Investing in family farming to end hunger crises in West Africa
Oxfam is urging West African states to double their investment in the agricultural sector to meet their 2014 target and to better support family farms and rural communities in order to break the cycle of hunger. The call comes amid the worst food and nutrition crisis in West Africa in a decade and ahead of the 54th session of the Economic Commission for Africa.
In most countries in the region, poverty is concentrated in rural areas where public services are inadequate and governments invest very little. Cereal production in some parts of the Sahel has fallen by about one-third from last year, while commodity prices have risen by 20-30 percent over the past five years. Yet West African governments invested an average of 5.3 percent of their budgets in the agricultural sector (which accounts for more than one-third of the workforce) in 2020, well below the 10 percent target they committed to in 2014 under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP).
"Governments in West Africa must live up to their commitment to invest in rural communities. They must now redouble their efforts to ensure that these people are not left at the mercy of conflict, drought, floods, and price hikes. People are hungry, and once again they are turning to humanitarian aid to survive. It's simple: to free West Africans from poverty and hunger, we must start by the rural areas" said Assalama Dawalack Sidi, Oxfam's regional director for West Africa.
14 of the 16 West African countries did not meet the CAADP target by 2020. These countries include the three most affected by hunger and among the least committed to reducing inequality according to the most recent Oxfam and Development Finance International index:
- Nigeria invests only 1.7% of its budget in the agricultural sector and is the second worst performer in Africa in terms of addressing inequality. The country's health budget (as a percentage of its overall budget) is the third lowest in the world (3.6%) and 40% of its population has no access to health services. Nigeria's population accounts for more than half (14.5 million) of those affected by the food crisis in the region.
- Niger spends 5.4% of its budget on the agricultural sector, while 65% of the poor live in rural areas. Niger is the second most affected country by the hunger crisis (3.3 million people).
- Burkina Faso spends 5.1% of its budget on the agricultural sector while 47.5% of the rural population lives in poverty. Burkina Faso is the third most hungry country in the region with 2.4 million people in a food and nutrition crisis.
In the face of conflict in the Sahel, the share of security spending often increases at the expense of social and development spending. In 2018, health sector spending in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso represented 0.8 percent, 1.8 percent, and 1 percent of national GDPs, respectively-two to five times less than security sector spending. Faced with idleness in rural areas, young people are more likely to join armed groups, fueling insecurity which in turn increases poverty and food insecurity by displacing populations.
Oxfam is calling on West African states to invest heavily in rural communities, empowering small-scale farmers to produce and sell locally to strengthen their livelihoods, and reduce the chronic food production deficit.
Investments in basic social services, such as health, education, and social protection for rural communities, are also needed to build community resilience to shocks and give them hope for a better life.
"West African states have a moral duty to break this devastating cycle of hunger once and for all. They must invest in small family farms and provide public services in rural communities to foster food sovereignty, well-being and peace among the people," said Sidi.
- The 54th session of the Economic Commission for Africa, to be held from May 11 to 17 in Dakar, brings together African ministers in charge of finance, planning and economic development and central bank governors to discuss post-COVID-19 economic recovery on the continent.
- West Africa is facing its worst hunger crisis in a decade, according to eleven international organizations, including Oxfam, which sounded the alarm on 5 April 2022.
- The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) was designed within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to emphasize investment in three interrelated "pillars" that can make a difference in Africa: (i) expanding areas under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems; (ii) strengthening rural infrastructure and trade capacity to improve market access; and (iii) increasing food supply and reducing hunger.
- The 2021 West Africa Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) ranks the 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States and Mauritania (ECOWAS+) according to their policies on public services, taxation, workers' rights, small-holder agriculture, and the response to the pandemic, all of which are critical areas for reducing inequality and weathering the COVID storm.
- The 14 West African countries that in 2020 do not meet the CAADP target of 10% of total spending in the agricultural sector are: Ghana (1.4%), Cape Verde (1.5%), Nigeria (1.7%), Côte d'Ivoire (2.4%), Liberia (2.4%), Guinea (3.8%), Benin (4.7%), Burkina Faso (5.1%), Togo (5.2%), Niger (5.4%), Sierra Leone (5.5%), Mauritania (6.8%), Senegal (7%), and Guinea-Bissau (7.2%). The two countries that meet (and exceed) the target are Mali (11.1 percent) and Gambia 13.8 percent). Source: 2021 West Africa Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII)
- Data on rural poverty in Niger are from the World Bank: The Redistributive Effects of the Fiscal Policy in Mali and Niger.
- Security spending in 2018 corresponds to 2.4 percent of GDP in Burkina Faso, 3.7 percent of GDP in Mali, and 3.2 percent of GDP in Niger. See the SWAC/OECD report, Sahel to Come: what today tells us about tomorrow
- For the link between increased military spending at the expense of social and development spending in the Sahel, see Ferdi Sahel Chair (in French), Étude sur les dépenses de sécurité et leurs effets d’éviction sur le financement des dépenses de développement dans les pays du G5 Sahel, 2021.
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