, one of the crucial next steps for AGIR is to carry out a detailed inventory of food and nutrition security and resilience interventions in the region. The inventory will be made available to stakeholders via an online mapping tool, paving the way for better, more effective co-ordination. It will allow for clear lines of ownership and responsibilities to be identified and established, thereby reducing duplication. This next step will bolster AGIR as a unifying framework, furthering the common objective of stakeholders to build resilience to a far greater extent than any single programme or project can achieve by working in isolation.

Useful links

More from SWAC on OECD Insights

Empowering women is key to improving food security and resilience in West Africa

women-processing-fishRichard Clarke, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

Food insecurity remains unacceptably high in West Africa. According to the Food Crisis Prevention Network, nearly 9.5 million people in the region required food assistance as well as measures to protect their livelihoods and combat malnutrition between June and August 2016, despite significant improvements since the 1990s. FAO data also shows that changing trends have seen women representing approximately 50% of the agricultural labour force on the African continent, while IFAD estimates that women contribute 89% of agricultural employment in Sahelian countries. Thus, women’s contributions to food systems across West Africa have both widespread implications and prospects for food security and resilience in the region, a subject upon which Donatella Gnisci has written a paper for the OECD/SWAC West African Papers Series.

With equality and empowerment issues featuring strongly on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly through Sustainable Development Goal 5, never has there been a more pertinent time to stimulate policy debate on this subject.

Developing a greater understanding of the subject must always be the first step in the process of policy analysis and design. This latest West African Paper informs the debate by describing the ways in which women participate in the four broad activities of the region’s food system before making its own policy recommendations.

Women are involved in all areas of food production, whether staple foods, cash crops or livestock. Men and women often work side-by-side, but cropping patterns and task allocation are often gender specific with subsequent impacts on crop selection, harvesting and consumption decisions, as observed in Côte D’Ivoire. However, access to land, inputs, credit and training (amongst other productive resources) reveals ingrained gender inequalities that put women at a disadvantage in managing their land. These disparities are exacerbated when education levels differ between genders, as shown in productivity gap differentials in Niger, which has been shown by the AfDB to have a huge impact on national economies.

Women are involved in processing activities across all three broad categories of food: cereals and vegetables, fish and meat. Tasks vary from cleaning and grinding, to salting and fermenting, to cooking and marketing. These post-harvest activities attract both female labour and entrepreneurship in West Africa, motivated by both a lack of alternative employment opportunities and potentially profitable markets. Notably, the fish processing industry in the Casamance region of Senegal is 90% controlled by women with hired labour predominantly male. This has led to the formation of women’s networks in many parts of the region, who, amongst other roles, are seeking to address the insufficient access to capital, technologies and training that remain barriers to greater female participation in the sector, relative to those faced by men.

Women continue to be the pivot of local food distribution systems and often have monopolies on street-food vending as in Ghana and Niger, with preparing and selling food second only to agricultural production as a source of income for women working in the region’s food system. Distribution is in fact often done in conjunction with these activities. The rise of supermarkets in the region can create substantial business opportunities for women in the sector, but only if they can meet the quality and consistency standards of suppliers. This is a challenge for female farmers and entrepreneurs in particular who are often at a disadvantage in their access to distribution networks and management experience in comparison to their male counterparts.

Consumption and nutrition
In West African societies, women and girls have predominant roles in preparing food for their dependents as part of their non-remunerated roles in the community. Women need not only the purchasing power to improve their community’s diets, but also the education to prepare nutritious foods. This is suggested to be the case in Senegal relative to Mali, which has much lower levels of stunting in children despite having a similar level of GDP. Furthermore, tailored health services must be provided to support women who are regularly laden with heavy workloads but put the nutrition needs of their dependents before their own. The risks of this are heightened when women’s bodies are weakened by early or serial pregnancies and from the strains of child-raising, common across the region.

In West Africa, positive steps have been taken by regional organisations such as ECOWAS, UEMOA and CILSS to strengthen the capacities of national ministries working on gender equality. However, greater empowerment of women at all levels of society associated with activities throughout the region’s food system is required if malnutrition rates are to be reduced and resilience of communities strengthened. This necessitates a broadening in scope of current activities to the implementation of multi-sector policies that influence gender relations at household, societal and political levels. In turn, a virtuous circle of empowerment and greater participation of women throughout the regional food system can be generated. Strengthening women’s networks to provide the services required to aid their empowerment appears to be a positive short-run step.

However, tackling gender inequalities at every level and across every sector is required if real empowerment is to be realised. This struggle must not only be a women’s struggle, but a societal one too, embodied in community activities and public policy.

Useful links

The main sector of economic activity in West Africa consists of feeding its population

Moving beyond agriculture: It’s food that matters!

Sahel and West Africa Club Forum: Resilience and Food Security in West Africa

Can African agriculture significantly contribute towards feeding the world by 2050 and beyond?

world-food-day-2016Ousman Tall, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

There are growing concerns about the world feeding itself in 2050 and beyond, and many consider that Africa has the potential to positively impact this enormous, though not insurmountable, challenge. Is this wishful thinking or reality based on the success stories of agricultural production and productivity on the African continent? Or, is it based on Africa’s untapped potential and its readiness to ensure that everything is put in place to make this dream a reality?

According to Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, “Africa may have the potential in agriculture, but you cannot eat potential”. Discussing Africa’s potential requires an understanding of the challenges impeding agricultural growth and development on the continent. Based on my experience and understanding of agricultural development trends in Africa, the continent is far from feeding itself in 2050, due to a combination of several factors, which are equally reinforcing and which affect all sectors of the agricultural economy. Take for example, the food crops sub-sector in Africa.

Yields in Africa for a majority of food crops are below the world average and substantial progress can be made. However, boosting yields requires more and better research to generate new and appropriate technologies as well as increased funding for the dissemination and adoption of these technologies to ensure that essential farming inputs are available and affordable. Agricultural research institutes in Africa lack the funding to carry out the research required to address yield deficits. Similarly, farmers cannot afford the high cost of inputs and most countries are not in the position to provide subsidies.

Rice paddy yields by continent (2007-14)


Source: FAOSTAT-Agriculture (database), Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome

Furthermore, if the plan to increase yields in Africa were to be based on the context of the Asian Green Revolution, the costs for Africa could outweigh the benefits. The Green Revolution was based on the massive introduction of improved varieties, agro-chemicals and investment in infrastructure. Africa simply cannot introduce the use of agro-chemicals on a colossal scale to increase yields. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for less than 2 percent of the total fertilizer used in the world, not as a matter of choice, but partly due to its high cost or to a lack of understanding of its usage. Moreover, the misapplication of agrochemicals is detrimental to the environment and human health. Rather, the development of appropriate varietal technologies to increase yields, amidst a decline in the agricultural labour force, should focus on improvements in labour-saving technologies and farmer field schools.

The rate of urban growth in Africa is one of the highest in the world. In West Africa alone, the urban population will reach 500 million in 2050. Increased urbanisation translates into a substantial decline in agricultural workers, who are predominantly rural dwellers. In fact, the ratio of the non-agricultural to the agricultural population in West Africa is expected to increase by 250 percent in 2050. Urbanisation is moving in the same direction for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and keeping up the pace of food production on the continent will require massive transformation in the agricultural production system.

Africa is already feeling the effects of climate change. The continent is experiencing recurrent droughts and floods for which tolerant and resistant crop varieties need to be developed. Using different climate models, the World Bank predicts that many parts of sub-Saharan Africa will become hotter and drier and that the extent of drylands might increase up to 20% by 2030. Land for crop production in some African countries, especially those in the tropical rainforest zones, will become scarce as a result of the global pressure to spare the forest and preserve the environment. Further warming of the earth will increase land unsuitable for farming and at the same time affect crop yields. In a World Bank report on extreme climate and its impacts, a warming of 1.5°C would reduce sorghum yields alone by 10%.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the continent offers numerous opportunities for agricultural growth and development. There is a huge market potential, supported by an increasing demand in food staples as a result of increased population growth and per capita consumption. The level of regional integration and co-operation taking place within the Regional Economic Communities will stimulate agricultural production and market linkages. Whereas agricultural land in other parts of the world is becoming scarce, Africa is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land. The continent is presently home to 19 percent of the world’s youth population, which is expected to double by 2030. This young, and largely unemployed and unskilled population could become the engine of agricultural growth.

The theme of this year’s World Food Day is Climate is changing. Food and Agriculture Must too. If Africa is to be an example for the rest of the world in how to sustainably increase food production to feed a growing population, then the policy trajectory of the food and agricultural economy must be rethought in order to appropriately factor in not only climate change, which is vital, but all of the issues mentioned above. African researchers and technicians can play a crucial role in addressing these issues by actively and emphatically guiding their policy makers. Unless we do so, per capita food production will diminish and African agriculture’s opportunity to show the world how to feed itself by 2050 will remain an illusion.

Useful links

Food-related information on the West Africa Gateway

World Food Day 2015: Building Resilient Societies and Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty in the Sahel and West Africa Region Ousman Tall on OECD Insights

The main sector of economic activity in West Africa consists of feeding its population

west african papersLaurent Bossard, Director, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

In launching the new “West African Papers” series produced by the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat, T. Allen and P. Heinrigs have reflected on the region’s food economy opportunities, providing us with a useful and necessary occasion to look back and measure the extent of changes that have taken place.

I’m old enough to remember the West African agriculture – and especially that of the Sahel – that existed in the middle of the 1980s. One could (already) witness the power of demographic growth. Between 1960 and 1985, the population of the Sahel had doubled and the urban population had increased fivefold. But farming did not keep pace. Excluding weather variations (people were just emerging from the terrible drought of 1983), this 25-year period revealed an increase in imports to the tune of 8% per year. In his 1987 book, Le sahel face aux futurs (The Sahel: Facing the Future), Jacques Giri was already sounding the alarm: “Overall, the Sahelian food production system has remained very traditional, very vulnerable to drought and not all that productive. It has not adapted in terms of quality, quantity or needs […]. The region is increasingly dependent on outside sources and, in particular, on food aid. The return of more favourable weather conditions has not led to a decrease in this dependence.”

A significant portion of the region’s “imports” were, in reality, related to food aid, which had practically become institutionalised since the middle of the 1970s. While it’s true that Europe – whose grain production had doubled between 1970 and 1985 – was not averse to providing this type of aid, this state of affairs was not sustainable and the prospects were worrisome.

Farmers in the Sahel and in West Africa were clearly divided into two extremely unequal halves. On the one hand, the majority practised subsistence farming, and a large proportion of that majority did so with self-sufficiency in mind. Markets only played a marginal role in producers’ lives, especially as, in a number of countries, prices were set by ministries and commercialisation was – in theory, at least – a state monopoly.

On the other hand, export crops were enjoying a major boom, compelling a minority of small farmers to “modernise”. Stabilisation funds supported by the international community guaranteed purchase prices for producers, irrespective of global prices. This was the case for cotton, the production of which surged from the beginning of the 1970s onwards, or for cocoa and coffee in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Groundnuts, meanwhile, offered great benefits for Senegal, Gambia and Niger, until the northern countries realised that they could produce oilseed crops at home at a lower cost.

But overall, the prospects were poor: demographics and towns would lead to a relentless increase in the food deficit. Revenue from export crops would not be sufficient to fund imports; structural food aid could not last.

More than three decades later, it appears that what we believed to be the cause of the problems (urbanisation) has in fact been the driving force behind spectacular agri-food development. By growing and multiplying, towns polarised a large part of the farming world, dragging it into the market. In doing so, they sparked the emergence and development of a large number of essential professions, all along the increasingly complex food chain,  both upstream and downstream of production: tool manufacturers and repairers, fertiliser and grain sellers, traders (collectors, wholesalers and retailers), labourers, packers, transporters, processors and restaurant owners. And this is not taking into account all the activities that enable the aforementioned to perform their jobs – take for example, those that wait by the side of the road to replace the punctured tyres of passing lorries.

In 2010, this food economy represented USD 178 billion, which equates to 36% of the combined GDP of all the countries in West Africa (likely around USD 240 billion in 2015). It is the top economic sector of the region and is experiencing strong growth. The move to extend the market has opened up new opportunities both upstream and downstream of agricultural production, which now represents just 60% of the food economy.

Today, the great challenge for farming lies less with crop exports and more with the economic opportunities offered by the regional market. Two-thirds of what West Africans consume is commercialised. A significant and fast-growing part of it is processed. The future of the agri-food sector is highly promising in terms of development and jobs. Taking more of an interest in the new activities developing along these value chains will also offer opportunities to women, who are especially prevalent in the processing and food distribution segments.

Public policies must be adapted to match these real-world changes.

Useful links

SWAC work on regional governance of food and nutrition security

West Africa: Security crisis and food crisis Laurent Bossard on OECD Insights

Moving beyond agriculture: It’s food that matters Thomas Allen on OECD Insights

Learning from the Millennium Development Goals: How Can the Global Alliance for Resilience Contribute to the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

Ousman Tall, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were globally attained but while Sub-Saharan Africa reduced poverty levels from 56.5% in 1990 to 48.4% in 2010, it did not achieve the target of reducing the poverty rate in half – to 28.25 % – by 2015. The region is faced with numerous problems that have resulted in high levels of insecurity and instability. The ecology is fragile due to climate shocks and environmental disasters, such as recurrent droughts, floods, locust threats and desertification. This has greatly affected pastoralist and agro-pastoralist activities and resulted in low production and productivity. Armed conflicts in the region have displaced a large number of the population and increased vulnerability. Crisis is persistent and inevitable, especially within the poorest areas of the region. While these challenges might seem enormous, they are by no means insurmountable. This is evident in the many policies, programmes and projects being implemented in the region and in the success stories of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA).

The development plans of most countries in the region address these persistent crises in a manner consistent with global development frameworks that do not adequately consider the local perspective and understanding of the nature and scope of the problems such countries are confronting. Efforts should be made to target the most vulnerable segments of the population within the context of resilience building, as countries in the region are faced with situations in which they have to adapt, plan and continuously adjust their responses to the realities at hand.  At the same time, they also have to transform and undertake a new development trajectory as and when necessary. This is the focus of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) which views resilience as a defining characteristic of sustainability and is based on a shared understanding of what the term ‘resilience’ means:

“The capacity of vulnerable households, families, communities and systems to face uncertainty and the risk of shocks, to withstand and respond effectively to shocks, as well as to recover and adapt in a sustainable manner”.

Priorities are defined based on the shared understanding of the major issues and through a participatory and inclusive process. Using a forward-looking approach, the AGIR Regional Roadmap seeks to complement the SDGs through the development of National Resilience Priorities (NRPs), which translate the objectives of AGIR into processes for building resilience at the national level.

AGIR builds on the following four pillars to achieve its overall objective of eradicating hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel and West Africa within twenty years:

  • Improve social protection for the most vulnerable households and communities.
  • Strengthen the nutrition of vulnerable households.
  • Sustainably improve agricultural & food production, the incomes of vulnerable households and their access to food.
  • Strengthen the governance of food and nutritional security.

Each individual country process seeks to align its resilience priorities with other national objectives that are consistent with the SDGs and other frameworks. The phenomenon of climate change is integrated in the NRPs. The requisite national policies and regulations, the structure for implementation and the institutional arrangements and modalities for support are being put in place. By promoting an intersectoral co-ordination approach, AGIR can better influence the effectiveness of interventions and help the implementation of the post-2015 Development Agenda.

During the implementation of the MDGs, most countries in the Sahel and West Africa lacked the basic information and capacity to conduct the analysis required to monitor and report on its progress. This issue was even more prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa where 61% of the countries lacked the means to monitor poverty, which is one of the main goals of the MDGs.  The SDGs implementation process is designed to correct this shortfall, especially during this early period of the implementation process. AGIR is also mindful of the need to properly measure and report on indicators. For example, in the implementation of its Regional Roadmap, AGIR is ensuring that the sophistication, complementarity, combination and harmonisation of tools are addressed at all levels in measuring resilience and that the tools are usable and affordable within national and local contexts.

The political will to support the AGIR process has been demonstrated by leaders in the region. Under the political leadership of ECOWAS and UEMOA, the AGIR Regional Roadmap is being translated into NRPs for the 17 countries in the Sahel and West Africa. These national inclusive processes for defining the NRPs are at different stages of implementation.


As these countries move towards the completion of the NRPs, other regional initiatives will have to be accelerated in support of their implementation. The harmonisation of tools for measuring resilience and the framework for monitoring resilience interventions, which are already on-going, need to be accelerated. There is also a need to strengthen the convergence, co-ordination and synergy among actors working on resilience in the region, under the common framework offered by AGIR. The Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) has appealed for such actions at almost all of its last meetings. When Network members meet at the RPCA Meeting from 13-15 April at the OECD in Paris, it is hoped that this call will be reiterated with additional support for the implementation of the Regional Roadmap and for countries that have developed their NRPs.

There is a positive correlation between the implementation of the AGIR Regional Roadmap and the achievement of some of the SDGs – especially goals 1 & 2 (ending poverty and hunger respectively) – in the Sahel and West Africa, and support for the implementation of AGIR in any form is either direct or indirect support for the implementation of the SDGs.

Useful links

OECD work on the Sustainable Development Goals