Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The global food and fuel price crisis
presents a “strategic opportunity” to West African states to become
more food-secure according to agricultural analysts, but they will only
achieve this by committing 10 percent of state budgets to agriculture
and better exploiting their comparative advantage.
In the face
of on-average 45 percent cereal price rises since mid-2006, ECOWAS
trade, finance and agriculture ministers met in Nigeria on 18 and 19
May to discuss a strategy to boost food security across the region.
country needs to work to its own proven advantage,” said Tshikala
Tshibaka, senior policy officer at the Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) who attended the meeting “And this idea is
relatively new for the region.”
And it will cost.
is a strategic opportunity for countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and
Nigeria to decide if they want to become the bread-basket of the
region, but it will take them some serious investment to get there,”
said John Staatz, professor of agriculture, food and resource economics
at Michigan State University.
that no country in the world is self-sufficient in food in today’s
globalised economy, Staatz estimates that the countries in the region
with the strongest potential to seriously boost their self-sufficiency
in some crops are Nigeria, which produces 57 percent of the region’s
grain, as well as Mali, Niger and Chad in the Sahel, each of which
already meet approximately 70 percent of their individual food needs.
the region will never meet all of its cereal needs according to the
FAO. “There is a lot of potential here to boost rice production but as
a whole the region will need to import cereals well into the future,”
The FAO divides the region into southern,
central and northern agricultural belts. Rice production could be
seriously boosted in the southern belts of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana,
Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea according
to Tshibaka; while cassava, yams and plantains could be boosted in the
middle belt which cuts across Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Cote d’Ivoire.
in the northern belt - northern Ghana, southern Niger and Mali, as well
as Mauritania and Senegal, dry cereals such as millet, sorghum and
maize, and livestock production should be pushed, he told IRIN.
Change from within
Tshibaka investing in agriculture must be driven from within the
region, and major players such as Nigeria should step in to support
production in smaller states.
“We can’t rely on outside help.
Nigeria needs to pave the way with investments, as do other African
oil-producers - Libya, Angola and Gabon,” he said.
will happen unless states commit at least 10 percent of their annual
budgets to agriculture, according to Staatz. African leaders agreed to
this in 2003 but so far only six out of 53 have managed it, and many
still commit 5 percent or less.
This funding shortage leaves
very little money left over to invest, meaning research facilities are
starved and farmers lack seeds and fertilisers year to year.
on 19 May ECOWAS leaders reiterated their commitment to meet the 10
percent target. “West Africa is starting to mobilise itself,” Ngaido
Boost regional trade
“Working to comparative advantage will involve leaders stressing regional interests over state interests,” Staatz told IRIN.
a start states such as Guinea and Liberia will have to remove emergency
protective measures such as banning food exports that restrict food
flows across the region, Staatz said.
“I empathise with
political leaders for trying to protect their people’s food security
and for avoiding civilian unrest, but in the long-term if everyone
follows these [protectionist] patterns and prevents food from flowing
across borders, then we have a recipe for a crisis,” Staatz said. “But
West Africa has a long tradition of open trade, which should serve it
Under a regional trade policy leaders would harmonise
production targets, develop common agricultural standards, manage
shared resources such as the Niger River, and stand up for West African
interests in international trade negotiations such as EU-Africa trade
talks, according to Staatz and Steve Wiggins, research fellow at the
Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London. And ECOWAS and NEPAD
would be the drivers.
Invest in what
investment priorities for boosting production have been well-documented
by specialists – producers need better access to markets with improved
roads and transport, farmers need to access small-scale credit schemes
so they can buy fertilisers and seeds, research institutes need more
consistent funding, and states need to invest in better irrigation and
water management systems, according to the ODI.
Wiggins is upbeat – he explained to IRIN the region is starting out in a stronger position than many think.
to 2007 ODI research, 11 of the 30 countries with the highest global
agricultural growth rates from 1991-2005, are in West Africa, and
agricultural growth increased by four percent in Africa from 1981-2003,
versus growth of two to three percent in southern and eastern Africa.
production in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, and root and tuber production in
Benin, Ghana and Nigeria has increased five-fold since the 1960s. And
yields have risen across the region, with the exception of Senegal,
though at an average of one tonne per hectare, they are still
The growth was fuelled by expanding cultivated areas, increased yields and better labour productivity according to Wiggins.
we need to understand why some of these countries have done better than
others so we can spread these lessons across the region,” Wiggins told
IRIN. “But things are now moving.”
investors are moving too. The World Bank announced in April it would
double African agricultural production investments from US$450 million
to US$800 million, while the African Development Bank will invest
US$4.8 billion in fertilisers, research and infrastructure, its
president announced on 15 May.
Agriculture is on the agenda of
the Group of Eight leaders, is at the forefront of the UN Secretary
General’s agenda and is the focus of the 2008 World Bank development
“When it comes to funding agriculture now we’re
seeing things shift at a very high level,” said Tidiane Ngaido,
research fellow from the International Food Policy Research Institute
And Staatz thinks given the potential crisis these leaders face, they know they have no choice.
make basic services in these countries sustainable, you need a growing
economy. West African states have predominantly agrarian economies so
they have no choice but to build up agriculture…otherwise they will
just remain beggars waiting for a handout.”
Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org