The West and Central Africa region has made impressive gains in recent decades, but still has a long way to go in terms of rural transformation.
Economic growth has been slow over the past few years. Economic activity in 2020 is projected to contract by 3.2 per cent, due to a weaker external environment and measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
Rural poverty is widespread and concentrated among women and young people. Three quarters of the region’s population is under the age of 35. With 12 per cent of its population under the age of 15 and around 64 per cent under the age of 24, Western and Central Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world. In rural areas, young people are mostly landless, marginally employed, and suffer from poor working conditions and exploitation.
So far, the region’s economies have been unable to absorb this potential windfall of energetic and creative young workers. As a result, young people are abandoning agriculture and rural areas in search of better lives in cities or abroad.
Connecting farmers and markets
The main brakes on rural transformation include insecure land tenure, a lack of basic infrastructure, inadequate credit and insurance, and ethnic and gender disparities.
What many countries in the region really need are more well-organized markets, and reliable connections among them. Different types of investments are necessary to accelerate the shift from subsistence agriculture to market-based production.
This shift has the potential to increase incomes while improving food security for both farmers and people living in growing towns and cities.
IFAD has been working for almost four decades to enhance rural output in the region. By the end of 2019, we were running 38 ongoing projects in 20 countries in the region, and had invested a total of US$1,639.3 million.
Our current priorities are to strengthen the value chains that link producers and their organizations to markets and consumers, create a virtuous upward spiral by helping farmers to sell more and earn more, and to address the immediate challenges faced by small scale farmers to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to the enormous challenges facing young women and men living in rural areas in the region, IFAD is supporting numerous initiatives to provide training, encourage entrepreneurship, and boost the creation of decent jobs both on and off the farm.
IFAD also supports efforts towards greater financial inclusion and making cashless credit more readily available to smallholders. We are also investing in projects that enable smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change.
Our breadth of experience, in terms of climatic and soil conditions, social organization and market development, makes us the partner of choice for governments, NGOs and local groups keen to achieve long-lasting rural transformation.
Approximately 552 million people live in West and Central Africa, the majority living in rural areas as smallholders farmers.
Finding work for the growing numbers of young people in rural areas is a priority in West and Central Africa. In Senegal, for example, 47 per cent of the population is under 15 years of age.
Agriculture is important to the West and Central African economy, providing 30-50 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in most countries and income and livelihoods for 70-80 per cent of the population.
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