Strengthening Regional Agricultural Integration in West Africa

Key Findings & Policy Implications

This publication presents key results from the Strengthening Regional Agricultural Integration (SRAI) program. SRAI was a major agricultural policy analysis and outreach initiative in West Africa between 2009 and 2017, supported by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) and implemented by Michigan State University (MSU) and its West African partners. The program began in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 world food crisis. World rice prices had nearly tripled, the prices of other basic staples had spiked sharply, and several Asian grain exporters had imposed export restrictions in an attempt to hold down domestic prices. West African governments implemented policy measures that limited the full transmission of these international price spikes to their markets. Nonetheless, food prices in the region still shot up sharply and food riots broke out in many cities. The experience severely shook the confidence of many West African leaders in the reliability of international and regional markets as sources of food for their growing populations. 

Key findings: 

  • West African governments were able to reduce the transmission of global price shocks to their markets, but at high cost;
  • West African agrifood system actors are responding to new opportunities, but face high transaction costs;
  • Food consumption patterns in West Africa are changing profoundly, affecting where future food polices should focus their attention;
  • West African agriculture can be competitive, but only if the entire value chain is addressed;
  • Greater regional integration is crucial to addressing many of the challenges facing West African agriculture;
  • The regional trade policy agenda needs to go hand-in-hand with a social-protection and risk mitigation policy agenda;
  • Policy implementation is a greater challenge than policy design;

In addition to these findings, the SRAI program also revealed some broader lessons about the agricultural policy process itself. Chief among these were the following:

  • Restricting regional trade generates economic rents that can be captured by those who are in a position to limit such trade. Good governance efforts therefore need to aim at reducing those rents and the capacity and incentives of those in a position to restrict trade from capturing them.
  • Strengthening local policy analysis capacity is critical to sustained policy improvement. Local capacity strengthens local ownership and buy-in of policy recommendations and follow-up regarding policy implementation.
  • Policy outreach activities need to be an on-going activity rather than a one-shot affair. The policy environment is constantly evolving, and key policy makers frequently change jobs. As a result, there is a need to revisit previous policy recommendations periodically to reassess their relevance and to communicate key messages to new policy makers.
  • It is unrealistic to expect economic policies to be devoid of political considerations. Rather than decry such political motivations, a more realistic approach may be to try to design policies so that short-term programs, motivated in part by political considerations, help address long-term structural constraints to growth.