Recent food crises have served as a reminder that agriculture and food security must be at the heart of national and international priorities as demonstrated by the revival of the Agricultural Policy of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAP). In a recent article published in the journal Bridges
at the International Center for Sustainable Development (ICTSD)1
, of which we have published an excerpt below, Eric Hazard, agricultural economist for Oxfam, analyzes these developments and examines the type of investment needed to sustainably reduce food insecurity and meet the major challenge of the 21st century: a 70% increase in world agricultural production by 2050 to feed the world.
Momagri Editorial board
In recent years, all the warning signals have been on red. We have entered a period of multifaceted crises the most visible of which are soaring food and oil prices. The world is in a race for land and water reserves, more commonly known as "land grabbing", while the impact of lifestyles and consumption gradually lead us into an era of slow, insidious seasonal changes.
West Africa is no exception to this trend. In 2008, soaring food prices plunged about 100 million people into poverty. At the same time, the region was hit by a series of food crises that affected up to 10 million Sahelians in 2010 and endangered the lives of thousands of them.
In 2010, weak, poorly distributed rainfall had the adverse effect of significant declines in agricultural and forage production in West Africa, even though local markets remained mainly supplied with grain. However, grain prices broke all the records, as early estimates suggest that food prices could remain excessively high this year. This dramatic situation in West Africa is therefore explained as much by lower production levels as by State dependence on international markets (where prices remain high) or lack of market transparency, which allows private operators to maintain high prices on domestic and international markets.
As in many parts of the world, West Africa has moved from what is known as an “availability” crisis to that of an “accessibility” crisis: food is generally available on the markets, but at such prices that it becomes inaccessible for most families. It is affordable food that raises the problem: the significant increase in the cost of living has dangerously affected the most vulnerable populations.
Out of date development models
Soaring food prices have significantly weakened the poorest populations who spend over 80% of their budget on food and current trends show that price increases could repeatedly reoccur in coming years. By some estimates, prices of food staples such as corn or rice could increase by 60 to 80% over the next 20 years.
In fact, these crises have also warned African states and the international community of the limits of the current development models inherited from colonization and essentially turned towards export crops. Although these crops have enabled states to access the necessary currencies to buy basic commodities on the international market at low prices to ensure food security for vulnerable populations, including urban populations, they remain unprocessed and under priced, which does not enable sustainable development.
This context also brings to mind the limits of the "commodification" of agricultural products that the WTO continues to consider as commercial products in their own right, despite their human and social importance and therefore critical to the stability of states. As a result, many states have worked to reduce their dependency on international markets by developing or reinforcing their agricultural sector.
Agricultural policies and food security: the time for innovative solutions
The time has come to put agriculture at the heart of political agendas. But some questions arise, particularly on the type of investment needed to sustainably reduce food insecurity in West Africa.
For several decades, agriculture has remained the poor relation of national budgets. In 2009, in West Africa, 10 of the 16 countries that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had not achieved the objectives of Maputo, which called for countries to invest at least 10% of their national budgets in agriculture, as the heads of state of the African Union pledged to do in 2003.
If the 2008 crisis sounded the alarm and turned people's minds towards the development of agricultural productivity in Africa, it is now important to take action to make it happen. Agricultural and food security policies, such as the National Agricultural Investment PLANS (NAIP) negotiated within all 15 states of the Economic Community of West African States must now be put into action on the field. [...]
Will the crisis finally turn into an opportunity?
Despite significant growth in productivity and farm incomes in recent decades, world hunger is getting worse and West Africa is no exception to this trend.
In this region, recent crises have notably helped to revive the Agricultural Policy of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAP, with the region’s Heads of State adopting a regional offensive for food production and to combat hunger in June 2008. In line with the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), ECOWAS and member states have launched a new agricultural policy, to finally meet regional food challenges.
International agencies and donors have also pledged to significantly increase their aid in the field of agriculture (even if for some, these commitments remain far below expectations and the destinations of these investments are questionable). However, these investments can be a real opportunity, if they are used to enhance agricultural policies that refocus on national and regional needs and are accompanied by coherent trade policies.
By supporting the agricultural policies as defined in West Africa, these investments could play an essential role in creating a favorable environment for production, but also by inciting numerous investors to invest more in the processing of agricultural products, thus enabling the development of a sustainable industrial base.
After the signature of partnership agreements and the joint programming phase by the member countries of ECOWAS, it is now time that all these states, but also their partners, commit to supporting the new agricultural investment plans and implement the necessary internal reforms for their alignment.
The challenge is immense and must be assessed in the light of the needs identified by ECOWAP, for a region among the poorest in the world, in which too many people still suffer from chronic hunger and whose population is set to double in the next 20 years.
The question of investment is indeed important. It must not be forgotten that its effectiveness and sustainability depend on two key elements that are lacking today:
- Effective agricultural policies to stabilize prices in order to make long-term investment attractive and to avoid the uncontrolled development of short-term speculative investments;
- And accurate information and updates on local economic realities.
Momagri have been working in this objective since 2005, developing analytical tools and regulatory proposals designed at better understanding and managing the functioning of agricultural markets.
1 Volume 12, Nb 4, November 2011. You can read the full version on the ICTSD’s website : http://ictsd.org/i/news/passerelles/119297/