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GREAT insights Magazine

A panoply of policy instruments to promote sustainable food systems in West Africa

September 2017

Sy Traoré, A., Torres, C. A panoply of policy instruments to promote sustainable food systems in West Africa. GREAT Insights Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 4. September/October 2017.

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ECDPM’s Carmen Torres interviews ECOWAS Director Alain Sy Traoré, on how his organisation is seeking to use its new agricultural policy, ECOWAP 2015-2025, and various other policy tools, to promote agricultural development, food and nutrition security and the sustainability of food systems in West Africa.

ECOWAS is seeking to use its new agricultural policy, ECOWAP 2015-2025, and various other policy tools, to promote agricultural development, food and nutrition security and the sustainability of food systems in West Africa.

Carmen Torres: What are the key policy frameworks and programmes put in place by the ECOWAS Directorate of Agriculture to achieve sustainable and inclusive food systems? Can you give concrete examples of successful experiences?

Alain Sy Traoré: ECOWAS’ main regional policy framework to achieve sustainable and inclusive food systems in West Africa is the ECOWAP (ECOWAS Agricultural Policy), which derives from the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the flagship policy framework for agricultural development and food and nutrition security in Africa. In 2015, 10 years after ECOWAP’s adoption, we engaged in a review process, in particular to consider key social, economic and environmental sustainability issues. We adopted a new Strategic Framework for 2015-2025 which addresses key sustainability challenges linked to food security, nutrition, climate change, youth employment in agriculture and gender, amongst others. The Framework also takes into account all major policies and global initiatives (the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change, etc.) relevant to achieving food security and nutrition in the region. But first and foremost, the ECOWAP 2015-2025 takes into consideration and builds on the demographic challenges we face in our region.

To implement our new regional agricultural policy, we developed the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan and Food and Nutrition Security (RAIP-FNS), which was endorsed by the 15 ECOWAS Ministers of Agriculture on 12 December 2016 in Abuja. The RAIP-FNS aims to

1) contribute to increasing agro-forestry, pastoral and fisheries productivity and production through diversified and sustainable production systems, and to reducing post-production losses;
2) promote contractual, inclusive and competitive agricultural and food value chains oriented towards regional and international demand, with a view to regional market integration;
3) improve access to food, nutrition and resilience for vulnerable populations; and
4) improve the business environment and the governance and funding mechanisms for the agriculture and food sector.

The RAIP-FNS (like the former RAIP) is operationalised via different programmes and projects that are being executed, and we are currently formulating with the European Union and with our other technical and financial partners new projects targeting the different challenges our region faces to achieve sustainable food systems.

ECOWAS countries are currently designing their National Agricultural Investment Plan and Food and Nutrition Security (NAIP-FNS), a process that will come to an end in December 2017. With our technical and financial partners (IFPRI, FAO, CORAF, CILSS, etc.) we have put in place what we call “Regional Clinics”, in order to give technical assistance to our member states in the formulation of their NAIP-FNS. During these missions, we use sustainability indicators and criteria to evaluate the progress made by each member state in the formulation of their NAIP-FNS. We check, for instance, if the documents take into account the creation of jobs for the youth in agro-food value chains, if they are nutrition-sensitive, if they take into account their Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution (INDC), etc. In that way, we want to make sure that our Regional and National Agricultural Investment plans achieve not only agricultural development but also sustainable and inclusive food systems.

As a successful experience, I would like to give the example of the West Africa Food and Nutrition Security Support Programme (PASANAO). This programme, among others, has contributed to the development of a harmonised tool for food security analysis, the Harmonized Framework for the Analysis and Identification of Areas at Risk and Vulnerable Groups, more commonly referred to as the Cadre Harmonisé (CH), in the 15 ECOWAS countries. The CH provides tools for the classification, analysis, and reporting of food insecurity, as well as joint approaches for undertaking monitoring, assessments, data collection, and database management, which is absolutely crucial to formulate, implement, monitor and evaluate policies related to sustainable food systems. This allows us to capitalise on lessons in order to inform the NAIP-FNS that are currently prepared by ECOWAS member countries. The programme also includes support for the Master on Food and Nutrition Security implemented at the Regional Agrhymet center, and funding for innovative projects, whose results will be evaluated for scaling-up. We have selected some strategic thematic areas targeting key sustainability issues, including: 1) food fortification and local production of nutritional supplements; 2) securing pastoral activity systems; and 3) strengthening credit systems and agricultural insurance.

Supporting innovation and knowledge-sharing between ECOWAS countries, strengthening knowledge and capacity of national and regional agents, and promoting advocacy are all crucial to achieving socially, economically and environmentally sustainable agricultural development, and the ECOWAS Directorate of Agriculture and Rural Development has a strong role to play in this regard.

What policy instruments are in place in the region to ensure agriculture and food security policies are more sensitive to nutrition?

The RAIP-FNS has a specific objective linked to access to food, nutrition and resilience, and we have established a mechanism in the review process of the NAIP-FNS to make sure these plans are nutrition-sensitive. We have put special emphasis on the diversification of food production, the fortification of crops and food products, and on food safety. Many of the projects developed under the RAIP-FNS are related to food insecurity and malnutrition, such as the previously mentioned PASANAO. We also have a programme financing innovative projects related to safety nets, and our flagship project of establishing a regional food security reserve as a third safety net to complement local and national reserves. These reserves are strategically placed close to vulnerable regions that are prone to food insecurity crises, and represent an important component of a sustainable food system.

It is true that, for the most part, nutrition-specific actions are overseen by Ministries of Health, and that Ministries of Agriculture remain focused on agricultural and rural development. But we now all understand the need for coordinated actions to achieve food security and nutrition. Fortification of sweet potato with vitamin A, for example, is now possible, and gives an opportunity to promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture in the upstream part of the food system. We therefore support the promotion of varieties with an additional nutritional advantage in the agricultural investment plans. We also support the strengthening of capacities at national level to integrate nutrition issues into agricultural plans, and encourage countries to ensure the participation of health and nutrition stakeholders in the formulation of their NAIP-FNS. It’s not easy, but having NAIP-FNS that are nutrition-sensitive is a high priority for us. We also promote nutrition-sensitive actions in the downstream part of our food systems with specific policy instruments, such as regulations addressing, for example, the fortification of key food products, such as oil and salt.

Let me finish by saying that our regional agricultural policy, the ECOWAP, is first and foremost a food sovereignty policy. From a food security and nutrition perspective, this means that we consider our region has all that it takes to feed and nourish our people, and we aim to reach regional food self-sufficiency (i.e. to replace food imports with regional food production). That is why in the first generation of the ECOWAP, we prioritised food products that are widely consumed by West Africans: millet and sorghum, maize, rice, roots and tubers, fruit and vegetables, and animal and fish products. In the new ECOWAP 2015-2025, we have also included major regional cash/export crops, as these are important not only for income generation, which is strongly correlated with household food security and nutrition, but also because some export crops, such as tropical fruits and nuts, are also extremely important for our people’s food security and nutrition. For example, mango is a popular export to European markets. During the lean season, however, mangoes also constitute a fundamental nutritional contribution for rural populations. That’s why we have programmes in place to address key challenges in such value chains, such as the “Project to support the regional plan to combat and control fruit flies in West Africa”.

What policy instruments are in place in the region to achieve resilience and environmental sustainability in West African food systems, and how are they linked to the new PRIA-SAN?

We have two major policy tools. The first one is the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR), launched in 2012, which is a framework that helps to foster improved synergy, coherence and effectiveness in support of resilience initiatives in the 17 West African and Sahelian countries. Building on the “Zero Hunger” target within the next 20 years, the Alliance is a policy tool aimed at channeling efforts of regional and international stakeholders towards a common results framework. All Sahelian and West African countries are now engaged in the process of formulating their country resilience priorities (PRP-AGIR). Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Niger, Mali, Chad and Togo have already validated their resilience priorities, which should be included in their NAIP-FNS.

The second one is the Regional Framework for the Development of Climate Smart Agriculture (AIC), established in 2012. ECOWAS supports the development of innovations for climate-smart agriculture, i.e. agriculture techniques which help to increase agricultural productivity but also give sustainable income, strengthen adaptation and resilience to climate variability and climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ensure gender equality, and promote young people and vulnerable populations’ access to productive resources for AIC. The framework intends to provide a comprehensive and coherent guide for the development of AIC in regional and national agricultural investment plans (RAIP-FNS and NAIP-FNS).

Through the ‘Regional Clinics’ I mentioned before, we check if the countries’ PRP and the guidance provided by the AIC framework are adequately integrated in the NAIP-FNS. The reality is that the integration of these frameworks in not easy. At regional level, we can guide and provide tools for policy-making at national level, but the countries have the sovereignty over their national policies. Some countries consider it their main objective to increase productivity in order to nourish their people ‘no matter how’, and are less interested in environmental issues.

Finally, I would like to point out that West Africa includes a sub-region that is particularly vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation, namely the Sahelian region. In the Sahel we also have specific flagship programmes which address key challenges for sustainable food systems. Two important ones are the Regional Sahel Pastoralism Support Project (PRAPS) and the Sahel Irrigation Initiative, both financed by the World Bank.

Are you planning to use global climate funds, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to adapt agriculture in Africa? What can ECOWAS do to support its member states on this issue?

We are definitely planning to use available global climate funds to develop and adapt our agricultural systems. A few years ago we noticed that, although these funds were available, our countries were not benefiting from them, and we found two reasons for that. The first reason is the lack of capacity to formulate projects, and the second is that they usually cannot afford the counterpart contribution they are asked to make by the vast majority of these funds. The ECOWAS Commission is playing an active role to overcome these obstacles. We first gathered ECOWAS countries representatives and asked the different people in charge of these funds to present them and explain their mechanisms and how our countries could access them. After that, with our colleagues from the Environment Directorate we developed a capacity strengthening programme of two years, which trained 400 experts in project development.

That is our support at country level, but at regional level we also developed and submitted a project to access the “Adaptation Fund” to promote climate-smart agriculture in West Africa. We are already in the final phase of the selection process, so we are confident that we will get 14 million US dollars for this project. Regarding the Global Environment Facility funds (GEF), we have submitted a 12 million US dollars project to eliminate/substitute obsolete pesticides, with the FAO playing the role of fiduciary agency. We are planning to put in place a specialized unit to deal with these funds and sustain our support to ECOWAS countries to access them. We have many partnerships to work on this, such as with the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) and Expertise France, among others.

We have also developed training programmes to develop local capacities on these topics, such as the Master on Climate Change programme at the Regional Agrhymet center. We have also signed and support the “4/1000 Initiative”, which aims to ensure that agriculture plays its part in combating climate change. In that context we’ve developed a project on agroecology with the support of the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), which is just about to start. We were also actively engaged in the formulation of our bloc’s common position regarding climate change for the Paris negotiations, and we are currently preparing for COP 23 (Bonn, November 2017). We also support the implementation of ECOWAS countries’ INDC with our colleagues from the Environment Directorate.

What is your vision for the next ten years on sustainable food systems in West Africa, taking into account the different challenges of demography, rural-urban dynamics, industrialization, the sustainable management of natural resources, climate change and others?

Our region’s natural endowments and current demographic dynamics (population growth, urbanisation, migration and increasing incomes, which affect dietary patterns) are a big challenge but also a huge opportunity to achieve sustainable food systems in West Africa. In that sense, the proper functioning of our regional market is crucial to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the region. We have put in place many important instruments to achieve this, such as the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) and the Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), which is the main ECOWAS operational tool for promoting the West Africa region as a Free Trade Area, and we are working hard to make these instruments work on the ground.

The ECOWAP 2015-2025 vision for the next ten years on sustainable food systems in West Africa is: “A modern agro-sylvo-pastoral and fisheries sector that is competitive, inclusive and sustainable, guaranteeing decent jobs, food security and nutrition, and food sovereignty”.


About the interviewee

Alain Sy Traoré is the Director in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development at the ECOWAS Commission. Photo credits: Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD).


This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 6, Issue 4 (September/October 2017). 

Economic Transformation and TradeFood SecurityAgricultureSustainable food systemsWest Africa