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

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

An Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel: Geography, Economics and Security

Click to read online
Click to read online

Today’s post is by Laurent Bossard, Director of the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat. You can find the article in French here.

The attacks that took place in Paris on 7, 8 and 9 January are part of a global, complex, diffuse and multi-faceted threat of which the bloodiest zones of action are presently in the Middle East and Africa, including within the confines of the Maghreb and the Sahel. The emergence of Salafist Jihadism in this area dates back to the early 2000s. When the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) moved further south and jihadists arrived from Afghanistan and Pakistan following the events of 11 September 2001, terrorist activities quickly merged with the trafficking of weapons, drugs, cigarettes and human beings.

The international community was slow to recognize the magnitude of the threat. The European Union developed a strategy for the Sahel in 2011, followed in 2013 by the United Nations and soon after by the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the Sahel G5 (Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania). The international community has thrown its support behind these initiatives which all share a long-term approach involving working simultaneously on the key areas of security, governance and development.

The Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel is intended to inform these strategies. The publication is the fruit of the Sahel and West Africa Club Forum, which took place in November 2013 in Abidjan. The Forum called into question the various “security and development” initiatives as well as their scale and level of consistency. The stakeholders in attendance embarked on a dialogue concerning the need to strengthen co‑operation among the regions of North, West and Central Africa.

The Atlas looks at the situation from the perspective of this macro-regional scale. The 250‑page publication, including some 150 maps and graphs, addresses security challenges in the Sahara-Sahelian area by considering the mobility of its territories and populations in conjunction with the socio-economic networks that connect them.

Given that the inhabitants are concentrated along roads and in towns (most people living in the Sahara-Sahel are urbanites), the Sahara-Sahel is neither empty nor immobile. The roads and towns form the framework of this area associated with mobile societies that are organised on the basis of social and trade networks more than ties to the state. The movement of people and goods within that framework — associated with nomadism, transhumance, trade and migration, but also with trafficking and violence — is the main focus of the Atlas.

Borders are superimposed onto these mobile areas that have long been and continue to be marked by the movement of such networks. Close to 17,000 km of boundary lines have been demarcated in recent history. While these lines are not obstacles to the movement of people, they are symbols of the strong political and institutional dividing lines between Morocco and Algeria, for example, but also between the geopolitical areas of the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Transnational trafficking organisations and terrorist groups, whose activities rely on a complex web of spatial, economic and social mobility, use the borders to exploit trans‑Saharan networks. This is a major challenge for stabilisation strategies.

Location of incidents by terrorist group 2003-2012. Click to see full size.
Location of incidents by terrorist group 2003-2012. Click to see full size.

The same can be said for the regional threats facing countries other than Mali. For example, Niger is “caught” between instability in Mali to the east, southern Libya to the northwest — an area rife with terrorists groups and where conflicts between Arab and Tubu tribes are commonplace — and Boko Haram to the south.

All of this is combined with forced migration and trafficking in heavy weapons and drugs. West Africa and the Maghreb are used as a convenient, low-risk transit area for traffickers: institutions’, police and justice budgets are small, and the potential for corruption is high due to the low salaries of civil servants and members of the security forces. The proceeds from trafficking activities also finance (at least in part) rebel or jihadist groups that are often mere links in global criminal networks operating on five continents.

That is why the countries concerned must work at the regional level if they wish to succeed, as most of the dangers that threaten them are expressed at that level.   It is also crucial that any analysis of the Sahara-Sahel be grounded in the reality of that area, namely, the fact that it is a territory shared by countries on both sides of the desert. The implication here is that strengthened co-operation on the part of the countries involved is indispensable. But such co‑operation must not be seen only through the prism of the urgent need for short-term stabilisation. The countries concerned should and must develop their complementarities in all domains. Sharing leads to interdependency which in turn results in a higher degree of motivation to jointly solve shared problems.

In addition to the need for trans-Saharan dialogue, there is an even greater need for international co‑operation and dialogue. A number of Sahel strategies have been developed since 2011. While this is a positive sign of the international community’s commitment, these efforts must be made on behalf of the affected populations and must tackle three challenges:

  1. The capacity for dialogue and the ability to propose concerted and joint implementation.
  2. The ability to adapt the geographical scale of the response to the area affected by terrorism and trafficking; for example, Nigeria and Libya are facing very critical situations but are not central to the existing strategies.
  3. The capacity to simultaneously implement security and development activities.

Useful links

Un Atlas du Sahara – Sahel : géographie, économie, insécurité (l’article de Laurent Bossard en français)

Les défis sécuritaires au Sahel Débat avec Laurent Bossard et Emmanuel Nkunzumwamsur Africa N°1

West African Futures 2013-14: The Sahara-Sahelian areas by SWAC