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. GDP grew by an average of only 1.6 per cent in the region in 2015. On average, agriculture accounts for 30 per cent of economic activity and employs 60 per cent of the workforce.
Rural poverty is widespread and concentrated among women and young people. Three quarters of the region’s population is under the age of 35. 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.
IFAD has been working for almost four decades to enhance rural output in the region. By the end of 2016, we were running 41 ongoing programmes in partnership with 23 governments in the region, and had invested a total of US$1.2 million.
Our current priorities are to strengthen the value chains that link producers and their organizations to markets and consumers, and to create a virtuous upward spiral by helping farmers to sell more and earn more.
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.
Approximately 500 million people live in West and Central Africa, with the majority living in rural areas as smallholder 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.
In Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Niger, 80 to 90 per cent of the working-age population lives and works on family farms, where yields and returns are significantly below their potential.
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