Food prices on the rise in West Africa: Need for urgent action

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By Emanuele Santi

The latest FAO Food Outlook Report, the organization’s biannual report on global food markets, points out to a new acceleration of food prices, namely wheat, meat and rice. This trend reverses the international food decline experienced in the past 10 months. This is particularly visible in the region’s key food items: wheat, rice, and traditional staples like millet, sorghum and cassava.

Source: World Bank, AfDB.

These trends are worrisome for the region, whose vulnerability is compounded by risks related to climate change and to conflict, and whose food import bill remains quite high. The region as a whole indeed imports large amounts of the staple goods consumed – 40% of its rice, for instance.

The latest Famine Early Warning Systems Network newsletter on West Africa foresees deteriorating food security conditions in the coming months. The report also highlights that food prices have remained high in the region for a long period – and are likely to remain so in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas in the Sahel.  

West African policy-makers should pay better attention to these concerning trends, and develop urgent actionable steps. A key recommendation is to improve agriculture productivity; furthermore, reducing vulnerability must be achieved, partly through greater regional integration. In fact, a good example comes from within the region. The aforementioned FAO report also suggests that greater regional trade flows in West Africa have mitigated the effects of the limited agricultural production in certain Sahel countries, with the increase of supply from coastal countries keeping the cereal prices in the region under control. There is a crucial need to build stronger infrastructure along the main food trade corridor, as well as to improve trade facilitation — two areas the African Development Bank is focusing on, as exemplified in its ongoing and planned support along key North-South corridors such as the Côte d’Ivoire-Mali.

Fighting corruption along those corridors is also an important support measure, which will lead to the reduction of the cost of transportation and consequently of food prices. A recent study by the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and USAID highlights how illegal payments and bribes for some drivers/transporters and traders add a significant burden to traders; in Mali, for example, the average expense in illegal payments per 100 km is a staggering $497.58 for parboiled rice, and $180.79 for livestock. According to the same report, civil servants and public agent in Mali, Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso are those who collect larger amounts of bribes.


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