Agricultural productivity and competitiveness in West Africa are critical factors that impact the region's food security, economic development, and livelihoods of millions of people. West Africa is a diverse region comprising several countries with varying levels of agricultural development, but there are some common trends and challenges that affect the overall agricultural productivity and competitiveness in the region:
- Diversity of Agricultural Practices: West Africa is characterized by a wide variety of agro-ecological zones, from the Sahel in the north to tropical rainforests in the south. This diversity leads to a range of agricultural practices, crops, and livestock, contributing to the overall agricultural productivity.
- Smallholder Farming: Most farmers in West Africa are smallholders who cultivate relatively small plots of land. These farmers often lack access to modern farming technologies, quality seeds, and adequate infrastructure, which can limit their productivity.
- Challenges in Crop Production: West Africa faces various challenges in crop production, including erratic rainfall patterns, soil degradation, pests, and diseases. These challenges can significantly reduce crop yields and overall agricultural productivity.
- Competitiveness Issues: West African agricultural products often face competitiveness issues in regional and international markets. These issues include limited processing and value addition, poor quality control, inadequate infrastructure for transportation and storage, and trade barriers.
- Policy and Institutional Challenges: Inconsistent policies, inadequate land tenure systems, and limited access to credit can hinder agricultural productivity and competitiveness. Lack of coordination among government agencies and institutions further exacerbates these issues.
- Gender Inequality: Gender disparities in access to resources, technology, and education are prevalent in West African agriculture. Empowering women in agriculture is essential for improving productivity and competitiveness.
- Climate Change: West Africa is vulnerable to climate change, which can lead to increased weather variability, prolonged droughts, and unpredictable rainfall patterns. These changes have a direct impact on agricultural productivity and necessitate the adoption of climate-smart farming practices.
- Value Chain Development: Strengthening agricultural value chains is crucial for enhancing competitiveness. Improving post-harvest handling, storage, and processing facilities can help reduce post-harvest losses and improve the quality of agricultural products.
- Regional Integration: Promoting regional integration and trade within West Africa can enhance competitiveness by creating larger markets and reducing trade barriers. Initiatives like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) aim to facilitate regional cooperation in agriculture.
- Investment in Research and Extension Services: Investing in agricultural research and extension services is essential for introducing new technologies and practices to farmers, which can boost productivity and competitiveness.
Efforts to address these challenges and promote agricultural productivity and competitiveness in West Africa require a multi-faceted approach involving governments, international organizations, NGOs, and the private sector. Sustainable agricultural development in the region is crucial for ensuring food security, reducing poverty, and fostering economic growth. The main justification and relevance of the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) is to have a coordinated intervention framework to address common issues and challenges faced by national agriculture systems in the ECOWAS region. Agricultural Productivity and Competitiveness is one of the critical sectors that the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy seeks to promote through several mechanisms.
Agricultural productivity and competitiveness (APC) are low thus threatening the food and nutrition security of the region. The food security and nutrition situation in West Africa is complex and varies from one country to another. Below are some notable and common challenges the APC sector faces:
- High Levels of Food Insecurity: Many countries in West Africa have struggled with high levels of food insecurity. This is often due to a combination of factors, including poverty, limited access to productive resources, and environmental challenges such as droughts and desertification.
- Malnutrition: Malnutrition remains a significant concern in the region. This includes both undernutrition (e.g., stunting, wasting, and micronutrient deficiencies) and overnutrition (e.g., rising rates of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases). Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.
- Rural-Urban Disparities: There are disparities in food security and nutrition between rural and urban areas. Rural populations often face more significant challenges due to limited access to healthcare, education, and diversified food sources.
- Climate Change: West Africa is susceptible to the impacts of climate change, including erratic rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts. These changes can affect crop yields and food production, exacerbating food security challenges.
- Conflict and Instability: In some parts of West Africa, ongoing conflicts and political instability have disrupted food systems, displaced populations, and hindered humanitarian efforts to address food security and nutrition issues.
- Limited Access to Clean Water and Sanitation: Access to clean water and sanitation facilities is crucial for preventing waterborne diseases and ensuring proper hygiene and nutrition. Many communities in West Africa still lack adequate access to these essential services.
An investment in agricultural productivity and competitiveness initiatives would guarantee food security and secure decent incomes for agricultural workers in the ECOWAS region. The achievement of productivity and competitiveness on the intra-community and international markets would foster the ECOWAP vision of a modern and sustainable agriculture based on effective and efficient family farms and the promotion of agricultural enterprises through the involvement of the private sector. Addressing the challenges in the APC sector requires sustained efforts at the local, national, and regional levels, as well as collaboration between governments, international organizations, NGOs, and local communities to ensure that all individuals have access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food.
It is, however, important to note that some progress has been made and initiatives undertaken within this sector. Below are some of the progress and engagements related to Agricultural productivity and competitiveness:
- Regional Cooperation: Initiatives like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have aimed to promote regional cooperation on food security and agricultural development. These efforts include regional food reserves and policies to facilitate trade in staple foods.
- Agricultural Development: Some countries in West Africa have made efforts to boost agricultural productivity through investments in modern farming techniques, improved seeds, and better access to credit for farmers.
- Nutrition Programs: Various governments and organizations have implemented nutrition programs targeting vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women, to address malnutrition.
- Social Safety Nets: Some countries have established social safety net programs to help vulnerable individuals and households during times of food insecurity or economic hardship.
- Nutrition Education: Nutrition education campaigns have been conducted to raise awareness about healthy eating practices and the importance of breastfeeding and proper infant and child nutrition.
- Research and Data Collection: There has been an emphasis on data collection and research to better understand the specific food security and nutrition challenges in different regions and to inform evidence-based policy and program development.
Notwithstanding, conflicts, food insecurity, population growth, and the disruptive forces of climate change threaten to curtail or even reverse the progress that has been made over the past decades within this sector and such more collaborative efforts are needed than ever before.
Collaborating Partners & Coordinating Mechanism.
There are several collaborating and implementing partners committed and contributing to the improvement of agricultural productivity and competitiveness in the region. Those include RAAF & CILSS. RAAF is coordinating the implementation of Twelve (12) Projects/Initiatives/Programs totaling a cumulative funding of over US$300 million (external funding) and Agricultural Productivity and Competitiveness is among those initiatives. Some partners include the European Union, ITC and UNIDO
ECOWAS has instituted and is implementing several programs to enhance agricultural productivity and competitiveness within the region. These programs include (i) West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP), (ii) ECOWAS Rice Offensive, (iii) Regional Food Security Reserve, (iv) Regional Seed Regulation, (v) ECOWAS Regional Pesticides Regulation, (vi)ECOWAS Regional Fertilizer Regulation, (vii)ECOWAS Regional Youth Employment Strategy in Agro Sylvo Pastoral and Halieutic Sector, (viii) ECOWAS Agroecology and Climate Smart Agriculture initiatives, (ix)ECOWAS Regional Agricultural Information and Early Warning System (RAIEWS), (x)ECOWAS Regional Animal Health Center (RAHC) and (xi) ECOWAS Regional Food Safety Program.
These programs are part of ECOWAS's broader efforts to enable sustainable environment for agricultural inputs, to promote agricultural development and enhance food security and competitiveness in the West African region. They involve collaboration with member states, international organizations, donors, and other stakeholders to address the specific agricultural challenges faced by West African countries.
Spotlight of main interventions or programs being implemented or achieved:
- West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP): This program aims to improve agricultural productivity and competitiveness by supporting research and technology dissemination. It focuses on developing and disseminating improved crop varieties and promoting innovative farming practices. This program ended and is now replace by the Food System Resilience Program (FSRP) which aims to tackle agricultural productivity and resilience of actors in West Africa by supporting member states and the Regional Food Security Reserve.
- ECOWAS Rice Offensive: This initiative aims to promote rice production and reduce rice import in the region by supporting regional and members states institution and farmers organizations. It aimed at a sustainable and sustained revival of rice cultivation while supporting the National Rice Development Strategies (NRDS) of Member States to achieve rice self-sufficiency by 2025 in the region.
- ECOWAS Regional Food Security Reserve: This initiative establishes regional food reserves to enhance food security and nutrition in the face of crises. It helps member states respond to food emergencies and stabilize food prices.
- ECOWAS Regional Seed Regulation: This program promotes the harmonization of seed regulations across ECOWAS member states to facilitate the production and distribution of high-quality seeds, which are essential for improving agricultural productivity.
- ECOWAS Regional Pesticides Regulation: This program promotes the harmonization of pesticides regulations across ECOWAS member states to facilitate the production and distribution of high-quality pesticides and their registration, which are essential for improving agricultural productivity and protect from Pests.
- ECOWAS Regional Fertilizer Regulation: This program promotes the harmonization of fertilizer regulations across ECOWAS member states to facilitate the quality control of fertilizer, which are essential for improving agricultural productivity and soil health. The Lome Declaration on Fertilizer and soil health and its roadmap aims to facilitate the production and distribution of high-quality fertilize across the ECOWAS region.
- ECOWAS Regional Youth Employment Strategy in Agro Sylvo Pastoral and Halieutic Sector. This program specifically targets youths and women employment in agriculture, recognizing their crucial role they play in food production and nutrition. It seeks to enhance the capacity of youth and women farmers and promote their access to resources and markets and their involvement in agribusiness.
- ECOWAS Agroecology and Climate Smart Agriculture initiatives. These programs aim to support the region and the actors to produce in sustainable ways and to tackle their Resilience to climate change.
- ECOWAS Regional Animal Health Center (RAHC): RAHC focuses on improving livestock health and productivity in the region by providing veterinary services, disease control, and capacity-building for livestock farmers.
- ECOWAS Regional Agricultural Information and Early Warning System (RAIEWS): This system collects and disseminates agricultural information, including data on crop production, market prices, and weather forecasts, to improve decision-making by farmers and policymakers.
- ECOWAS Regional Food Safety Program: This program focuses on improving food safety standards and regulations across the region to enhance the quality and safety of agricultural products.
- West Africa Competitiveness Programme (WACOMP): WACOMP has led to the strengthening of Business Support Organizations, developing value chains on Cassava, Mango, Textiles & Garments, Information & Communication Technologies, as well as quality standards and Infrastructure.
- West Africa Fertilizer Business Information Guide  https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/322 and Regulation C/REG.13/12/12 relating to fertilizer quality control in the ECOWAS region https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/88
- Regional Action Plan (2020 - 2025) for the Accelerated Implementation of the ECOWAS Rice Offensive https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/87 and Factsheet - Regional Rice Offensive https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/95
- Brief on the Regional Action Plan 2020-2025 to accelerate the ECOWAS Rice Offensive: Towards Achieving Rice Self-Sufficiency in West Africa https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/131
- The ECOWAS Rice Factbook, 2019 (1st Edition) https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/29
-  Guide for subsidy programs https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/324
- Regulation C/REG.4/05/08 on harmonization of the rules governing quality control, certification and marketing of plant seeds and seedlings in ECOWAS region https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/74
- This third biennial report is on accelerating the implementation of CAADP for a resilient African food system https://ecowap.ecowas.int/see-document/243