Agriculture and Food Security

West Africa has an abundance of natural and human resources, yet remains one of the poorest regions in the world. Representing approximately 35 percent of the region’s GDP and 60 percent of the active labor force, the agriculture sector is committed to achieving food security and broad-based economic growth in West Africa. Agricultural productivity is inhibited by under-developed linkages between farmers and markets, limited access to affordable and reliable high quality seeds and fertilizer, and lack of information on new agricultural technologies and best practices. As a result, the region has experienced some of the lowest per hectare crop yields in the world, and 13.5 percent of its population is undernourished. The region is also home to some of the highest transport costs globally and struggles to enforce national level implementation of regionally agreed policies that promote more efficient trade across borders.

Despite these challenges, the West Africa region is well positioned to advance economic growth and resilience with stable, engaged and committed regional institutions. USAID works closely with these institutions to harmonize trade and agricultural policy, encourage investment in the sector, and provide farmers with access to better information and technology. 

Food Security – Feed the Future

The U.S. Government Feed the Future Initiative supports the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) 2014 Malabo Declaration, which aims to sustain the annual agricultural sector GDP growth rate of 6 percent among all signatory member states to 2025. USAID/West Africa works closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which leads CAADP implementation through the establishment of a regional investment plan and a regional agricultural agency. The USAID/West Africa Feed the Future strategy aligns with the ECOWAS regional agricultural plan focusing in three core areas: increased agricultural productivity, improved regional trade and enhanced institutional capacity.

Increased Agricultural Productivity

In West Africa, farming is characterized by rain-fed production, low fertilizer use, poor quality seeds, inadequate water management and low soil fertility. The following USAID/West Africa programs address these key issues by catalyzing regional transformation:

• The West Africa Seed Program began in 2012 to enhance the commercial seed industry and the Alliance for Seed Industry in West Africa. The program aims to increase the availability of certified and drought resistant seeds for farmers from 12 percent to 25 percent of the total supply by 2017. It also seeks to increase private sector seed production and to improve cross-border seed trade.

• The West Africa Fertilizer Program, also initiated in 2012, is improving fertilizer quality and availability for West African farmers. It works with the private and public sector to assist countries to adopt ECOWAS regional fertilizer regulations and increase the availability and demand for high quality fertilizer.

• Since 2006, USAID/West Africa has invested in cotton production, initially through the West Africa Cotton Improvement Program, and now, through the C4Cotton Partnership (C4CP) Program which builds on earlier successes by creating more sustainable partnerships in the cotton sector. It supports cotton farmers and processors in the four principal cotton producing countries in West Africa: Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali. As a result, cotton yields have increased by 17 percent, harmful pesticide use has been reduced, and ginning efficiency has increased overall cotton value.     

Improved Regional Trade

Free movement of goods in West Africa is greatly limited by physical, infrastructural and political barriers.  As a result, markets are fragmented, staple food shortages and price volatility are common, and per kilometer transportation costs are among the highest in the world. 

• The West African Trade and Investment Hub works with national and regional associations and regional economic communities, helping them to: serve as leaders in adopting improved practices; attract buyers and investors; and promote implementation of regional trade agreements. The Trade Hub also works to improve the enabling environment by addressing key transport constraints and regional trade barriers.  

Strengthening Regional Institutions

One of USAID/West Africa’s core objectives is to help regional institutions increase their capacity to fulfill their mandates and better serve their member states. USAID performs institutional assessments and helps fill operational gaps by training employees in skills such as monitoring and evaluation, financial operations and coordination.

USAID has made a concerted effort to build the capacity of several key regional organizations, including ECOWAS, the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (French acronym: CILSS) and the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD). A close partner to ECOWAS, CILSS lessens chronic vulnerability in West Africa via drought early warning systems, increasing farmer access to meteorological information, and publishing regional agricultural statistics. CORAF/WECARD conducts, coordinates and publicizes research findings on agricultural practices and improved seeds to member states and national research centers. With USAID support, ECOWAS, CILSS and CORAF/WECARD have become leaders in West Africa’s agricultural development.  

Resilience and Regional Systems

USAID/West Africa and CILSS work together to coordinate different actors focusing on regional resilience to help vulnerable populations in West Africa to adapt to and recover from shocks. This work includes the European Union Global Alliance for Resilience in the Sahel and West Africa (AGIR), which partners closely with ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union to introduce resilience, nutrition, climate change and risk management into regional and national agriculture investment plans. An example of USAID/West Africa support to resilience efforts includes the CILSS Program.

USAID/West Africa provides funding to CILSS to develop and implement the Cadre Harmonizé tool throughout its member states. This tool enables all organizations and governments collecting information and statistics related to food insecurity to use the same system and methodology. This provides a more accurate picture of the region’s vulnerabilities and is utilized to ascertain the right mix of assistance interventions. In addition, the trade data collected by CILSS provides regional agriculture producers, traders and buyers with timely and country-specific data on market prices and available production quantities.  These data enable relevant actors to determine when and where is the best time, price and locale in which to trade or procure their goods.  Better prices for producers and better market visibility enables food to better move to areas of demand and need in the region.