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West Africa 'needs to strengthen market for small-scale farmers'

Smallholder farmers in West Africa provided more than 80 per cent of the regions food needs, but faced challenges such as low application of technology and unremunerative markets, according to Ghanaian food and agriculture minister Kwesi Ahwoi

Ahwoi was speaking at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), regional workshop on 'Rebuilding Agricultural Production Potential for West Africa', held recently in Ghana.

Ahwoi called for urgent measures that would enable West African small-scale farmers to graduate into entrepreneurial farmers and contribute to accelerated growth in agriculture.

"Effective producer organisations particularly, hold the key to transforming agriculture of our countries if they can be mobilised to better access agricultural services, advocate and participate in agricultural policy design and dialogue," Ahwoi said.

Weak market for crops and low prices of commodities reinforced the vicious cycle of low productivity, low profits and low technology, Ahwoi stated. Strengthening markets for small-scale producers ensured that barriers preventing the producers from fully participating in markets were removed.

The food crises of 2007-2008 revealed a serious market bottleneck in agriculture in many African developing countries, FAO assistant director-general Maria Helena Semedo said.

"The comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme has made significant inroads. However, now it is crucial to up-scale and fast track its implementation," remarked Semedo.

IFAD country representative Ulac Demirag emphasised that the organisation had always focused its support on staple crops in West and Central Africa, particularly rice and cassava, while working with smallholder framers.

He pointed out the challenges suffered by the staple crop value chains such as poor transmission of demand from consumers to farmers in terms of prices and quality, absence of coordination in supply chain and higher risks from price volatility due to government policies.

Demirag called for identifying practical solutions at the policy, farmer organisation and business levels, which could be adopted and scaled up to allow smallholder farmers to benefit from the growing market opportunities in Ghana and across West and Central Africa.

The delegates called for renewed efforts to strengthen market linkages for small-scale producers, with particular attention to food production systems for greater food security.

FAO senior economist Aziz Elbehri said a joint publication would be designed and distributed to the participating countries to serve as a staple food production guide.