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Huge opportunities for agricultural growth

- FAO forecasts

July 7, 2015 By Alusine Sesay

A new report published by the  African Development Bank (AfDB), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has noted thatWest Africa has unprecedented opportunities for agricultural growth, but that making the most of them will require more effective regional integration.

“To be competitive with large global actors, West African agriculture needs to capture some of the economies of scale that those countries enjoy in the markets for fertilizers and seeds, as well as in agricultural research and technology development,” said the report.

It observed that while important progress towards regional integration has been made over the past two decades, effective implementation at national level has remained a challenge, as evidenced by roadblocks and trade bans hindering intra-regional trade, along with continued use of disparate national standards for seeds and fertilizers despite regionally agreed-upon common protocols.

The report titled, ‘Agricultural Growth in West Africa: Market and Policy Drivers’ (AGWA), came at a time of great dynamism in the patterns of food demand in Africa.

It was further observed in the report that West Africa’s population, now 300 million, was expected to grow to 490 million by 2030.

“The sub-region is already the most urbanized part of sub-Saharan Africa, with nearly half the population living in urban centres, and that the urban population is projected to continue to grow at a rate of 3.8 percent per year between 2015 and 2030,” the report noted.

It further stated that along with an expanding middle class, the catalysing greater diversity in consumer food demands, with convenience, nutritional quality, food safety and presentation gaining importance alongside affordability, serving the growing demand, provides great opportunities for value addition, job creation, economic integration and diversification and import substitution.

It observed that many West African countries have been increasingly relying on food imports to meet their burgeoning urban food markets, reflecting the inability of their domestic food value chains to meet the evolving consumer demand in terms of quality, volumes, prices and consistency of supply.

“A growing proportion of the West African population is made up of net food buyers who spend large shares of their incomes on food. The only way to ensure these consumers access to low-priced food while simultaneously enhancing producers’ incomes is through raising productivity and efficiency throughout the agri-food system. Achieving these gains in efficiency and productivity requires a more stable and predictable policy environment, re-focusing of public investments on the critical building blocks for sustainable long-term growth, and stepping up implementation capacity,” the report concluded.

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