Economic transformation, but also food secure? Reflections from a trip to West Africa

Source: Milo Mitchell/IFPRI

I was just in Dakar, Senegal for the semi-annual IFPRI Board of Trustees meeting. While I was there, I also took part in several events aimed at advancing agricultural and economic transformation in West Africa.

On May 15, IFPRI, together with the Faculty of Economics and Management at Cheikh Anta Diop University and the Senegalese National Agricultural Research Institute, co-organized the workshop “Economic Transformation in West Africa: What it Means for Food Security and Poverty Reduction.” The workshop was timely as hunger level remains high despite the solid pace of growth achieved in West Africa in recent years.

It was well attended and the discussions were stimulating. Participants identified the many linkages between economic transformation, agriculture, food security, and poverty in order to determine research gaps which need to be filled. Discussions also centered on the policy actions needed to advance food security agenda under rapid economic transformation and growth in the region.

Robust policymaking capacity will be critical to advancing agricultural and economic transformation. This was the theme of the “Agriculture Policy Exchange and Learning Event” organized by the African Union Commission, held the following day. My talk at the event focused on overcoming policy constraints to achieve national agriculture and food security strategies.

Improving national policy making and research capacities is a must for achieving agricultural and food security targets in Africa. In particular, capacities for strategy formulation, policy design, and implementation must be strengthened. National governments must create incentives and opportunities to enhance human resource capacity. Investments in monitoring and evaluation systems as well as engagement in new and broader partnerships with international agricultural research systems, including the CGIAR, will also be vital.

Equally important is the need for timely and reliable data. In this, accelerating investments in national statistical systems will be crucial. This includes improving statistical and physical infrastructure for data collection and analysis. Along the same lines, educating decision makers on the changing landscape of agriculture and expanding statistical training in educational institutions will also be catalytic. Transparency on data collection and analysis, as well as improved public knowledge, will be an important component in achieving the above.

IFPRI has significantly increased its investments in West Africa in recent years, working to produce research outputs and outcomes to promote evidence-based policy. Some of these outcomes derive from work aimed at providing information for West African policymakers through IFPRI-led efforts like the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System. IFPRI has also expanded its presence in the region through its West and Central Africa Office in Dakar, Senegal which offers regional stakeholders broader access to IFPRI’s public goods and allows the Institute to work directly with local partners.