Agriculture and Food Security

West Africa has abundant natural and human resources yet remains one of the poorest regions in the world. Representing approximately 35 percent of the region’s GDP and 60 percent of the active labor force, the agriculture sector is key to achieving food security and broad-based economic growth across West Africa. Agricultural productivity is constrained by poor linkages between farmers and markets, limited access to affordable and reliable high quality seeds and fertilizer, and lack of information on new agricultural technologies and best practices. These factors contribute to West Africa’s struggle with high levels of food insecurity—16% of the population is undernourished—and explain why the region has some of the lowest crop yields in the world per hectare under cultivation. Compounding the problem, the region is home to some of the highest transport costs globally and struggles to harmonize policies that promote more efficient trade across borders.

Despite these challenges, the West Africa region is well positioned to advance economic growth and resilience with stable, engaged and committed regional institutions. USAID works closely with these institutions to harmonize trade and agricultural policy, encourage investment in the agricultural sector, and provide farmers with access to better information and technology. Through these efforts, USAID is improving the resilience and quality of life of West Africans.

Food Security – Feed the Future

The U.S. Government Feed the Future Initiative supports the Africa-led Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) which aims to achieve an annual agricultural growth rate of 6 percent among all signatory member states by 2015. USAID/West Africa works closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which leads CAADP implementation through the establishment of a regional investment plan and a regional agricultural agency. The USAID/West Africa Feed the Future strategy aligns with ECOWAS’s regional agricultural plan focusing in three core areas: increased agricultural productivity, improved regional trade, and enhanced institutional capacity.

Increased Agricultural Productivity

In West Africa, farming is characterized by rain-fed production, low fertilizer use, poor quality seeds, inadequate water management, and low soil fertility. USAID/West Africa programs address these key issues in order to catalyze regional transformation.

• The West Africa Seed Program began in 2012 to enhance the commercial seed industry and the Seed Alliance in West Africa. The program aims to increase the availability of certified and drought resistant seeds for farmers from 12 percent to 25 percent of the total supply. It also seeks to increase private sector seed production and to improve cross-border seed trade.

• The West Africa Fertilizer Program is improving fertilizer quality and availability for West African farmers. It works with the private and public sector to assist countries to adopt ECOWAS regional fertilizer regulations, increase financial opportunities in order to encourage investment in the fertilizer sector, and promote the adoption of integrated soil fertility management practices to address issues of climate change.

• Since 2006, the West Africa Cotton Improvement Program has been supporting cotton farmers and processors in the four principal cotton producing countries in West Africa: Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, and Mali. As a result of the program, cotton yields have improved by 17 percent, harmful pesticide use has been reduced, and ginning efficiency has increased overall cotton value. 

Improved Regional Trade

Free movement of goods in West Africa is greatly limited by physical, infrastructural, and political barriers.  As a result, markets are fragmented, staple food shortages and price volatility are common, and per kilometer transportation costs are among the most expensive in the world. 

• The West Africa Trade Hub and African Partners Network will work to increase trade within the region. This new program will build on successes from the 2008-2013 Agribusiness and Trade Promotion Program (ATP).  The ATP’s key achievements include the collection of intraregional trade statistics and a decrease of 54 percent in bribes per 100km along key corridors. The ATP also helped significantly increase the value of trade in livestock (22%), maize (95%), sorghum and millet (153%), and, in 2013, facilitated the establishment of the West Africa Grains Network which promotes increased trade and competitiveness of grain products.

Strengthening Regional Institutions

One of USAID/West Africa’s core objectives is to help regional institutions increase their capacity to fulfill their mandates. USAID performs institutional assessments and helps fill operational gaps by training employees in skills such as monitoring and evaluation, financial operations, and coordination with other regional stakeholders.

USAID has made a concentrated effort to build the capacity of several key regional organizations, including ECOWAS, the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD). A close partner to ECOWAS, CILSS lessens chronic vulnerability in West Africa via drought early warning systems, increasing farmer access to meteorological information and disseminating regional agricultural statistics. CORAF/WECARD conducts, coordinates, and disseminates research on agricultural practices and improved seeds to member states and national research centers. With USAID support, ECOWAS, CILSS and CORAF/WECARD have become leaders in West Africa’s agricultural development.

Resilience and Regional Systems

USAID/West Africa supports efforts to foster regional resilience, such as improving intra-regional trade, supporting CILSS early warning systems for ecological shocks and CORAF work on disseminating technologies and best practices that boost farmer incomes and agricultural productivity. USAID/West Africa and CILSS work together to coordinate different actors focusing on regional resilience to help vulnerable populations in West Africa mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks. This work includes the European Union Global Alliance for Resilience in the Sahel and West Africa (AGIR) which partners closely with ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union to introduce resilience, nutrition, climate change and risk management into regional and national agriculture investment plans (RAIP and NAIP). Two examples of USAID/West Africa support to resilience efforts include the Niger Food Security Program and the Peace Corps Program:

• The Niger Food Security Program works with the most vulnerable populations in Niger to maximize their yields and livestock sales. It focuses on restoring degraded farm lands through promoting irrigation and soil conservation practices. It also links farmers to credit and technical assistance and improves water and sanitation services.

• USAID/West Africa provides funding for a small grants program that enables Peace Corps volunteers, who work in nine different countries in West Africa, to implement grass-roots level food security projects focusing on ultra-poor populations and women. The projects include activities on nutrition, agricultural productivity and climate-smart agricultural practices.

Last updated: July 25, 2014

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