A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.

Cheikh Tidiane DIEYE
Personal account

Trade, agriculture and food markets in West Africa:
How to deal with crises?

Cheikh Tidiane DIEYE1,

Article published in Passerelles by ICTSD

Repeated food crises and the prevalence of hunger in Africa have led to the questioning of the political choices that have prevailed until recently. On this subject, we recommend reading an article published in the journal of the International Passerelles by the Center for Sustainable Development (ICTSD), of which we have published and excerpt below2. Cheikh Tidiane Dieye discusses the causes of West Africa’s vulnerability with regards agriculture and food, and details the potential solutions for the region. The author emphasizes: “West African agriculture has undergone hasty, brutal and excessive liberalization” and that “the crises experienced by West Africa therefore demonstrate that the liberalization of trade in agricultural produce, made at the behest of the World Bank or the WTO, does not make markets more efficient, either in terms of food security or in terms of managing price volatility”. He said in passing that “it is ultimately ECOWAP, the common agricultural policy of the ECOWAS, which seems to be the most appropriate framework for managing food security challenges”.

Momagri Editorial board

The food crisis has brought to light two dramatic truths. On the one hand, it has become evident that the economic choices and the development models pursued over several decades have proved risky and generally irrelevant. By favouring the monoculture of export to the detriment of food crops, the latter being confined to a secondary role, has in fact created the conditions for the increased dependence of West Africans on world markets. Moreover, this crisis has also highlighted the strong link between trade policies, agricultural choices and food issues.

International regulations and food sovereignty in West Africa: a weakened region

West African agriculture is familiar with the challenges that arise from specific historical and structural conditions. As soon as they gained independence, many countries opted for strategies for food self-sufficiency. But internal constraints related to the governance of the agricultural sectors, climate issues and later the policies for liberalization and state withdrawal as part of structural adjustment programs (3) have eradicated the efforts made by farmers over several decades. In addition to these constraints, there is now the problem of access to land, because of the cultivation of large areas for biofuels or other cash crops, or the attraction that land holds for national elites as a new form of speculation. One of the primary consequences of such changes is the abandonment of the strategy of self-sufficiency in favour of that food security.

Today, the major commercial and agricultural characteristic of West Africa is its lack of diversification and its high dependence on exports of a few products to generate currency. A significant portion of these currencies is then used to import food at increasingly higher and volatile prices. This character, common to most countries of the region, structurally exposes them to the effects and behaviour of exogenous factors such as changes in commodity prices, volatile food prices, climate hazards, constraints related to market access in industrialized countries or indeed the practices of these on world markets. Practices in developed countries are particularly damaging to the agriculture of West Africa.

West African agriculture has undergone hasty, brutal and excessive liberalization. The wide-ranging disarming of tariffs and the re-evaluation of most non-tariff protection instruments have also exposed these sectors to the invasion of subsidized agricultural products. Under the cumulative effect of these policies, the West African agricultural sector has been weakened to the point that it can longer meet the needs even of its domestic markets. This situation has caused some countries to go from a position of relative self-sufficiency to that of net importers of food, thus accentuating their vulnerability and risks to food insecurity.

The crises experienced by West Africa therefore demonstrate that the liberalization of trade in agricultural produce, made at the behest of the World Bank or the WTO, has not made the markets more efficient, either in terms of food security or in terms of managing price volatility. On the contrary, it has made opportunities for speculation stronger. Liberalization and State withdrawal have disorganized and diminished on the one hand the equilibrium of agricultural markets in West Africa, making them more opaque in the hands of a minority of players, and secondly the ability of States and producer communities to regulate these markets. [...]

Regional responses to food crises

It should be recognized that the tendency to economic and food extraversion was never a rigid fact and accepted as such by the States and the regional institutions of West Africa. Many national or regional initiatives have indeed been undertaken over the years to firstly ensure food security and also to respond to crises related, or not, to international situations and weather hazards. Some countries have established structures dedicated to food security, others, strategies of stockpiling food or warning systems to prevent crises at the national or regional levels; small-scale initiatives, poorly articulated and widely dependent on foreign aid, however, are powerless to produce significant impact.

At the regional level, however, stronger initiatives were conducted, including the creation of the Interstate Committee for the Fight against Drought in the Sahel (CILSS) in 1973, following the severe drought that hit the region in the early 70s. CILSS runs a system for monitoring food security in West Africa aimed at predicting crops, consolidating food balances, monitoring prices and markets, identifying risk areas and advising more generally on measures to deal with different annual situations (deficit or surplus).

But while West Africa is gradually moving towards greater integration of its agricultural and food markets, it is ultimately ECOWAP, the common agricultural policy of the ECOWAS, which seems to be the most appropriate framework for managing food security challenges. Adopted in 2005, in the field, this policy adheres to the agricultural policy of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) implemented in 2002. The first objective of the UEMAO policy is to achieve food security by reducing dependence on food imports and strengthening the functioning of agricultural markets. ECOWAS for its part operates at a broader level. For food security, their policy refers to, among others, regional priority commodities such as grain (millet, sorghum, rice), tubers and other basic food products in West Africa.

Therefore, by pooling their efforts these regional institutions could better manage food security challenges, whether related to the availability or accessibility of food. West Africa does not have sufficient reserves of food. Its national stocks are heavily dependent on external aid from partner States, international institutions or NGOs. These reserves are necessary for stabilizing prices and giving easier access to the poorest and most vulnerable. Moreover, the populations do not have programs that enable the creation of a sustainable social fabric, supported by the States enabling the populations to cope with crises. During the last crisis, Ghana took the lead by distributing food stamps on a large scale. No other country has established national "safety nets". Numerous pilot projects exist but most are small scale. The public finances of the Sahel countries unfortunately do not enable them to launch real national social protection policies, without substantial assistance from donors. (10) Such a policy requires a strong political will and understanding of the positive role that social safety nets could play in achieving the goal of protecting those most vulnerable to the risk of food crisis. [...]

1 Doctor in Development Studies, Progams Coordinator at Enda, member of the negociation comity between the European Union and West Africa for the Economic Partnership Agreements
2 Vol., Number 4, November 2011. To read the full version on the ICTSD’s webstide : http://ictsd.org/i/news/passerelles/119300/
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Paris, 19 June 2019