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West and Central Africa


The West and Central Africa region has made impressive gains in recent decades, but still has a long way to go in terms of rural transformation.

Economic growth has been slow over the past few years. Economic activity in 2020 is projected to contract by 3.2 per cent, due to a weaker external environment and measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rural poverty is widespread and concentrated among women and young people. Three quarters of the region’s population is under the age of 35. With 12 per cent of its population under the age of 15 and around 64 per cent under the age of 24, Western and Central Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world. In rural areas, young people are mostly landless, marginally employed, and suffer from poor working conditions and exploitation.

So far, the region’s economies have been unable to absorb this potential windfall of energetic and creative young workers. As a result, young people are abandoning agriculture and rural areas in search of better lives in cities or abroad.

Connecting farmers and markets

The main brakes on rural transformation include insecure land tenure, a lack of basic infrastructure, inadequate credit and insurance, and ethnic and gender disparities.

What many countries in the region really need are more well-organized markets, and reliable connections among them. Different types of investments are necessary to accelerate the shift from subsistence agriculture to market-based production.

This shift has the potential to increase incomes while improving food security for both farmers and people living in growing towns and cities.

Experience wins

IFAD has been working for almost four decades to enhance rural output in the region. By the end of 2019, we were running 38 ongoing projects in 20 countries in the region, and had invested a total of US$1,639.3 million.

Our current priorities are to strengthen the value chains that link producers and their organizations to markets and consumers, create a virtuous upward spiral by helping farmers to sell more and earn more, and to address the immediate challenges faced by small scale farmers  to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the enormous challenges facing young women and men living in rural areas in the region, IFAD is supporting numerous initiatives to provide training, encourage entrepreneurship, and boost the creation of decent jobs both on and off the farm.

IFAD also supports efforts towards greater financial inclusion and making cashless credit more readily available to smallholders. We are also investing in projects that enable smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change.

Our breadth of experience, in terms of climatic and soil conditions, social organization and market development, makes us the partner of choice for governments, NGOs and local groups keen to achieve long-lasting rural transformation.

Learn more

Approximately 552 million people live in West and Central Africa, the majority living in rural areas as smallholders farmers.

Finding work for the growing numbers of young people in rural areas is a priority in West and Central Africa. In Senegal, for example, 47 per cent of the population is under 15 years of age.

Agriculture is important to the West and Central African economy, providing 30-50 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in most countries and income and livelihoods for 70-80 per cent of the population.

Asset Publisher

Regional Director

Nadine Gbossa Director, West and Central Africa Division


Where we work

The Sahel

The Sahel

Facing the challenges of sustainable development in the Sahel

The Sahel, meaning “the shore” in Arabic, is a vast area crossing 6,000 kilometres from East to West Africa. It covers many geographic and agro-ecological systems, 12 countries and is home to 400 million people.

Projects and programmes

Projects and programmes


Value Chain Development Programme


Family Farming, Resilience and Markets Project in Upper and Middle Guinea (AgriFARM)

Côte d'Ivoire

Marketing/Storage/Processing: Agricultural Value Chain Development Support Programme (PADFA)

Related news

Related news

Sahel Crisis leaves millions on the brink of hunger

February 2020 - NEWS
Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, President of the Republic of Mali will address journalists against a backdrop of a rapidly escalating crisis across the Sahel,immediately following the opening of the IFAD annual meeting of Member States on 11 February.

Mali’s President calls for solidarity as food crisis escalates across Sahel

February 2020 - NEWS
Against a backdrop of an escalating security crisis where 4.3 million women, men and children are at risk of increased food insecurity and starvation in Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, President of the Republic of Mali, launched an urgent call to the global community to combine efforts and show solidarity in order to eradicate hunger and poverty in the Sahel.

Mali and IFAD develop a new strategic programme to meet the challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the face of climate change

March 2020 - NEWS
The Government of Mali and IFAD held a workshop in Bamako on 5 March 2020 to prepare a new results-based country strategic opportunities programme (RB-COSOP) for the period 2020-2024.

Related publications

Related publications

Investing in rural people in Burkina Faso

March 2021
In Burkina Faso, IFAD loans help better manage natural resources, in addition to building inclusive and sustainable institutions through pro-poor investments and policies and supporting innovation and education.

Crowdfunding Malian diaspora remittances to finance rural entrepreneurship

October 2020
This case study examines a pilot initiative carried out by the IFAD-supported FIER project in Mali, together with the Babyloan crowdfunding platform, to leverage diaspora remittances abroad as a way to support rural entrepreneurship in the home country.

Food security in the context of climate change: from knowledge to action

December 2018
Since 2006, IFAD and the European Union have partnered to invest over EUR 230 million in agricultural research programmes carried out through the CGIAR system.