Maize, cassava identified as West Africa’s food security pillars

By Gabriel Benjamin

A new study released recently by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has identified maize and cassava as two of the main pillars of West Africa’s food security that could form the backbone for a thriving agro-industry in the sub-region. This, the result said, is based on their multiple market applications.

The publication, Rebuilding West Africa’s Food Potential, released in December, pointed out that countries in West Africa can realize full agricultural potential if they boost productivity, foster competitiveness and ensure that small-scale farmers have greater access to markets.

It, however disclosed that, “there is a huge production deficit in rice in the sub-region, which currently imports an unsustainable 70% of what it consumes”.

Hence, staple foods are critically important for the security, survival and sustenance of 100 million people in the region. Production of these staple foods could double or triple with the help of improved seed varieties and fertilizer.

It is however worthy to note that providing farmers within the sub-region with the means to boost the yields of staple food crops is not just enough.

Countries in within the sub- region could benefit significantly from policy support that targets broader agricultural development and greater coordination among producers, private industry, 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.

“Just three per cent of the maize grown in West Africa was traded within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region between 2005 and 2009, according to FAO figures”.

“The real challenge for West Africa is learning how to unlock the intra-regional trade potential, but this is a tall order as it requires overcoming a number of constraints

The West Africa sub region should direct greater effort to develop its staple food crops, which in the past was sidelined in favor of a few export commodities.

Farmers have little incentive to increase production if they can’t sell their crops because of cheaper and easily accessible imports, then a lot still have to be done”. The study also noted.

Policy and market incentives are needed to improve the competitiveness of locally-grown crops and increase their share in the consumer market.

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

Both subsistence and commercial farmers need specific support to improve access to labor-reducing equipment and credit for post-harvest processing and marketing, and to strengthen their technical and organizational capacity.

Governments should also strengthen 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.