The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture has been working on strengthening regional agricultural integration in West Africa, to improve the vast agricultural potential that the region has to offer. Through advising on policy options for staple crops and improving regional trade, we are aiming to raise the region’s self-sufficiency and enhance agricultural growth.
Since the late 1980s, many West African countries have increased their reliance on regional specialization and trade. These form important parts of their strategies to assure food security and spur market-led agricultural growth. West Africa has a wide variety of crops and agricultural environments. These differences provide a strong basis for productive agricultural trade based on comparative advantage.
West African demand for food products and consumption patterns have been changing profoundly over the past 30 years. Reasons for these changes include population and income growth, rapid urbanization, globalization, and attendant changes in lifestyles. There has been a shift towards:
faster-to-prepare staples, such as rice and wheat products
growing consumption of cassava and maize in several countries
increased demand for product quality, with greater differentiation and price premiums
growing per capita consumption of fruits, vegetables, fats and oils, and animal protein products
rapidly rising demand for processed food products and
stronger consumer concerns about nutritional quality and food safety.
Demand for livestock feed grains is also increasing. All of these forces are creating increased opportunities and challenges for West African businesses, especially agro-processing.
West African policymakers are concerned that the region’s agriculture and agri-food system cannot adapt quickly enough, leading to increased dependency on imports. Despite recent efforts to boost local rice production following the 2007/08 price spikes, imports of rice and wheat continue to surge. The very rapid expansion of poultry consumption in Benin, Togo, and Ghana has been served almost entirely by imports from the Americas and Europe. Import increases have led farmer organizations and governments to call for increased protection of West African agriculture, often under the banner of promoting “food sovereignty”.
The competitiveness of West African agriculture and agribusiness depends not only on what is happening there but also on the rest of the world. For example, how the Asian rice market evolves over the next 20 years (e.g. changing consumption patterns in China, the potential rise of Myanmar to become a major exporter, etc.) will profoundly affect how competitive West African rice systems become.
In 2007-2008, food prices soared and some food exporters banned shipments abroad. In response, many countries in West Africa have attempted to increase self-sufficiency and reduce their reliance on agricultural trade. This “agricultural globalization in reverse” creates serious questions about how long-term food security can be achieved in the region and at what cost.
The Syngenta Foundation and Michigan State University (MSU) have been working together on the topic of Strengthening Regional Agricultural Integration (SRAI) since 2009. This project was divided into two phases: SRAI 1 (2009-2012) and SRAI 2 (2013-2017).