Although national grain markets in West Africa have developed considerably over the last 30 years, regional trade remains limited. Its total volume (mainly, millet, sorghum and maize) is estimated at 1.5 million tonnes a year. Nevertheless, West Africa continues to import very large quantities of grain. There are several obstacles to inter-regional trade. By bringing together different types of stakeholders for a joint brainstorming, with the support of numerous partners, CTA hopes to generate firm recommendations which will help to modernise the regional grain market. What is at stake over time is the food security of more than 300 million inhabitants.
Grains play a vital role in West Africa, where they cover a fifth of arable land. Their production has increased significantly over the last fifty years, rising from 16 million tonnes in 1980 to 63 million tonnes in 2015. Demand has also increased significantly as a result of demographic growth and higher demand for livestock products. It has also changed owing to urbanisation and changes in consumption patterns. CTA and its partners have established that there is a need to strengthen the market in response to growing needs and inadequate supplies. For that, a three-day conference is being organised in order to inform the stakeholders and give them the opportunity to share experiences and best practices and agree on a roadmap for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a series of recommendations.
All roads lead to Ouagadougou
The conference's ambition is to bring together a wide range of the sector's stakeholders: cereal producers (managers of producer organisations and individual producers, processors, merchants, wholesalers, retailers, customs officials, police officers and representatives of sanitary and phytosanitary services, representatives from various government departments (agriculture, finance), researchers, NGOs, technical and financial partners. Stakeholders from the related value chains (such a poultry and aquaculture) will also be involved in the event.
During three days, around 200 participants, all stakeholders in the grain value chain will be participating in the event in Ouagadougou. Even if most of the participants will come from West Africa, stakeholders from other regions have also been invited to the event. Some twenty participants from outside West Africa have been invited: from neighbouring countries trading in grain with West Africa, and representatives of other regional communities such as the Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC), a network of East African grain organisations. Inter-regional exchanges will thus be facilitated, to share experiences and best practices.
An organising committee has been set up to prepare and implement the event. This committee is composed of experts from organisations such as ROPPA, WAGN, the Ministry of Agriculture of Burkina Faso and CTA, as well as other partnering regional organisations such as AGRA and the USAID Trade Hub.
Singing from the same hymn sheet
The three-day conference will be based on a combination of plenary sessions and working groups. There will be four sessions on the first day devoted to the following subjects: changes on the West-African grain market; efforts to structure and regulate the grain market; the development challenges facing cross-border grain value chains; and the development of market information systems and the use of ICT to facilitate regional trade. The second day will be devoted to group-based strategic reflexion in order to share best practices among participants. During the third and final day, will be an opportunity to produce a roadmap for the coming years following the conference's recommendations.
According to Souleymane Zeba, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator, Agricultural Policies and Value Chains: "the main challenge for the conference is to bring together in the same room stakeholders that are used to singing from different hymn sheets on the issue of grains, so that they can work together in harmony. This means encouraging them to converge towards a modernisation model for grain markets which will benefit different types of stakeholders: producers that will be able to improve the distribution of the fruits of their labour; processors that will be guaranteed a sufficient supply of raw materials to process; and banks that will have more business opportunities."
Without anticipating the results of the work, offers of a "regional grain exchange" and "inter-professional dialogue" will be discussed. In this regard, there are numerous prerequisites, such as the existence of a consolidated market with all the stakeholders, on which they will all have equal access to information: stock situation, prices, quality standards, sanitary and phytosanitary standards. The implementation of an automated market information system, on a portal available to all buyers, indicating the availability of rice, maize, pearl millet, sorghum, etc. is thus feasible.
Regardless of the results of the work, the conference organisers are aware of the resources needed for their implementation, in terms of political, technical and financial support, as well as capacity building in numerous areas. Their goal, in bringing together decision-makers, private sector representatives, including from banks and insurance companies, is to succeed in harnessing the huge potential of the regional grain market.
ICTs for a structured, efficient market
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are central to CTA's work and will play a key role in this event, which will benefit from the range of tools available for its organisation (creation of a dedicated website, mobilisation of participants and the public via social media, etc.)
On the afternoon of the first day of the conference, a Plug & Play event will be organised on the subject of ICT in agriculture. This will involve a presentation of their potential for the regional trade in grains. West African creators will present their innovations which facilitate the trade in grains in the sub-region: use of mobile technologies for monitoring cereal prices on markets, facilitating commercial transactions, increasing market transparency, etc.
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