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Sunday, December 29, 2013

West Africa food security: Small-scale farmers must have access to markets

A new study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) made available to NaijaAgroNet shows that for West Africa to surmount its food security challenges, small-scale farmers must have greater access to markets.

NaijaAgroNet gathered that the study, entitled Rebuilding West Africa’s Food Potential, presented 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 revealed to NaijaAgroNet 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.

FAO Senior Economist, Aziz Elbehri, who edited the publication told NaijaAgroNet that although some West African countries 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.

The book reasons, Elbehri said that the region should direct greater efforts to develop its staple food crops, which in the past have been sidelined in favour of a few export commodities. 

NaijaAgroNet  noted that Maize and cassava, which are 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, the publication suggests.

“There is a huge production deficit in rice in the region, which currently imports an unsustainable 70 per cent of what it consumes,” FAO said, stressing that yields of sorghum and millet which are 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. Pointing out that providing farmers’ with the means to boost the yields of staple food crops is not enough.

“Farmers have little incentive to increase production if they can’t sell their crops because of cheaper and easily accessible imports. Policy and market incentives are needed to improve the competitiveness of locally grown crops and increase their share in the consumer market,” Elbehri said. 

NaijaAgroNet recalls that the study also underscored 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.

Isaac Oyimah/GEE
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