For the vast majority of people living in West Africa, cereals are an important part of their diet. They are also the staple crop for hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers, and boosting productivity and sales could do much to improve regional food security and tackle hunger. However, a lack of reliable information about market conditions and profitability are hindering the efficient operation of cereal value chains.
To tackle the problem, CTA launched a regional grain market intelligence service in February 2016, in partnership with the French NGO RONGEAD and the West African Grain Network (WAGN). Development and implementation of the service was entrusted to RONGEAD, working within the framework of a programme on food security funded by the French Development Agency through the Economic Community of West African States.
“For many years, public market information systems in West Africa were designed to inform agricultural policies without necessarily responding to the direct needs of farmers,” says Vincent Fautrel, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator on Value Chain Development. “The idea of this initiative was to build on the success of the N’kalo service developed by RONGEAD and help the regional grain association, WAGN, develop information services for its members with a clear focus on qualitative data, including some prospective analysis.”
Established in 2009, the N’kalo market information system was initially designed to gather, analyse and disseminate information for cashew producers in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. RONGEAD soon realised that information on prices alone would not be enough. Farmers also needed advice about when to sell.
Later, the project expanded to cover other crops besides cashew, such as sesame, maize, onion and yam, and was made available in eight other countries in West Africa. With support from CTA, the project provided training for over 7,600 producers, and information which reached over 47,000 producers, bringing about significant increases in income to small-scale farmers.
“Our current project builds on the concept of N’kalo,” says Fautrel, “and it is already having a significant impact for both traders and producers.” The project focuses on the four key West African cereal crops – rice, maize, millet and sorghum – grown in in Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Niger.
Like N’kalo, the service provides a detailed analysis of market trends, informing users about what is likely to happen in the near future and providing advice on when to sell their crops. CTA has funded the training of market analysts in each of the countries covered by the project, and their data and projections are transmitted to users via SMS, as well as a regular newsletter. Twenty-two newsletters were sent during the second year of the project.
Over 25,500 operators who used the service via the WAGN network saw their turnover increase by around €280,000 in the first year of the project. By the end of 2018, the project’s Economic Bulletin on Cereal Markets in West Africa, which provides comprehensive analysis of the cereal market, had 2,652 subscribers, most of whom were grain traders. Furthermore, the bulletin is now used as a reference source by many organisations, including FAO and World Food Programme.
The N’kalo service was initially provided free of charge, but it proved so successful that information was eventually provided to subscribers only. It is estimated that as a result of the service, producers are earning €25 to €100 more each year. It is anticipated that the current service provided by WAGN will be equally successful, although there is still some uncertainty about whether it will generate sufficient revenues to be self-sustaining in the long run.