IFAD’s investments in West and Central Africa totalled US$966.7 million in financing for 55 ongoing programmes and projects in 23 of the region’s 24 countries as of the end of 2012. Since IFAD’s founding in 1978, it has supported more than 200 projects in the region with some $2.5 billion in financing.
Global and regional statistics suggest that West and Central Africa will remain the fastest growing African region in the coming decade, both economically and demographically. Pro-poor economic growth has generally resulted in declining poverty rates and improved human development indicators, and the proportion of the population living on less than US$1.25 per day has declined in all countries in the region – ranging from 10 per cent (in Cameroon and Gabon) to 80 per cent (in Liberia). Cameroon, Ghana, Mauritania and Senegal have made particular progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
In sub-Saharan Africa overall, however, the MDGs will not be met by 2015 unless the pace of improvement increases. The principal risks to continued economic and social progress remain political and social instability, and climate change – which poses a growing challenge to the resilience of rural communities. And West and Central Africa has a higher concentration of fragile states than the other regions where IFAD works, with 12 of the 24 countries classified as fragile by the World Bank in 2011.
Rural poverty in the region
Despite the highest rates of urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts on average for about 30 per cent of the region’s economic activity and employs 60 per cent of the economically active population. However, agriculture’s contribution to regional economic growth has generally been lower than its share of overall GDP, and agricultural labour productivity is low compared to that of the region’s emerging service and manufacturing sectors.
Recent studies indicate that existing technologies could substantially increase yields in the region for a range of staple and market crops and livestock, while developing more integrated crop-livestock production systems could boost livestock production significantly. Closing these yield and production gaps could increase overall agricultural sector growth by an average of about 60 per cent over the next five years, driving rural economic growth and strengthening livelihoods for poor rural people in the region.
Eradicating rural poverty in the region
About 40 per cent of IFAD’s ongoing projects West and Central Africa focus on agricultural production and markets. Strengthening links to markets for poor rural producers is essential to increasing agricultural production, generating economic growth in rural areas and reducing hunger and poverty.
In Sao Tomé and Principe, for example, a programme supporting smallholder agriculture and fisheries has moved quickly to firmly establish value chains for organic cocoa, conventionally grown cocoa, coffee and pepper. Programme participants have greatly benefited from strong partnerships built up over time with the private sector. In Senegal, an IFAD-funded value-chain support project is promoting a ‘contract farming’ scheme that aims to integrate smallholders into markets. The scheme not only provides farmers with guaranteed buyers for their products but also ensures that they are paid negotiated prices equal to – if not above – the market average.
Forty per cent of ongoing IFAD-supported projects in West and Central Africa also include activities related to rural finance. Access to financial services in rural areas enables poor people to manage their household cash flows, start new agricultural activities and set up small businesses.
One rural finance project supported by IFAD in Sierra Leone is particularly noteworthy. Since its implementation in mid-2008, 36 financial services associations and 13 community banks have been established in rural areas, with a combined total of over 50,000 shareholders. They have issued loans to approximately 15,000 active borrowers.
Finally, IFAD-funded projects in West and Central Africa are increasingly addressing climate change and natural resource degradation, which pose grave challenges to smallholder farmers across the region. Rural communities in the Sahara-Sahel region have been especially hard hit by persistent droughts that are undermining their resilience.
Two IFAD-supported programmes in Burkina Faso, for instance, focus on managing soil fertility in areas suffering from frequent droughts and erratic rains. They have successfully reduced soil erosion and reversed land degradation. Improvements in indigenous soil and water conservation techniques have restored agricultural fertility, increasing millet and sorghum yields by up to 50 per cent. These efforts have also enabled farming households to concentrate on new income-generating commodities such as livestock, cowpea and non-wood forest products.