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Dec 18, 2013

West Africa has potential to strengthen agricultural sector


A new study released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development says West Africa has potential to strengthen its agricultural sector.

It said boosting productivity, fostering competitiveness and ensuring that small-scale farmers have greater access to markets are key to West Africa realizing its full agricultural potential.

The publication, “Rebuilding West Africa’s Food Potential: Policies and market incentives for smallholder-inclusive food value chains”, presents a range of successful case studies since the region stepped up investments in agricultural development in the wake of the world food crisis in 2007-2008.

The study which was made available to the Ghana News Agency on Wednesday by Fiona Winward, of the FAO Media Relations in Rome argues that countries could benefit significantly from policy support that targets broader agricultural development and greater coordination among producers, private industry and the public and financial sectors.

“Although some West African countries in the region are doing better than others, the region has lagged behind other parts of Africa in terms of basic infrastructure, investments, research and development and agricultural processing,” said FAO Senior Economist Aziz Elbehri, who edited the publication.

The study reasons that the region should direct greater efforts to develop its staple food crops, which in the past had been side-lined in favour of a few export commodities.

It said maize and cassava, two of the main pillars of West Africa’s food security, could form the backbone for a thriving agro-industry given their multiple market applications.

It said: “There is a huge production deficit in rice in the region, which currently imports an unsustainable 70 per cent of what it consumes.

“And yields of sorghum and millet – critically important for the food security of 100 million people in the Sahel – could double or triple with the help of improved seed varieties and fertilizer.”

It noted that providing farmers with the means to boost the yields of staple food crops was not enough.

The study also underscores the importance of continued investment in export crops such as cotton, coffee and cocoa, which play a significant role in generating income and employment, and flags tropical fruit and vegetables and other emerging niche products like sesame and cashew nuts as another viable area for export growth.

It said among the hurdles that governments need to address are poor transport networks, excessive regulation and conflicting trade policies among different countries, all of which result in costly delays on West African trade routes.

The study underlines that countries need to prioritize credit and resources for women, who had a central role in the staple food value chains of the region.

“Whether rice parboiling in Burkina Faso, cassava production in Cameroon or small-scale oil palm processing in Ghana, much of the staple food production and processing in West Africa is carried out by women,” said Elbehri.

It also highlights the importance of strengthening farmers’ organizations, which put farmers in a stronger position to negotiate arrangements with suppliers and buyers and play a critical role in advocacy and policy dialogue.

Its key recommendations are aimed at helping to accelerate implementation of the region’s national agricultural investment programmes under the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme.

GNA