Improving West Africa’s regional grain trade
©IFAD/Aubrey Wade

Developing Value Chains

Improving West Africa’s regional grain trade

The level of intra-regional trade of cereals such as maize, millet, sorghum and rice is lagging far below its potential in West Africa, despite opportunities from flourishing local production and strong demand from growing urban populations. A conference on ‘How to structure the grain trade in West Africa: which market instruments and public policy measures?’ examined some of the current constraints to increasing intra-regional trade in the cereals sector, as well as ways of making it more dynamic.

In a region where the population is almost doubling every 20 years, grain crops account for one-fifth of total cultivated land area and provide part-time work for around 80% of the West African population. But despite increases in production from 16 million t in 1980 to 63 million t in 2015, less than 1.5 million t of local grain crops are sold in cross-border trade in the region. Figures for the inter-regional grain trade are lower than imports of wheat, wheat flour and especially rice into the region.

A range of barriers prevents local producers from being able to sell at competitive prices. Due to high transaction costs and inefficient logistics, some agrifood processors such as breweries and feed manufacturers prefer to import sorghum or millet from outside the region, rather than source locally. "Modernising the West African grain market is critical to ensuring higher incomes for small-scale farmers, improved food security and a reliable supply of cereals needed for livestock and fisheries feed supply chains," said Michael Hailu, Director of CTA.

Bringing together the main players in the region's grain trade, including cooperatives, processors, traders, policy-makers, development organisations and financiers, the 3-day regional forum sought to develop a strategy that could overcome current challenges and take advantage of the common market formed by the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). "For farmers and other agricultural producers, grains are their staple supply, helping to ensure the right to food for people in the region," said West African regional farmers' organisation (ROPPA) President Djibo Bagna. "However, the current market structure supports a few cash crops, leading to food systems that do less and less to promote the consumption of local grains. Market reforms are needed to establish a balance for sustainable food security."

High on the agenda was the development of market instruments that could help to organise, regulate and finance the regional grain trade, enabling producers to obtain higher prices, buyers to have a more reliable supply of high quality cereals, and other actors in the supply chain to benefit as a result. As well as examining and sharing best practices for producers, processors and dealers the conference looked at ways of creating a regional policy environment to encourage greater private sector involvement in the grain trade and improve the capacity of trade support institutions, so as to promote efficient and stable regional grain markets. Use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and innovative funding and insurance tools were also explored, as were prospects for developing cross-border grain value chains, methods for helping farmers to adapt to climate change and strategies to address aflatoxin – which causes serious problems, both to public health and trade.

The event, held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from 29 November to 1 December 2016, was organised by CTA, together with ROPPA, the West African Grains Network (WAGN-ROAC) and the African Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (AFRACA). For more information, visit: