AGIR: Resilience, a buzzword or a long-term commitment?

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by Julia Wanjiru, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)

image-AGIR-UNICEFAfter three years of consultations following the adoption of a regional roadmap for the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR), the West African region can proudly announce that all 17 Sahelian and West African countries have embarked on an ambitious process to define their national resilience priorities (NRP-AGIR). To date, six countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger and Togo) have validated their NRPs; five countries (Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal) are in the process of validation.

While some partners are growing impatient, others underline the quality and inclusiveness of a process that is laying the groundwork for future implementation. AGIR stakeholders took stock of progress made in developing the NRPs during the recent meeting of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) on 15 April 2016 at the OECD headquarters in Paris.

Some national representatives are asking for additional financial support (“We have advanced well, but we need more support”), while technical and financial partners want to further improve the quality of co-ordination and are eagerly awaiting the concrete next steps in implementing the NRPs. In this context, it is worth recalling that AGIR is not just another programme or initiative. It is a policy tool which aims to channel the efforts of regional and international stakeholders toward a common results-based framework to achieve the  “Zero Hunger” goal. It is also a long-term political partnership to improve the effectiveness of Sahelian and West African resilience initiatives.

In reality, the implementation of many resilience projects has already started… and for most Sahelians and West Africans, resilience has been part of their lives for a long time.

What has been achieved since the creation of AGIR?

An affirmed, strong West African leadership is the first and maybe most important achievement. The Alliance is run under the political guidance of ECOWAS and UEMOA, with the technical support of CILSS, which hosts the AGIR Support Unit that facilitates co-ordination and supports countries in their efforts to conduct inclusive dialogues. All national governments are involved in the process. AGIR is based on existing platforms and networks, in particular the RPCA, which plays a key role in implementing the Alliance and lobbying on the international scene –  a “win-win” situation for  AGIR to capitalise on and strengthen existing networks and structures.

Improved  mobilisation of development partners. Resilience had almost disappeared from the development agenda and was powerfully re-introduced in 2012 when humanitarian and development actors recognised that recurrent food crises in the Sahel can only be tackled if the root causes of food insecurity are addressed through a systematic and long-term approach. AGIR recognises that resilience-building is necessarily a long-term endeavour that can only be achieved through full national and regional ownership; it recognises that it is not only better but cheaper to invest in prevention and preparedness of the most vulnerable populations.

All stakeholders clearly acknowledge the importance of a multi-sectoral approach, recognising that agricultural production and better functioning markets alone will not be sufficient to build the resilience of vulnerable populations. In this respect, the NRP process is not a simple copy and paste of existing policy texts. On the contrary, the NRP process provides a new reading of existing policies that goes beyond agriculture and food security concerns. It involves a large number of  different ministries and portfolios: education, health, territorial planning, rural/urban development, gender issues, etc., that all contribute to reducing vulnerability and building resilience. The efficiency of multi-sectoral approaches is broadly recognised, but the actual implementation on the ground still poses immense challenges for West African policy makers and development partners alike.

Last but not least, another important achievement is the inclusiveness of the process, with a clear effort to involve civil society representatives. Eight networks of civil society organisations have participated in the work of the Alliance since the very beginning. “They have become true ambassadors for AGIR at both the regional and international levels”, confirms CILSS Technical Unit Co-ordinator Martin Issa Bikienga. This is a good starting point; the relevance of their contributions must be further enhanced and made sustainable.

What are the next steps? What are the challenges?

The most critical next step is to finalise the NRP process in the remaining countries. The RPCA meeting conclusions urged all AGIR stakeholders to “renew their commitment to the Alliance, by: i) providing support to countries working towards the validation of their priorities; and ii) providing support and guidance to national and regional actors, to ensure an effective integration of the NRP-AGIR into the next generation of national agricultural investment plans.” It will also be important to capitalise on the three-year consultation process and identify best practices so that countries can learn from each other’s experiences, success stories and difficulties.

The few outstanding NRPs should not keep other countries from advancing. This is just the first step in a long-term dialogue process that must be pursued steadfastly if AGIR wishes to consolidate a multi-sectoral approach.

In terms of implementing the NRPs, the next step will be for countries to speed up the implementation of the identified resilience priority projects by allocating national budgets (if not already done) and mobilising their partners to cover financial gaps. Some AGIR pillars, in particular pillar 3 aimed at “sustainably improving agricultural and food production, the incomes of vulnerable households and their access to food”, could also potentially benefit from climate financing.

Lastly, AGIR needs to make further headway toward improving co-ordination and measuring impacts. It is currently impossible to get an overview of the many projects already being conducted on the ground in the region and even less to measure their impact. The RPCA has started working on resilience impact measures, and an interactive mapping tool to geo-localise the many resilience, food and nutrition initiatives is under way, with the support of the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat. This work will help monitor and evaluate the Alliance’s outcomes, as well as foster synergies and the convergence of resilience initiatives.

For many West African policy makers the resilience debate that gained international interest in 2012 was nothing new. They may not have had dedicated national resilience priorities, but resilience has always been a concern for West African governments and regional organisations.

The challenges remain enormous: whether there is a good or bad harvest, every year, the region must deal with at least 3 to 4 million chronically food insecure people. Malnutrition is a serious, permanent concern: one out of five children under five in the Sahel is undernourished. This year, almost 2 million children will be affected by the most severe form of acute malnutrition, if no appropriate measures are taken.

For those who are still sceptical and for whom resilience still sounds like a buzzword, we need to convince them that building resilience is not a passing fad but requires a very urgent, yet long-term commitment.

Entretien: Sahel, Plan d’action pour un engagement renouvelé 2015-2020

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AFD-Sahel-coverL’Agence française de développement (AFD) a élaboré un plan d’action pour opérationnaliser sa stratégie au Sahel pendant la période 2015-2020.1 À travers ce plan, elle développe des propositions pour une action plus lucide, plus ambitieuse et plus adaptée aux contextes sahéliens en pleine mutation. Dans une logique de stabilisation d’ensemble, le document détaille les domaines de priorité d’un engagement renouvelé avec six pays sahéliens : le Burkina Faso, la Mauritanie, le Mali, le Niger, le Sénégal et le Tchad. Il porte une attention particulière aux fragilités : une pauvreté enracinée, une population jeune en pleine expansion, avec peu d’accès à une éducation de qualité et à l’emploi. Trois priorités opérationnelles sont ainsi identifiées : 1) accroître l’activité économique et les opportunités d’emploi pour les jeunes ; 2 ) répondre aux défis démographiques au sens large ; et 3) contribuer à un développement territorial équilibré et à la sécurité alimentaire.

Entretien avec M. Jean-Pierre Marcelli, Directeur du Département Afrique, Agence française de développement (AFD)

L’AFD est un bailleur historique avec une longue expérience au Sahel. Le Plan d’action 2015-2020 marque un «engagement renouvelé » de l’Agence. Il affiche la volonté de «faire mieux et différemment.» Pouvez-vous nous en dire plus sur le caractère innovant de la démarche ?

J-P.M: Cette  démarche  est  innovante  dans  le  sens  où  elle  a  souhaité  ne  pas  s’inscrire  dans  des approches déjà utilisées depuis plusieurs années par un simple effet de répétition, mais de partir d’un nouveau questionnement sur les enjeux liés à l’évolution extrêmement rapide du Sahel.

Vous semblez promouvoir la nécessité d’agir au niveau régional afin d’être mieux en phase avec la nature transfrontalière des enjeux sahéliens. Les agences de coopération ont souvent du mal à traduire ceci dans la réalité de leurs actions. Quelle est l’expérience de l’AFD ?

J-P.M: Il est vrai que les acteurs institutionnels ont, pour la plupart, une approche nationale. Pourtant, les dynamiques humaines, les bassins géographiques, les systèmes écologiques et les échanges économiques sont par nature transfrontaliers voire régionaux, et en particulier au Sahel. Ce grand espace qu’est le Sahel, bordé par le Maghreb au nord et les pays du Golfe de Guinée au sud, est beaucoup plus ouvert que d’autres géographies et nous impose de regarder au-delà des frontières si nous voulons répondre efficacement aux enjeux de développement. Trouver les moyens d’appréhender ces problématiques transfrontalières, de concert avec des acteurs nationaux et si possible régionaux, fait partie de la complexité à laquelle il nous faut répondre.

Un grand nombre de « Stratégies Sahel » a été développé par les différents acteurs actifs au Sahel. Est-ce une opportunité ou une contrainte ? Quelle est la valeur ajoutée de la stratégie de l’AFD ? Comment créer davantage des synergies avec les autres acteurs ?

J-P.M: Le grand nombre de stratégies Sahel qui a été développé ces dernières années reflète bien l’intérêt et les questionnements que suscite cette zone. Il pourrait être perçu comme une contrainte si nous tentions de vouloir en faire la synthèse ; synthèse qui risquerait d’aboutir à quelque chose de peu consistant, ou de trop global et donc n’apportant pas de valeur ajoutée par rapport à l’existant. Mais ce qu’il faut y voir,  c’est avant tout une opportunité de s’inspirer des analyses et des propositions, souvent très pertinentes et éclairées, des différents acteurs actifs au Sahel. Il faut donc utiliser cette matière déjà disponible pour en « faire notre miel » avec un souci de sélection, car nos propositions doivent pouvoir se caractériser et être articulées sur des impacts bien identifiés et mesurables.

Pour créer des synergies, il faut également savoir identifier dans chaque partenaire quelles sont ses forces, ses savoir-faire, sa valeur ajoutée, pour ne pas venir dupliquer des choses qui sont parfois bien faites par d’autres.

L’AFD souhaite « valoriser et produire de nouvelles connaissances sur le Sahel ». Comment mutualiser davantage les efforts dans ce domaine ?

J-P.M: Nous souhaitons effectivement faire un effort particulier de valorisation et de production de connaissances sur le Sahel et en priorité sur les problématiques relatives à l’éducation, la formation et l’emploi ; les dynamiques démographiques et migratoires ainsi qu’à l’enjeu des territoires.  L’important  pour  nous  sera  aussi  de  nourrir  nous-même  notre  action  et  notre réflexion sur ces sujets, tout en collaborant avec des organismes de recherche français et africains. Notre collaboration avec le CSAO sera à ce titre un bon moyen de mutualiser ces connaissances.

La quasi-totalité de la zone saharo-sahélienne est classée en zone orange ou rouge par le Ministère français des affaires étrangères. Du fait, beaucoup de zones sont aujourd’hui inaccessibles.  Comment  faire  votre  métier  de  « développeur  d’avenirs  durables »  dans ce contexte d’insécurité ?

J-P.M: Les questions de sécurité peuvent en effet gêner notre action et nous pouvons imaginer qu’une partie de cette insécurité vise parfois à perturber l’action du développement. S’il est nécessaire de prendre en compte ces questions sécuritaires, il faut néanmoins trouver les moyens de les surmonter, sans prise de risque inconsidérée. Nous pouvons pour cela nous appuyer davantage sur les acteurs locaux, sur ceux qui sont présents, ceux qui sont le mieux à l’écoute des besoins et qui sont les plus aptes à se positionner dans un territoire au plus proche des populations. Cela peut  être  des  organisations  de  la  société  civile,  mais  aussi  des  collectivités  locales,  des entreprises, etc.

Certains chercheurs pensent qu’au-delà du soutien logistique et en matière de formation, les gouvernements européens devraient assumer une partie des coûts des armées sahéliennes afin de stabiliser la zone et empêcher ainsi l’effondrement des efforts de développement dans la région. Qu’en pensez-vous ?

J-P.M: La sécurité est une condition très importante et c’est d’ailleurs probablement souvent l’une des aspirations premières des populations. Elle doit donc faire partie des fondamentaux à établir pour permettre une relance des processus de développement et rétablir la cohésion sociale de certains pays. Un effort sur les questions de sécurité, le plus possible porté par les pays africains, comme c’est de plus en plus souvent le cas, fait également partie des conditions nécessaires à un développement équilibré et apaisé.

L’Alliance globale pour la résilience (AGIR) vise à s’attaquer aux causes profondes de l’insécurité alimentaire chronique qui reste un défi majeur au Sahel. Elle est un cadre favorisant plus de synergie, de cohérence et d’efficacité au service des initiatives de résilience dans les 17 pays ouest-africains et sahéliens. Comment l’action de l’AFD s’inscrit-elle dans le cadre de l’Alliance ?

J-P.M: Dans ce domaine, l’action de l’AFD s’inscrit, et continuera à s’inscrire, en bonne cohérence avec l’initiative AGIR, dont il faut encourager l’approche multisectorielle et pluri acteurs. Lutter contre l’insécurité alimentaire fait partie des priorités resserrées que nous avons retenues dans le cadre de notre Plan d’action Sahel. Il faut en effet assurer la sécurité alimentaire maintenant et surtout demain, en renforçant les capacités de production vivrière ainsi que de circulation et commercialisation dans les pays sahéliens, et cela avant que de nouvelles crises surviennent. Un autre élément très important qui va au-delà de la sécurité alimentaire, c’est la nécessité de créer des  emplois.  En  effet,  dans  un  contexte  de  dynamique  démographique  exceptionnelle,  la création d’emplois et d’activités génératrices de revenus est essentielle pour offrir un devenir à cette jeunesse qui arrive chaque année plus nombreuse sur le marché de l’emploi. À ce titre, le Sahel a des avantages comparatifs à faire valoir, notamment dans les secteurs agricole et de l’élevage, en tant que principaux secteurs pourvoyeurs de revenus et d’emplois, mais avec des besoins importants à la fois de modernisation et de durabilité des systèmes suffisamment écologiques pour être pérennes.

En quelques mots, quelle est votre vision du Sahel à l’horizon 2020?

J-P.M:  Ma vision du Sahel dans 5 ans c’est un Sahel plus peuplé, toujours extrêmement jeune, donc avec un besoin d’activités économiques considérable. Il s’agira probablement aussi d’une région où la croissance des villes restera très forte tandis que les campagnes se rempliront. J’espère que nous verrons un Sahel avec un secteur agricole et d’élevage renforcé et stabilisé, une gestion durable des ressources naturelles, des services de base au niveau et davantage de moyens de communication. J’espère que le Sahel aura maintenu ou retrouvé ses équilibres politiques, retrouvé les ferments d’une cohésion nationale, indispensable pour le retour de la stabilité, avec davantage d’échanges entre les parties nord et sud des pays, mais également entre les pays, pour accélérer des dynamiques économiques indispensables à la satisfaction des attentes des populations en matière d’emploi et plus généralement de conditions de vie décentes.



Why have they chopped Africa in two?

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by Laurent Bossard, Director, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)

The word continent comes from the Latin phrase “continens terra” meaning a vast continuous stretch of land. It is based on this concept that the five continents were defined – not without some difficulty – and which make up, with Antarctica, 150 million square kilometres of land or 30% of the surface of our planet.

Africa is one of these continents – and the most beautiful in my eyes. Her shape brings to mind a powerful animal rearing up, carrying Europe and Asia on its back. To avoid injury, she took care to protect herself with two blue cushions: the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Under her belly, she once held Latin America, which she let go of 120 million years ago. It very much resembles her, only smaller.

Africa is also a land without boundaries. The equator, which runs through its middle, is populated by dense forests that gradually give way, in the north and in the south,  to savannah, covered with trees, then shrubs, then grass.  This in turn imperceptibly transforms into deserts of stone or sand that meet up, once again in the north and the south, with a Mediterranean-like environment. It would take a very clever person to seriously map the precise boundaries between these expanses – to say here is where the savannah ends and the desert begins –  much less those of its inhabitants. This is something only geographers would dare to do and geographers are liars.

Colonial history has turned this vast land into an extraordinary mosaic of  54 countries and three territories (territories for which there is little or no recognition from the international community), of which 14 have no access to the sea and 22 have fewer than 10 million inhabitants. Asia, which is much larger and more populated than Africa, only has 47 countries.

This presents many obstacles for the continent to develop and fit harmoniously within the global economy. Borders hinder trade and limit the size of markets and they also have the annoying and irrational habit of being closed off.

Recognising these challenges, Africans gathered in 1963 and took two decisions that were equally as wise as they were important. First, they agreed that it was better to accept the balkanisation of the continent, rather than see a proliferation of territorial conflicts and wars. This is what is known as the principle of the inviolability of the borders inherited from colonisation. At the same time, they devised a dream of a unified continent where borders would allow people and goods to circulate freely. Thus the Organisation of African Unity was born.

This noble ambition has experienced many ups and downs. If only because until the mid-1990s, there were in Africa – as in the rest of the world – two kinds of countries: those with a market economy and in the American camp, and those with a centrally administered economy and in the Communist camp. In these conditions, it was impossible to form regional common markets. Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet empire; followed soon after by the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Africa reformulated its ambition in the light of this new context. It passed from the dream of unity to one of union. The African Union was born in 2000.

The vision of the African Union is based on the establishment of five major regions (easier to draw on a map than 54 countries) within which national borders would freely allow production, trade and friendship to flourish between peoples; the five groupings ultimately destined to merge into a vast continental whole.

The number of studies demonstrating the “failure of African regional integration” is distressing. Africa only recently began work on this new chapter in its history about ten years ago or so. And the progress made has been spectacular despite what is said by those who forget that the current context is much more difficult than that which prevailed in Europe in the 1950s.

And now, without warning, the international community is chopping Africa in two! It has created (no one knows exactly when) a region unknown to geographers made up of North Africa and the Middle East, known as MENA . In minds and in policies, Africa ceases to be a continent. It is demoted to the rank of “region” and its regions lowered to the status of “sub-regions” (a term unknown in the vocabulary of the African Union). In most international organisations and foreign ministries, “MENA” and “SSA” (sub-Saharan Africa) strategies are now conceived according to different visions by people who do not know each other.

The menacing disorder that has been spreading for several years in the Sahara-Sahel, a shared space common to North Africa and to sub-Saharan Africa, shows that chopping African in two was not a good idea. The many Sahel stabilisation strategies are now de facto limited to the countries on the southern shore of the desert, simply because those on the northern shore do not fall within the same strategies or the same budgets.

It is urgent that Africa becomes a continent once again in international organograms.

This post was originally published in French on the OECD Development Centre blog:


Climate change: Effective mitigation and adaptation efforts could reduce food insecurity

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In this guest contribution to the SWAC blog, Kirsty Lewis of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre explores the relationship between climate change and food insecurity in developing and least developed countries. The research projections paint both stark and cautiously optimistic pictures. Failure to adapt to and mitigate climate change will drastically increase food insecurity, however; successful adaptation and mitigation efforts could actually reduce vulnerability. What do the results of this research mean for West Africa? What are the region’s priorities for decreasing vulnerability to food insecurity in the face of climate change?

While it is well-understood that climate change will mean increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events around the world, and that we are already seeing this trend in our observations of climate, what this trend will mean in detail is harder to evaluate. Increasing floods, droughts and storms pose a threat to the stability of food production, and therefore food security, in global terms, but to respond to this threat we need evidence on the scale and geography of the threat, as well as the effectiveness of mitigation and adaptation action to tackle it.

Climate and food insecurity index

Scientists from the UK Met Office Hadley Centre have been working closely with the World Food Programme over the last five years on the challenge of incorporating our climate science knowledge with food security expertise. Together we have developed an index of vulnerability of countries to food insecurity, as a result of flood and drought events, for developing and least-developed countries. The approach we took considered the IPCC1 definition of vulnerability as a combination of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. For each of these terms we included measures of food system function that correlated with undernourishment. For the exposure component, for example, this was a measure of the number of floods and droughts that occurred over agricultural production regions and populated areas, within each country. The sensitivity component included measures of how resilient agricultural production is to adverse weather events. This included metrics such as the percentage of rain-fed agriculture. Finally the adaptive capacity component included measures of economic resilience, such as the percentage of the population below the poverty line, or structural resilience, such as the percentage of paved roads. In this way the index included, not just the impact of weather on production, but also on access to food through markets.

The index values were normalised, and so are a relative, rather than absolute, measure of vulnerability to food insecurity. The results of this index in the present day climate are shown in the figure below.

Food insecurity and climate change vulnerability index: Present day climate


Source: UK Met Office Hadley Centre

The highest levels of vulnerability are in sub-Saharan Africa; there are medium levels across much of Asia, and lower levels in South and Central America. This pattern of vulnerability corresponds to global levels of undernourishment, as the index was designed to do. However, the index was also designed so that the exposure component could include not just observed drought and flood events, but also climate model projections based on RCP scenarios.2

Adaptation scenarios

In addition we developed adaptation scenarios, which effectively alter the remaining two components of the index: sensitivity and adaptive capacity. We defined a ‘high adaptation’ scenario where both the sensitivity of agricultural production and the economic resilience were improved by around 10-15% in the 2050s, and a further 10-15% in the 2080s. In this scenario the change was not applied equally to all countries, allowing the most vulnerable countries to improve more rapidly than the least vulnerable. A second ‘low adaptation’ scenario was also created, with improvements of around 5-10% per time period to the non-climate aspects of the index.

While using the climate model projections under the RCP scenarios was a straightforward choice, selecting adaptation scenarios was a lot more difficult. The chosen high and low adaptation scenarios are representative of plausible levels of adaption, but of course these are not a forecast of future behaviour.

The resulting index projections under the different climate change and adaptation scenarios provide some interesting and informative insights into both the geography of climate change impacts on food security and the relative importance of adaptation and mitigation to address these impacts.

Mitigation, no adaptation scenario

If we assume no adaptation action is taken, i.e. we just consider the impact of climate change, we see that vulnerability to food insecurity increases by the 2050s globally, regardless of which mitigation scenario is followed.

For example, under a scenario of rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, known as RCP 2.6, (which is also consistent with a global average temperature rise of around 2°C) the level of increase of vulnerability to food insecurity is less than for the scenario of considerable future increasing emissions, known as RCP 8.5 (which is consistent with an end of the century global average temperature rise of 4°C or more). Nevertheless, both scenarios result in deteriorating food security conditions. This is because ‘inertia in the climate system’ (a delayed response of warming from previous emissions) means that we are committed to some level of climate change in the next few decades. Beyond the 2050s the two scenarios diverge. Under the RCP2.6 scenario, the rate of climate change levels off, and vulnerability to food insecurity stabilises. It is still worse than the present day, but no worse than the 2050s.

No mitigation, no adaptation scenario

Under the RCP8.5 scenario however, the levels of vulnerability to food insecurity increase considerably. This scenario of no action on either mitigation or adaptation is the worst case future, and the consequences for food insecurity are severe.

However, a scenario where no adaptation takes place is unlikely to be realistic, so we can compare these outcomes with an alternative ‘high adaptation’ scenario. In this case we see that adaptation makes a difference in reducing vulnerability to food insecurity at all timescales and with or without mitigation.

No mitigation, adaptation scenario

For example, under the RCP8.5 climate change scenario, adaptation almost keeps pace with climate change out to the 2050s, meaning that vulnerability to food insecurity remains at levels comparable, although a little worse, than the present day. After the 2050s though, the rate of climate change increases and outpaces adaptation efforts. In this scenario the 2080s are not as bad as they would be without adaption, but still worse than the present day.

Mitigation, adaptation scenario

There is one scenario where the future vulnerability to food insecurity is lower than the present day. This is the scenario where there are rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (RCP2.6), and high levels of adaptation. In this scenario adaptation keeps pace with climate change to the 2050s, and beyond this timeframe, as the climate stabilises, continued adaptation leads to reductions in vulnerability and an improving food security outlook.

Key implications

The messages from this research are clear. If we take no action to tackle climate change, the consequences for food insecurity in developing and least developed countries are severe. However, by both adapting and mitigating we can tackle climate change in a way that has positive consequences for future food insecurity.

The aim of the research that we conducted was to put information and evidence about the impacts of climate change and the effects of mitigation and adaptation efforts into the public domain. We created an interactive website to show these results, and so you can see for yourself how climate change and vulnerability to food insecurity interact.

Kirsty Lewis is Climate Security Science Manager with the Met Office Hadley Centre.

1 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Definition of ‘key vulnerability’: 

2 Representative Concentration Pathways are used for climate modelling and research. They describe four possible climate futures, all of which are considered possible depending on how much greenhouse gases are emitted in the years to come,

Urbanisation, structural change and the food system: The crucial role of rural-urban linkages

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In this latest contribution to the Sahel and West Africa Club blog, Cecilia Tacoli of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) looks at the definition of rural-urban linkages and the role these can play to support inclusive and sustainable development. We invite readers to share their thoughts or examples on the potential of rural-urban linkages for West Africa by posting comments below. Some questions to consider: How are rural-urban linkages driving structural change? What role do small urban centres play in developing rural-urban linkages?  What are the implications for food security dynamics?  What policies could leverage rural-urban linkages?

Vegetable market, Mali.

Both urban and rural areas in West Africa are undergoing considerable transformation. As an ever greater proportion of the region’s population live – and will live – in urban centres, how can policies help ensure that rural residents are not ‘left behind’, and at the same time food production satisfies the needs of the growing urban population?

One theme of growing interest for policy makers is the potential role of rural-urban linkages in supporting inclusive and sustainable development that benefits both rural and urban people and enterprises. But what exactly do we mean by rural-urban linkages?

Defining rural-urban linkages

A basic definition of rural-urban linkages is that these consist of flows (of goods, people, information, finance, social relations) across space, which link rural and urban areas. Perhaps a less descriptive definition is of the functional links between sectors (agriculture, industry and services). These include agricultural production’s backward linkages (the manufacturing of inputs) and its forward linkages (processing, transport, distribution of produce). These functional, cross-sectoral links are central to structural change taking place in both rural and urban areas. As the world becomes ever more urbanised, the distinction between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ is increasingly blurred.

Urbanisation is closely linked to transformations in the structure of national and global economies. The proportion of people living in areas classed as urban  is connected to the shift from agrarian to industrial and services-based economies, where employment opportunities are increasingly concentrated in urban centres.

The impact of urbanisation on rural food production

Urbanisation has significant impacts on rural areas, and demand for food is perhaps the most important, together with demand for other natural resources (water, fuelwood, etc.). In many regions of the world we are witnessing an increase in production, especially of perishable and high-value products such as fruit, vegetables and dairy, in response to urban demand. This is especially the case in rural areas that are well connected to urban markets by transport links, communications and electricity, and by networks of local traders.

From a policy perspective, infrastructure is without doubt a priority for positive rural-urban linkages. However, this should not be limited to connecting rural areas to large urban centres; urbanisation is not merely the growth of large cities, but is also the often more important (in demographic and economic terms) growth of intermediate and small urban centres. These can play a central role in the development of their rural regions, which is strengthened by adequate infrastructure.

Rural income diversification and the role of small towns

What we are also seeing almost everywhere is a considerable increase in income diversification: rural incomes are less and less based only on agriculture. As the local, national and global structures of the economy undergo major shifts, access to non-farm employment becomes increasingly important for the livelihoods of rural residents. In many cases income diversification involves migration to urban centres; but in the most positive cases, income diversification goes hand in hand with the diversification of the local economic base, where processing of agricultural produce retains added value and provides non-farm jobs. This usually happens in smaller urban centres, often described as ‘rural market towns’.

While such structural change has positive impacts, as the diversification of income sources reduces vulnerability and can encourage investment in smallholder agricultural production, it also often entails growing inequalities and social polarisation. Landless households, households with limited labour, women and young people with restricted access to assets and skills can be net losers in such transformations.

Structural change also has important implications for food security.  Increasingly, a large proportion of rural residents are net food buyers, placing as much importance on cash incomes and accessing food markets as urban residents. In West Africa, research by CIRAD1 shows that subsistence production accounts for less than half of the economic value of food consumed by rural residents, while in Vietnam — the second largest exporter of rice in the world — more than half of the rural population are net rice buyers2.

From a policy perspective, supporting the diversification of rural economies and strengthening the role of small towns where these activities take place is an important way to strengthen positive rural-urban linkages. This means supporting agricultural production that responds to urban demand and at the same time providing non-farm employment opportunities to local residents.

Territorial development and decentralisation are thus central. But to be successful, there is a need for a better fit between national and sectoral policies and local development strategies that reflect context-specific opportunities and challenges. This, in turn, requires local institutions and governments that can also address issues of inequality. To do so, they need to have access to disaggregated data, have financial autonomy and achieve legitimacy through accountability to their citizens.

Cecilia Tacoli is a principal researcher with the Human Settlements Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). This blog builds on work on rural-urban linkages conducted in the past 20 years with partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as on current research on food consumption, urbanisation and rural transformations (for more information  please consult and ).

1.Bricas N. and C. Tchamda (2015), “Sub-Saharan Africa’s significant changes in food consumption patterns”, A Question of Development – Syntheses of AFD Studies and Research, n° 26, 4 p,

2. Hoang Xuan Thanh, Truong Tuan Anh, Luu Trong Quang, Dinh Thi Giang, Dinh Thi Thu Phuong, “Food security in the context of Vietnam’s rural – urban linkages and climate change”,

Photo credit: Emily Polack, IIED

Dépasser l’agriculture, penser alimentation

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À l’occasion de la Conférence Internationale sur l’Agriculture en Afrique de l’Ouest (ECOWAP+10) qui se tient à Dakar du 17 au 19 novembre, le Secrétariat du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest a préparé une analyse  des mutations de l’économie agro-alimentaire ouest-africaine et de ses implications pour la politique agricole. Ces mutations et leurs impacts sur la sécurité alimentaire ont également été récemment débattus lors du Forum du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest  qui s’est tenu à Milan les 26 et 27 octobre 2015 dans le cadre de l’Exposition universelle.

par Thomas Allen, Secrétariat du CSAO/OCDE

marketNous devons nous rendre à l’évidence : l’agriculture occupe une place de moins en moins importante dans l’économie agro-alimentaire ouest-africaine. Aujourd’hui, 40 % de la valeur ajoutée du secteur n’est plus produite par l’agriculture. Celle-ci demeure un pilier des économies de la région, mais les maillons en aval de la chaîne alimentaire se développent avec les mutations de la société. Les hommes et femmes politiques ouest-africains doivent prendre acte de ces transformations s’ils veulent que leur région profite pleinement du potentiel de croissance de son marché intérieur. Les enjeux alimentaires et nutritionnelles ne relèvent plus du seul domaine agricole, et la politique agricole ne peut plus en être le seul instrument.

Il y a désormais en Afrique de l’Ouest autant de personnes qui dépendent de l’agriculture pour assurer leurs moyens d’existence que de personnes engagées dans des activités non agricoles. C’est la transformation majeure de ces 60 dernières années. Elle est inséparable de l’explosion des villes que l’on observe à la simple lecture d’une carte. Jamais dans l’histoire de l’humanité autant d’hommes se seront déplacés, et autant de villes seront sorties de terre en un laps de temps aussi court. Il y a aujourd’hui 2 000 agglomérations de plus de 10 000 habitants ; il y en avait 150 en 1950.

On compte désormais 150 millions de personnes en ville, soit 30 fois plus qu’en 1950. Entre 2000 et 2015 seulement, la seule population urbaine ouest-africaine s’est agrandie de plus de 60 millions d’habitants. À titre de comparaison, cela revient à ajouter à la région un état de la taille de la France… Et cette croissance n’est plus alimentée par les seules migrations rurales ; la plus grande partie de ces nouveaux urbains sont nés en ville.

Sous le poids de l’urbanisation et de la croissance des revenus, le panier alimentaire des ménages ouest-africains se transforme et les enjeux de la sécurité alimentaire et nutritionnelle se déplacent. Les régimes alimentaires se diversifient, en milieu urbain en particulier, avec plus de fruits et légumes, mais également plus de produits transformés. Ces derniers représentent désormais au moins 39 % du budget alimentaire des ménages. Fait encore plus surprenant : les ménages les plus pauvres en milieu rural y consacreraient 35 %. Il ne s’agit donc pas d’un marché restreint aux seules classes moyennes urbaines.

Ces chiffres nous rappellent une vérité très simple : un aliment est généralement un produit agricole transformé. Nous ne mangeons pas du blé, ni même du maïs, mais du pain et une infinité de produits issus de leurs farines. Le mil est pilé, le manioc trempé, râpé, pilé, séché, grillé, fermenté, etc. Des millions de femmes ont souvent participé à ces tâches parfois pénibles. Aujourd’hui, certaines s’y consacrent exclusivement. C’est notamment le cas de Georgette* à Cotonou qui s’est spécialisée dans la préparation et la vente de mawé ou « aklui séché », ces granules de farine de maïs qui permettent de préparer facilement et rapidement des bouillies. Oui, la forme que prend l’extension de ce marché peut décontenancer l’observateur qui associerait automatiquement l’agro-alimentaire aux supermarchés et produits préparés surgelés. N’attendez pas de voir les rues de Niamey ou Bamako se couvrir demain à votre réveil des magasins franchisés d’une célèbre chaîne de produits surgelés.

Hommes et femmes sont de plus en plus nombreux à s’engager dans les activités liées au transport et à la vente des produits alimentaires. Les quantités échangées sur les marchés agricoles et alimentaires ont explosé : les marchés sont devenus la principale source d’approvisionnement des ménages, représentant un minimum des deux tiers de leur consommation alimentaire. Le total des transactions s’élèverait à 120 milliards de dollars en 2010. C’est tout simplement, et de très loin, le premier marché ouest-africain. Si vous ajoutez que les urbains consomment 50 % de plus que les ruraux et que l’urbanisation ne devrait pas ralentir dans les deux prochaines décennies, vous comprendrez mieux son attrait pour les investisseurs et leurs cabinets de conseil. Il importe aujourd’hui plus que jamais d’aider à la coordination de tous ces acteurs, nombreux et différents.

Quid cependant de cette difficulté supplémentaire : la plus grande part de cette économie est informelle ? Et il serait illusoire de chercher à la normaliser aujourd’hui. Il nous faut être plus imaginatifs que de proposer de simples cadres d’investissement. Des expériences d’ailleurs peuvent nous inspirer, comme le programme Qali Warma au Pérou qui a conduit à réviser les procédures d’achat public pour permettre aux producteurs locaux d’approvisionner en aliments ce programme étatique qui assure des repas scolaires aux enfants scolarisés de 3 à 6 ans. Cette initiative est une bonne illustration des défis qui se posent à l’action publique aujourd’hui : libérer les énergies venant de la base et penser les mécanismes institutionnels qui assurent la cohérence de l’ensemble dans un environnement où l’articulation agriculture/alimentation est plus complexe.

*Les noms ont été modifiés.

Économiste au Secrétariat du CSAO/OCDE, Thomas Allen travaille depuis neuf ans sur les problématiques liées aux systèmes et aux politiques alimentaires. Ses recherches portent principalement sur l’analyse et le renforcement de la sécurité alimentaire, avec un intérêt particulier pour les modélisations économiques intégrant des indicateurs de nutrition.

Références :

OCDE/CSAO (2015), ECOWAP+10 : Mutations de l’économie agro-alimentaire et implications, 

OCDE/CSAO (2013), Peuplement, marché et sécurité alimentaire, Cahiers de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, Éditions OCDE, Paris,

Crédit photo : ©SWAC/OECD

World Food Day 2015: Building Resilient Societies and Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty in the Sahel and West Africa Region

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This blog post was written by Ousman Tall, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

The official programme marking World Food Day takes place today at the Universal Exposition in Milan, under the theme, “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty”. This theme underscores the role of social protection in ensuring that food and other basic needs of the most vulnerable individuals and households are addressed. Furthermore, embedded in this theme is the assertion that social protection programmes tied to productive activities, such as agriculture, are the most sustainable approach to eradicating poverty and achieving food and nutrition security. This has considerable implications for Sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty is pervasive in rural areas.

Sub-Saharan Africa, especially the Sahel and West Africa region, is one of the poorest and most food-insecure regions in the world. Out of the 25 poorest countries in the world, 23 are in Sub-Saharan Africa with 11 of them in the Sahel and West Africa Region. It has the world’s fastest growing population, where 65% of countries are classified as low-income countries and over half of the population is living below the poverty line.[1] To address the high levels of food insecurity and poverty, a number of social protection initiatives have been put in place, including national social protection strategies in some countries. In 2014, the European Union alone assisted 1.7 million food-insecure people and 580 000 malnourished children in the Sahel.[2] This has provided a strong argument and a basis for a pro-smallholder agricultural intervention in rural areas in the Sahel and West Africa region.

Most Recent Food Insecurity Situations in the Sahel and West Africa Region

food-insecurity-sahel-west-africa© Map produced by CILSS/Agrhymet. Source: Regional analysis of the Cadré harmonisé (CH), Bamako, 22-23 June 2015.

Linking social protection programmes with economic activities, productivity, ownership and long-term sustainability is important. Tackling risk and vulnerability and at the same time ensuring pro-poor growth through investments in social protection programmes lead to greater inclusive growth.[3] These should be the guiding principles in the design and implementation of social protection programmes. However, most social protection initiatives and interventions in the region are project-oriented, mainly addressing poverty and food insecurity during times of crisis. With the persistent nature and recurrence of crises in the region, there is a need to go beyond interventions during crises, to build the resilience of the most vulnerable populations in adapting – in a sustainable manner – to these emerging and recurrent crises. Read more

The full post is available on the OECD Insights blog

[1] Food security in focus: Sub-Saharan Africa 2014. The Economist Intelligence Unit 2014

[2] ECHO Factsheet – Sahel: Food & Nutrition Crisis – May 2015

[3] Promoting Pro-Poor Growth: Social Protection-OECD 2009