IFAD strategy for rural poverty reduction in West and Central Africa

West and Central Africa


1. IFAD's strategy for rural poverty reduction in West and Central Africa (WCA)1 builds on a rural poverty assessment completed in 2001. It is also inspired by IFAD's strategic framework 2002-06 and the New Partnership for African Development. Its intended audience includes: organizations representing poor people in the region; regional and national decision-makers; IFAD partners in public, private, NGO and donor agencies; the staff members and governing bodies of IFAD; and all those who believe that widespread poverty in Africa is unacceptable and are working in partnership to eliminate it.

Back to Top

Regional Overview

2. In recent years, the WCA region has been subject to enormous changes - political, social, economic, demographic and environmental. These changes have important implications for the way in which IFAD and its partners work with the rural poor to overcome poverty.

3. Political and social change. Over the past decade, many countries have embarked upon democratization processes. A new openness to national dialogue has appeared, accompanied by rapid development of civil society. Examples abound at both the 'macro' level (the national conferences of the early 1990s, more widespread and increasingly fair electoral processes, peaceful electoral-based transfers of power to opposition parties, and the emergence of decentralization processes in many countries), and the 'micro' level (the rapid growth of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), farmers' associations, producer federations and a general opening up of dialogue at sector-policy and project levels on the importance of stakeholder consultation).

4. While some countries appear to be on a sound path towards democracy and stability, others have been less successful. Tragically, conflict is a major factor aggravating poverty and vulnerability in the region. About one in five inhabitants lives in a country affected by warfare, and protracted warfare has had widespread negative social, psychological and economic consequences. In many rural areas, the capacity of rural people to ensure their livelihoods has been dramatically curtailed. Yet there are grounds for cautious optimism. Peace processes are underway in a number of these countries, with the hope that development activities can resume.

5. Economic change. Adjustment programmes have led to major changes in macroeconomic and sectoral policies. The direct state role in productive activities - including agricultural production, processing and trade - is far less prominent today than it was a decade ago. Privatization of agricultural processing and marketing agencies is widespread. At the same time, governments have been slow to take on the public functions that only they can fulfil. Economic growth in the region has been uneven and generally disappointing.

6. WCA economies and trade regimes are now more open than in the past. This carries risks as well as opportunities in the context of a global economy. While there may be new possibilities to enter niche markets (examples include off-season horticulture, natural and forest products), the risk remains of unfair competition from highly subsidized agricultural sectors of developed countries. Greater openness also means greater exposure to international commodity-price fluctuations, an especially serious problem given that most WCA economies are not very diversified. Potential opportunities of globalization are numerous and include improved communications (although they have not yet reached most rural areas) and agricultural technology, including biotechnology. Considerable investment in infrastructure and education is needed before information technology can reach its full potential. While biotechnology holds great promise, the limited capacity for developing and enforcing safeguards, and underdeveloped agricultural-input distribution systems are formidable constraints on this potential.

7. In contrast to the generally poor macroeconomic performance in the region, overall growth in food production has been reasonably good, keeping pace with population growth. Per capita food production fell during the 1980s but picked up markedly in the 1990s. Yet performance varies among countries. Those countries that have experienced protracted warfare have seen per capita food production fall precipitously. In other countries, market and exchange-rate liberalization have contributed to strong growth.

8. Demographic change. Urban population growth rates averaged 6% annually from 1960 to 1990. Megacities like Lagos, Ibadan, Kinshasa, Douala, Abidjan and Dakar were created. Yet the pull of many secondary cities such as Kaolack, Bouaké, Kumasi, Garoua and Mbuji-Mayi was also important. Swelling of the megacities and rising numbers of large secondary cities will continue. By 2030, the majority of the region's people will live in urban areas. The number of cities in the region with more than 100 000 inhabitants will grow from 90 in 1990 to more than 300 in 2030. Nigeria will have more than half these cities. Lagos alone will have 12-15 million inhabitants.

9. These trends create major opportunities for market development. In the future, farmers will need to increase productivity to keep pace with spiraling urban demand. Incentives to intensify will be more pronounced due to the stronger pull of urban markets, which will also be closer to production areas. Urban-rural linkages will become stronger, especially along the coast and across large parts of the Sahel. Integration among urban markets should also strengthen noticeably, both within countries and intraregionally.

10. HIV/AIDS has emerged as a major threat in the 1990s. While incidence is generally higher in East and Southern Africa , many WCA countries are at a stage at which growth threatens to become exponential (incidence of 4-5%) if not combated actively. In countries with high prevalence rates, in addition to the terrible human cost, the skilled labor force is being decimated and economic growth seriously disrupted. AIDS puts an unbearable strain on poor rural households. As labor is the primary income-earning asset of the rural poor, degeneration of adult health status can be devastating to those who remain, including orphans.

11. Environmental change. Land degradation resulting from extensive agriculture, deforestation and overgrazing has reached alarming levels. Forest area is declining as a result of the unchecked growth of timber exports, agricultural expansion and fuelwood demand for a growing population. Most of this disappearance is concentrated in the rain forests of the Congo Basin and in southern parts of the West African coastal countries that were once heavily forested. This degradation has implications for the biodiversity of flora and fauna, where the losses are irreplaceable. About 50% of farmland suffers to some extent from soil erosion, and as much as 80% of pasture and rangelands exhibit some form of degradation, with use exceeding carrying capacity. One consequence in the Sahel is that land conflicts are becoming more frequent between livestock herders and sedentary farmers.

Back to Top

Rural Poverty in the Region

12. Poverty in WCA is primarily a rural phenomenon. In 16 WCA countries for which urban/rural poverty-incidence data are available, 41% of the total population is classified as poor, of which the rural share is 74%. Based on these estimates, approximately 90 million people in the region can be categorized as rural poor (compared to about 35 million poor in urban areas).

13. Several factors are important in explaining rural poverty in WCA. First and foremost, the rural poor have little or no voice in many major decisions affecting their livelihoods. They are rarely consulted on policy issues and investment decisions. There is also a long legacy of neglect of rural areas, with urban interest groups more concentrated and thus more vocal in lobbying for their interests. They have traditionally been successful in capturing disproportionate shares of social and infrastructure investment and arguing for artificially cheap food prices, which has swollen import bills (much of it paid for by agricultural exports) and made it hard for rural producers to compete.

14. Conflict and HIV/AIDS - already mentioned - have also emerged as major threats to rural livelihoods in recent years, increasing vulnerability and risking the entire asset base of affected households.

15. Poverty is often localized in specific regions. In coastal countries with a northern savannah and forests in the south (Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria), rural poverty has traditionally been significantly higher in the north. These zones are characterized by cereal, cotton and livestock production, while the forest areas produce several tree crops for export. Yet poverty may be growing in forest zones: world prices for forest-based export crops such as coffee and cocoa are quite volatile and have fallen substantially in recent years.

16. Gender is also an important factor. Social indicators are generally very low for women, and women and girls also have lower education levels than their male counterparts. This is related not only to low income but to social and cultural considerations and policy. Women's workloads are very heavy. Rural women work at least twice as many hours per week as men, spend about three times as much time in transport, and transport about four times as much volume. Women's lack of access to land, finance and inputs is a major limiting factor for enhanced livelihoods, despite considerable empirical evidence that women manage resources effectively and work well together in groups. When women have decision-making power in allocating household resources, a significant share of expenditure is devoted to the education, health and nutrition of more vulnerable household members.

17. In summary, poverty in the region is primarily rural and will remain so for some time. Of a total of about 125 million poor in the region, almost three quarters live in rural areas. Agriculture is the single most important sector contributing to economic growth, incomes and employment. In addition to agriculture's direct contribution to growth, the indirect effect of increased demand for off-farm good and services in market towns can broadly raise employment relative to other productive sectors. Boosting agricultural productivity will be a key challenge to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. Yet many donors and governments continue to minimize the importance of agriculture and rural development in their investment decisions. If the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 is to be achieved, it means bringing 75 million people out of poverty in the region. Clearly, a renewed commitment to agriculture and rural development is needed, given the predominance of poverty in rural areas and the centrality of agriculture to rural livelihoods.

Back to Top

IFAD Experience in the Region

18. Since its creation in 1977, IFAD has financed over 130 investment projects in all 24 countries of the region, for a total commitment level of USD 1.3 billion. Numerous grants to regional bodies and national NGOs have been implemented in the areas of agricultural research, training, studies and community development. With its partners, IFAD has accumulated considerable experience regarding the constraints on and opportunities for rural poverty reduction. Constraints include: insufficient human and social capital development; inappropriate macroeconomic and sectoral policy frameworks; low farmer productivity and major challenges to natural resource management in the face of steadily rising urban populations and food demand; inefficient agricultural marketing systems, especially for food products; lack of access to financial capital; inability to fully exploit non-farm investment opportunities; and inadequate rural infrastructure development. Opportunities are numerous and some have already been mentioned: the growth of democracy and civil-society movements; improved incentives due to economic and sectoral policy reforms; and the move towards decentralization.

19. Human and social capital. The importance of investing in human capital is well established. Extensive evidence exists of the positive effects of education investment on poverty and growth. In particular, educating women has proven very effective in combating poverty. Education not only directly benefits the women, but impacts the nutritional and health status of their children. Investing in functional literacy and informal training are also cost-effective means of building human capital in rural areas and of giving people the opportunity to improve their livelihoods. Such training is essential to building self-confidence, increasing the transparency of intravillage decision-making and levelling the playing field in interactions with marketing agents and service providers.

20. Strong social organization makes it possible for the poor to gain access to resources and knowledge within their communities and to develop links with external partners. At the project level, in the past, grass-roots organizations were perceived primarily as conduits of predetermined project-furnished goods and services. Today IFAD and its partners increasingly recognize the importance of building institutional capacity and strengthening governance mechanisms. Yet many project-related groups remain creatures of the projects themselves - their only raison d'être being the hope of getting donor money. Many of these entities lack cohesion and community legitimacy, and when the project ends, so will they.

21. To counter this tendency and reinforce the local social fabric, it is important to be aware of existing social structures and, where possible, build upon them as the foundation for collective endeavors. The focus of public support services has tended to be on formal institutions such as cooperative unions, cooperatives and pre-cooperatives. Ultimately, the more formal structures can be perfectly consistent with traditional means of organization if people are free to form their own groupings and a degree of flexibility is built in.

22. Policy. Throughout the l970s-80s, macroeconomic and agricultural policies were generally inhospitable to rural development in the region. With the adjustment programmes of the late 1980s and 1990s, many governments in the region have made great strides in instituting economic and sectoral policy reforms and liberalizing markets. Liberalization has largely succeeded in removing governments from direct roles in production and marketing. In some cases, the private sector has successfully taken on roles in food- and export-crop marketing channels. Yet with the exception of the cotton subsector, input marketing systems have collapsed, with serious negative implications for agricultural productivity. Progress has also been very slow in improving capacity to handle roles that only government can fill, including design and enforcement of legal and regulatory frameworks; research and extension; social services; and infrastructure investment and maintenance. Existing institutions (ministries, extension and research agencies, parastatal marketing boards, etc.) have often been unresponsive to the needs of the rural poor. Improving responsiveness and accountability will involve: changing incentive structures; decentralizing decision-making and budgeting processes; raising awareness that different socio-economic classes of rural clients need different types of technical and organizational solutions to their problems; and building meaningful monitoring and feedback mechanisms so the rural poor can have a voice in decisions that affect their well-being.

23. Decentralization initiatives are now widespread. Yet transfer of central government responsibilities to local governments and civil-society organizations can only be effective if these entities have adequate technical and administrative skills. Local implementation capacity is very weak, and decentralization programmes need to give serious attention to local capacity-building. In particular, local organizations need to have administrative skills relating to legal matters, contracting of personnel, procurement of goods and services and financial control. They also need technical skills to ensure that civil works are properly designed and constructed. An important related issue is the extent to which private service providers exist in rural areas, and if they do not exist in adequate numbers, how they can be developed. Creation of local planning capacity is also an important area requiring reflection on the part of IFAD and its development partners.

24. Farmer productivity and natural resource management. Steady expansion of urban areas in the coming decades will force farmers to step up their agricultural productivity. Substantially increased investments will be required in productivity-enhancing technology and improved natural resource management to effectively reduce rural and urban poverty and to maintain agricultural production and food prices at acceptable levels. The widespread post-adjustment collapse of input markets (seed, fertilizer and machinery) is one factor that makes this an especially daunting challenge. Soil fertility is declining as organic matter is removed but not replaced, and fertilizer use is negligible compared to other developing regions.

25. Technologies that become widely adopted by farmers need to respond to several key criteria. First, techniques that build on existing local practices stand a greater chance of success. Existing practices already possess the built-in advantage of having addressed the most difficult issues related to seasonality of labor availability, social organization and cultural acceptability. Second, those technologies that render visible and immediate benefits are most apt to be replicated by farmers. This is especially important where there is little room for error, either due to the fragility of the environment or because resource-poor farmers are risk-averse.

26. The issue of land productivity is increasing in importance in more densely populated areas, in marginal areas and in areas with localized land scarcities (e.g. in large villages in land-abundant areas where farmers walk long distances to reach their fields). Low labour productivity is also a major constraint, particularly that of women. They have multiple tasks in food production, childcare, transport, post-harvest operations and food preparation. Reducing their drudgery and labour burden is of the utmost importance for poverty eradication. New technologies need to be evaluated for their effects on women's labour burden, incomes and well-being. Yet this is not done as often as needed.

27. Further investment in irrigation is important to diversify incomes and reduce risk. Yet despite massive investment by many governments in the region, these investments have generally underperformed. One explanation is the emphasis placed by governments on large and expensive schemes to produce uncompetitive crops. Considerable potential exists, but only if mechanisms are developed for meaningful farmer participation in decision-making. Farmers must have a greater say in perimeter planning, crop and technology choice, water management and resolution of land-tenure disputes. Where irrigation has worked, successful technologies proved to be those that improved existing methods and remained under the control of local communities. The design of those technologies was based on in-depth analysis of local practices and built on farmers' existing knowledge and skills.

28. The problem of identifying and implementing appropriate natural resource and environmental management systems is complex. Design of appropriate interventions is often site-specific and depends on many factors (technical, economic, political, tenurial/legal and socio-cultural) - the interplay of which is far from readily apparent. Over the last two decades (roughly since the Sahel drought), there has been great success in generating and extending an array of natural resource management technologies for water and soil conservation, soil-fertility maintenance, integrated crop and livestock systems, prevention of wind erosion, agroforestry, and development and extension of fuel-efficient cookstoves for use in urban and rural areas. However, many project interventions fail, primarily because a narrow technical approach is taken at the design stage; it is simply assumed that problems are so evident that farmers will be compelled to adopt project technologies, or the nature of the 'problem' itself is mis-specified. Nor has full capitalization of existing traditional knowledge occurred.

29. In much of the region, land tenure has a major effect on productivity and natural resource management. Yet the issues are often diverse than elsewhere in the developing world, where historical land-colonization practices were markedly different. Relative to other parts of the world, land-distribution patterns are less skewed and landlessness less of a problem (although this may be changing). WCA farmers commonly have usufruct rights, with access governed by traditional village chiefs. When considering poor people's rights to land, it is generally more appropriate to focus on the level and security of access, rather than on land ownership. For women, there is strong evidence that their access to land is less, and less secure, than men's for a number of reasons including inheritance practices, bias on the part of governments in apportioning improved land (such as irrigated perimeters), and marginalization of women from community decision-making. Gender bias in access is readily observed through quality, quantity, size and distance of individual plots from the village.

30. Agricultural marketing. Food-crop agricultural marketing in much of WCA is characterized by high marketing costs and limited innovation. Inflated marketing margins (especially for perishable food crops) are caused by several factors: elevated transport costs, low economies of scale, lack of information, high risk, legal and illegal taxes, too many intermediaries, and excessive physical losses. Marketing costs are highest for farmers located in remote or less accessible villages, where buyers can exert monopsony buying power.

31. Donor and government investments in marketing are often inappropriate. Sometimes it is assumed that a market exists when it really does not. Many projects equate marketing with credit lines, warehouse construction, roads, and sometimes provision of group-managed processing equipment. While roads are essential, the provision of credit, warehouses and processing equipment often does not address real problems that may be amenable to simpler and cheaper solutions. Farmers may simply want to be reasonably assured that they will have a sales outlet. In such cases, establishing links with traders so that produce is bulked at a prearranged delivery point may be all that is needed.

32. When it comes to linking poor farmers with markets, a number of special challenges present themselves. Most poor farmers are illiterate and this makes transparency of management decision-making and record-keeping particularly challenging. Functional literacy programmes have often been essential complementary investments in empowering poor farmers to interact with cooperative officials and private marketing agents. Poor farmers are often far from markets, produce small quantities of marketable surplus, and may need assistance in grouping their produce for bulk sale. Finally, such farmers tend to be primarily food-crop rather than export-crop producers. Food-crop market structure tends to be less developed than that for export crops.

33. Rural finance. In many instances, a major constraint on improving the lot of the rural poor is lack of access to capital for financing income-generating agricultural and off-farm opportunities, paying school fees, and dealing with medical emergencies and important social obligations. While informal credit and savings schemes are widespread in the region (and the potential to build upon them is too commonly overlooked), they exhibit some drawbacks. These include high interest rates and limited possibilities (usually only short-term, rapid-turnover investments). Commercial banks cannot reasonably be expected to adapt their financial products to the needs of small, poor and remote clients and have thus taken no interest in rural microfinance, nor in agriculture in general (with the exception of financing selected export and agro-industrial operations). There is a long and disappointing experience in WCA with large, formal agricultural credit institutions that has left a troublesome legacy of political interference and non-repayment. This will make it difficult to rejuvenate similar institutions in the future.

34. WCA is a challenging region in which to develop viable microfinance institutions (MFIs). Generally low levels of economic activity; low population densities in many rural zones; widespread illiteracy, and scarcity of qualified personnel drive up the costs of delivering financial services to clients. Yet there are also opportunities. There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit, with its origin in precolonial trade. Women are prominent participants in small commerce, actively involved in food marketing and long-distance trade. There is a long tradition of informal credit and savings arrangements that can be built upon. In addition, if urban-rural linkages and population densities will be increasing substantially in the long-term, this will in turn increase demand for financial services and the potential for economies of scale. Finally, adjustment efforts have restored the health of the financial sector in many countries.

35. There is an emerging consensus in the region - accepted by major donors and a number of governments - on what constitutes best practices in MFI development. These include: development of specialized institutions; savings promotion; and de-emphasizing the targeting of credit to specific end uses while emphasizing instead the development of appropriate financial products for savers and borrowers. It is also recognized that MFI development takes considerable time and subsidization, but that it is institutional support and technical assistance that should be subsidized rather than interest rates. Interest-rate subsidies are neither financially sustainable nor effective in reaching poor clients.

36. The development of cost-effective 'proximity' approaches is perhaps the greatest challenge in increasing the rural outreach of financial services. A number of promising approaches exist. One is the concept of financial service associations promoted by IFAD. Other examples are village banking in Burkina Faso and Mali and systems of village financial contracts in Guinea. These approaches try to reach those rural poor usually by-passed by other MFI approaches because either they live in remote areas or the conditions for accessing credit services are too stringent. They seek to promote sustainable financial intermediation based on the general best-practice principles outlined above and also recognize the importance of establishing member-driven governance structures.

37. Rural non-farm activities. Smallholder households in rural areas manage complex portfolios of activities; diversification is the normal state of affairs. On average, rural non-farm (RNF) income and employment in West Africa account for 36% of total rural income and employment, while individual country estimates often go much higher. Rural households participate in RNF activities for various reasons, including potentially high returns, cash-flow management and spreading risk. The poor often participate in RNF activities because their agricultural output is insufficient to achieve survival. In marginal lands like the Sahel where agricultural risk is high, RNF activities (including migration) are central to spreading risk.

38. Rural household members in WCA engage in a wide variety of RNF activities linked to agriculture, such as food-processing and -marketing, blacksmith construction and repair of agricultural tools and machinery. A dynamic smallholder agricultural economy forms the backbone of a vibrant RNF sector. Due to multiplier effects, smallholder agriculture is more likely to stimulate off-farm employment than either large-scale agricultural or industrial development. Small farmers are more likely to use increased incomes to purchase locally produced goods and services, which in turn creates additional local employment.

39. The rural poor have special problems in exploiting non-farm employment opportunities. A combination of limited human and social capital, insufficient access to markets, and lack of credit for working and investment capital leads to high barriers against entry into remunerative RNF employment.

40. Strategies for reaching the rural poor through development of RNF activities include many highlighted elsewhere in this paper, and in particular those pertaining to human capital, rural finance, marketing and infrastructure development. Most support to microenterprise development has targeted better-off urban entrepreneurs that seek to graduate their firms to higher levels of output and managerial sophistication. Such approaches may do little to reduce rural poverty. Targeting the rural poor for microenterprise development requires institutions specialized in lending to the rural poor.

41. Rural infrastructure. Even if the policy climate provides correct incentives, insufficient rural infrastructure can greatly impede development. In the case of food marketing, high transport costs related to bad roads are passed on to both consumers as higher food prices and farmers as lower producer prices. While the importance of adequate road networks is generally recognized, development of financially sustainable road maintenance systems remains a big challenge. One positive development is that most governments have now shifted to competitive bidding for rehabilitation and maintenance, rather than maintaining expensive and ineffective permanent public road crews. Introduction of local systems for road maintenance is needed, as well as innovative ways to fund such maintenance.

42. There are major disparities between urban and rural social indicators and availability of related water, health and sanitation infrastructure. In much of arid Africa, wells near villages could save women as much as 2-3 hours per day in time spent hauling water. This equals or surpasses most improved 'labor-saving' agricultural technologies. Because so few WCA countries have yet reached acceptable levels of rural access to safe water, and health impacts are significant and immediate, potable water investment should be viewed as a major priority for rural development.

Back to Top

IFAD Strategy for Rural Poverty Reduction

In order to improve the incomes and living conditions of the rural poor in West and Central Africa , IFAD will respond to a critical mass of priority needs. This will involve capacity-building to empower rural poor women and men and strengthen local-level institutions. It will also involve the mobilization of energies, resources, and local and external knowledge and capacity through partnerships with institutions sharing IFAD's objectives and having complementary approaches and expertise. Accordingly, this will be achieved through the design and implementation of projects and programmes that are: impact-and-learning oriented; flexible and participatory; equitable and gender-sensitive; sustainable (cost-effective both environmentally and institutionally); and capable of providing input to policy analysis and dialogue.

43. IFAD's strategy for rural poverty reduction in WCA is summarized in the diagram on the last page of this pamphlet. The strategy is consistent with the Fund's commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 as well as with the IFAD Mission Statement of enabling the rural poor to overcome their poverty. Major elements of the WCA context in which the strategy needs to situate itself have been presented in the preceding sections. These include: a weak human-capital base; inappropriate or insufficiently pro-poor policies and institutions; low agricultural productivity combined with degradation of the natural resource base; insufficient and poorly maintained rural infrastructure; and the need to operate more effectively in the global marketplace.

44. Cross-cutting approaches. Three essential cross-cutting approaches will be applied in the design and implementation of IFAD-supported programmes:

  • Investing in women. This approach yields high benefits for poverty alleviation. Women work well in groups and manage external resources such as organic fertilizer and credit effectively. When women have decision-making power for allocating household resources, a significant share of expenditure is devoted to the education, health and nutrition of the most vulnerable household members. Thus, intra-household distribution of and control over resources and incomes are highly relevant for poverty alleviation. IFAD will target women, without, however, excluding men and taking into account local cultures and traditions and possible adjustments in behaviour.
  • Enhanced participation. IFAD will strengthen participatory aspects of project design, implementation, evaluation and management, and more fully involve rural communities. Mechanisms for participatory monitoring and evaluation will be put in place, while selected management functions will be shared with beneficiaries in those situations in which strong capacity already exists. IFAD will increasingly assist grass-roots organizations in enhancing their policy advocacy capacity in local and national policy fora.
  • Building on indigenous knowledge. IFAD will continue to promote effective use of local knowledge and technology. Externally-sourced technologies remain important, but often achieve their greatest potential when they improve upon existing practices. They also have to be carefully adapted to local forms of social organization and capacity levels.

45. Strategic objectivs. The rural poor need to have greater access to a variety of interdependant assets - human and social, natural, infrastructural and financial. They need to have influence over the major decisions that affect their well-being. They also need to be less vulnerable to shocks (e.g. disease, conflict, natural disasters) that threaten to completely destroy their asset base. With the above cross-cutting approaches in mind, four related and mutually-reinforcing strategic objectives will be pursued in the design and implementation of IFAD-supported programmes in the region.

46. Strengthen the capacity of the rural poor and their organizations, and improve the pro-poor focus of rural development policies and institutions. Ultimately, development can only be sustainable if done through local organizations composed of and controlled by the rural poor. In its community development and decentralization-support projects, IFAD has put considerable effort into the development of concrete operational methods to build participation by local people into the design, planning and oversight of community development initiatives. These efforts need to continue, but IFAD needs to become more effective in capturing, learning from and disseminating the knowledge gained through implementation experience. Among other things, this will require developing and promoting participatory monitoring and evaluation tools and approaches, and sharing experience more systematically with regional and national partners on effective, grass-roots-strengthening investment and policy approaches.

47. Within a decentralized framework, IFAD will work with its partners to increase the effectiveness and accountability of rural service delivery. It will target its efforts at building the technical, organizational and administrative capacity of local governments, communities and civil-society organizations to take on roles in this domain previously held by central authorities. Partnership with other donors will continue to be critical to the success of these efforts. Given IFAD's strong focus on grass-roots capacity-building, strong potential for synergy exists with agencies having comparative advantage at the macro and sectoral policy levels, such as the World Bank.

48. Raise agricultural and natural resource productivity and improve access to technology. Increased, sustainable access to land and water resources is critical to raising incomes and improving well-being. IFAD will continue to work on the generation and dissemination of improved agricultural and natural resource technologies, concentrating on areas where population pressure has increased incentives for intensification, and on promotion of community-based natural resource management activities. IFAD loans and grants for the development and dissemination of agricultural production technologies will focus on those that: (i) present alternatives to intensification achieved solely through the use of external inputs; (ii) build upon indigenous knowledge and practices; (iii) consider existing systems and their gradual evolution, as well as constraints in terms of labour, gender division of labour and decision-making, access to finance, access to support services, markets and policies; (iv) are sustainable and environmentally friendly with locally reproducible resources; and (v) can be disseminated through cost-effective, client-driven institutions.

49. There is strong demand for potable water in rural areas. IFAD will continue its involvement in this sector, which contributes to improved health status, productivity and reducing women's workloads. Investment must be linked to community development efforts (under the first strategic objective) to ensure that sustainable management systems are established to maintain water points. Regarding small- and micro-irrigation, IFAD will continue to support capacity-strengthening of water users' associations. This will involve training and the promotion of fuller participation in perimeter planning, crop and technology choice, organization of water and pump use, and settling of land-tenure disputes.

50. Increase rural incomes through improved access to financial capital and markets. The demographic trends already mentioned clearly provide opportunities to strengthen urban-rural market linkages. With the right types of investments, broadbased market-led growth can reduce poverty, raise rural incomes, improve both rural and urban food security, and provide strong incentives for increasing land and labor productivity. Indeed, efforts to raise agricultural productivity and rural incomes can only be effective if they are linked to an appreciation of market potential. Integrated approaches along the continuum of production, processing and marketing are needed. Diversifying income sources is also necessary, either through production and marketing of nontraditional crops or exploiting off-farm opportunities. It reduces risk to farmers and can help even out seasonal income and consumption fluctuations.

51. Given regional demographic trends, support to marketing - especially food and input marketing - must take on increased importance in future IFAD interventions. IFAD will continue emphasizing the 'software' side of market development - management and technical training for the strengthening of farmers' groups and associations. IFAD experience demonstrates that building on existing local structures for income-generating activities is preferable to creating new structures, which may not be suited to the social milieu. Credit and transport infrastructure support will be viewed as complements to capacity-building efforts. Repair and rehabilitation of access-road infrastructure will receive priority, provided appropriate maintenance modalities can be designed.

52. IFAD will place greater emphasis on working with national and regional partners to strengthen input supply systems in order to improve farmer access to input markets and productivity-enhancing technologies. In its loans and grants, for example, IFAD has invested in participatory varietal selection and development of community-based seed multiplication. These efforts will continue but need to be more widely replicated and scaled up.

53. In line with internationally recognized best practices in microfinance development, IFAD will continue to invest in developing MFIs. In recognition that this is a long-term investment, assistance will focus on support to institutional development and technical assistance, with a strong emphasis on savings mobilization and credit. It will also focus on building the capacity of poor MFI clients through management training and related support to functional literacy programmes. The Fund will de-emphasize the targeting of credit to specific end uses, promoting instead the development of appropriate financial products for savers and borrowers as a more effective means of targeting.

54. The development of proximity rural financial services has received significant IFAD resources, with some positive results. The introduction of the concept of financial service associations and other proximity approaches requires additional support to reach financial and institutional maturity. Support will include: (i) establishment of a larger number of local branches; (ii) gradual development of national networks providing training, back-up and control functions; (iii) promotion of formal banking system linkages; (iv) establishment of a proper legal and regulatory framework for microfinance networks; and (v) development of new financial products (such as medium-term credit instruments and insurance).

55. Reduce vulnerability to major threats to rural livelihoods. In recent years, conflict and HIV/AIDS have emerged as major threats to livelihood systems of rural people in the region. Other debilitating diseases (malaria and tuberculosis) have long been endemic in the region. IFAD needs to develop strong partnerships with other donors, NGOs and community-based organizations in order to systematically respond to these threats.

56. With regard to post-conflict activities, the Fund remains basically a lending institution for long-term development. It is not well-placed in terms of mandate or expertise to provide relief assistance. Yet if it is to respond to the needs of desperately poor rural people in these countries, it is important that it more systematically address the critical transition period between relief and long-term development, while taking care to work in concert with like-minded partners. There is often a dangerous hiatus between the end of relief and the beginning of long-term development projects - often as much as 2-3 years. This transition period is important economically because the most basic elements of rural people's capacity to make a living need to be restored, as many have lost all assets. It is also important politically, because there is a need to demonstrate to citizens that peace yields dividends.

57. IFAD needs to have field activities during this interim period. In countries emerging from conflict, it will work to: (i) reintegrate farm populations into the agricultural sector (with emphasis on especially vulnerable women and youth) and back into their communities; (ii) facilitate the resumption of agricultural production through distribution of essential agricultural inputs, particularly seed and tools; and (iii) deepen collaboration with partners engaged in this work.

58. The Fund is increasingly integrating HIV/AIDS-mitigation activities into its projects, but the effort has just begun. IFAD-supported projects can be used as platforms for undertaking HIV/AIDS activities due to their extensive outreach to rural communities. The Fund will build on the strong orientation of its projects towards income generation, an area where health-focused donors and NGOs have little expertise but increasingly recognize the need for greater synergy with agencies like IFAD.

59. Yet it is important to remember that HIV/AIDS is one of several debilitating diseases that increase vulnerability of the poor. In most countries of the region, malaria and tuberculosis are also major contributors to mortality.

60. Implementation modalities. IFAD will use a number of means to enhance the impact of its country operations and their catalytic effects. Greater impact will be achieved primarily through more effective implementation of country programmes. Knowledge generated through project experience will be disseminated at the national and regional level in order to influence investment and policy decisions. Thus the promotion of greater in-country and regional partnerships will be critical. This will also involve more frequent, structured involvement of IFAD staff in improving oversight and follow-up during implementation.

61. Projects and programmes. The building of individual, community and service-provider capabilities will remain a primary focus of all investment operations. This involves maximizing the participation of poor women and men and other relevant stakeholders in project planning, implementation and monitoring. It also involves recognizing the value of existing local capabilities and resources, and building upon them.

62. Appropriate implementation mechanisms need to be put in place, so that projects are viewed less as ways to achieve preconceived outputs and more as frameworks for communication and mutual learning among stakeholders - in the search for better ways to address problems faced by poor people. IFAD is in a good position to do this, as it has considerable experience in flexible project design. Flexibility involves moving from blueprint, output-driven approaches to process- and institution-driven ones. It requires greater participation of a wide array of civil-society stakeholders (rather than just the public sector) in design and implementation. It also requires more frequent use of targeting and diagnostic surveys to monitor project progress and provide information to project managers for corrective action during implementation.

63. IFAD will pursue a number of initiatives with a view to improving impact assessment in its ongoing projects and programmes, including development and promotion of impact-focused methods and approaches; monitoring-and-evaluation support to ongoing projects; and networking. Impact-monitoring activities will primarily target the staff of management units and operating partners of IFAD projects, including cooperating institutions. Representatives of beneficiary groups of IFAD projects will also participate, and strong efforts will be made to encourage interaction of IFAD project staff within and among countries. To capitalize on previous and ongoing investments, impact assessment will receive special attention in all the Fund's ongoing regional grant programmes.

64. IFAD has considerable flexibility, relative to other international donors, in the choice of funding instruments available to support its activities. For example, in agricultural research and development, it is possible to combine loans and grants in a way that links loan projects in individual countries with regional grants to international research centres in order to increase outreach. In the area of post-conflict assistance, IFAD will use grant funding (supplementary funds, small grants to NGOs, regional grants) while waiting for new loan programmes to come online. The Fund will continue to maximize synergy between the different types of financing to enhance the effectiveness of individual country portfolios and the overall regional programme of assistance.

65. Policy dialogue. Within the context of developing and implementing its lending programme, the Fund will engage in ongoing policy dialogue and identify new policy initiatives for which its input is relevant. IFAD will also assist grass-roots organizations in enhancing their policy advocacy capacity in local and national fora. This will be done through training, as well as facilitating dialogue between government and civil society at the local and national level. Two important vehicles for achieving this are the Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty and the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification - both housed at IFAD.

66. Dialogue with government, civil society and like-minded donors will involve the following types of policies: establishment of legal frameworks for recognizing grass-roots groups and organizations; development of appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks for different types of microfinance approaches; measures to increase the pro-poor nature of rural decentralization efforts; and more responsive institutional frameworks for rural service delivery.

67. IFAD will also participate actively in several poverty-reduction strategy paper (PRSP) initiatives and work to ensure that programmes for heavily-indebted poor countries place sufficient attention and resources on rural poverty-reducing investments. The Fund will also work with its partners to develop appropriate pro-poor institutional frameworks for effective delivery of rural services. A key vehicle for accomplishing this will be the Multi-Donor Regional Hub in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, which will begin operations in 2002.

68. Knowledge management. The timely generation and dissemination of knowledge of the dynamics of rural poverty, and effective approaches to reduce it, are crucial to enhancing direct, catalytic impact. The focuses of IFAD's knowledge-management activities in WCA, through its projects and programmes, will be to: (i) enable the rural poor to use knowledge to better their lives; (ii) enable IFAD partners who work directly with the rural poor to have the knowledge they need; and (iii) capture knowledge from project experience and disseminate it to broader audiences at national and regional levels in order to influence policy and investment decisions.

69. These efforts must be client-driven, recognizing that categories of partners have different information needs and require dissemination in different forms. The rural poor themselves - most of whom are illiterate and lack access to even rudimentary forms of modern communications technology - need information that is relevant to their immediate concerns, culturally appropriate, accessible at low cost and often in verbal or visual form. Other clients include: service providers that interface directly with the rural poor (project managers, NGO staff and private contractors); IFAD country portfolio managers and donor partners at technical and managerial levels, who need to learn ways to improve project, programme and policy design and implementation and good practices in thematic technical areas; and potential donors to IFAD, who need to make informed decisions about investing in IFAD as a vehicle for global poverty reduction. An important means of disseminating information is the FIDAFRIQUE regional Internet network, a grant-supported activity whose second phase will be designed in 2002.

70. Learning from the poor and other partners, and adapting their successful experiences in IFAD's programmes, must also be prominent in the Fund's knowledge-management efforts. There is much to be learned from the indigenous technical and organizational knowledge of the poor themselves. There is also much to be learned from other donors, NGOs and researchers on working with the poor. Examples include participatory planning tools, monitoring and evaluation approaches, targeting methods, and good practices related to achievement of the strategic objectives.

Back to Top


71. The challenge of halving poverty in the region by the year 2015 is a daunting one. Given the overwhelmingly rural nature of poverty in WCA and the centrality of agriculture to rural livelihoods, a renewed effort will be required on the part of governments, donors and civil society to invest in rural people and the institutions that can be responsive to their needs. IFAD can and will play an important role in this effort, both directly through project investments, but also as a catalyst, bringing lessons from its field experience to the attention of its partners. The strategy outlined in this paper is a step towards further concentrating IFAD's efforts and sharpening our focus to meet the objectives of responding to a critical mass of priority needs of poor women and men and enabling the rural poor to overcome their poverty.

Indicators of Strategic Objective Achievement

Strengthen the capacity of the rural poor and their organizations, and improve the pro-poor focus of rural development policies and institutions
  • Work with partners to increase effectiveness and accountability of rural service delivery and promote decentralized decision-making
  • Continued investment in community-driven development and monitoring of experience
  • Development and promotion of participatory monitoring and evaluation tools and approaches
  • Knowledge-sharing increased with regional and national partners on effective grass-roots strengthening investments and policies (FIDAFRIQUE network, Multi-Donor Regional Hub, Popular Coalition, Global Mechanism, regional grants)
Raise agricultural and natural resource productivity and improve access to technology
  • Continued development of community-based natural resource management activities
  • Technically, economically and socially appropriate technologies generated by technical assistance grants for agricultural research (yams, rice, cowpeas, millet and sorghum, vegetables) and disseminated to poor farmers, including through IFAD-supported projects
  • Supply systems strengthened to improve poor farmer access to input markets and productivity-enhancing technologies
  • Sustainable access to water resources through support to potable water and small/micro-irrigation investment
Increase rural incomes through improved access to financial capital and markets
  • Rural finance systems strengthened, and experience disseminated on effective pro-poor rural financial services delivery
  • Food-marketing systems improved through support to farmers'organizations, market information and transport infrastructure investment
  • Income diversification promoted through support to nontraditional crops and off-farm income generation
Reduce vulnerability to major threats to rural livelihoods
  • Post-conflict assistance through grants and coordinated multi-donor-supported programmes in relevant countries
  • Support to HIV/AIDS prevention through outreach, and support to coping through targeting

1/ The region's 24 countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, The Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, D.R. Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.