Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
uses improved seeds and a low 8 kg per hectare use of fertilizer. One reason for the low adop-
tion of fertilizer in the region is because of the very high cost of financing, credit and govern-
ment taxes, greatly increasing the cost per ton over its basic production cost (Bumb et al .,
2012). The same constraints that restrict the import of fertilizer into small, remote agricultural
regions also reduces the export capacity of farmers and reduces the likelihood that traders will
bring food in during times of high local prices.
West Africa is very dependent on local production of a variety of staples, including yams,
cassava, millet, sorghum and other native crops that produce food reliably but with very low
yields in the tropical soils and rainfed agricultural conditions found in the area (Tadele and
Assefa, 2012). The population of the region has tripled from 1965 to 2007, and cereal con-
sumption has followed that growth. Local production has been unable to keep up with the
demand, increasing the proportion of food derived from imports instead of local or regional
production (Nin-Pratt et al ., 2011). The percent of imported food went from 5 percent of
total food consumed in the 1960s to 23 percent in the past ten years (FAO, 2013). Although
trade profiles vary across the region, cereals, fish and sugar were some of the most commonly
imported items. In general, however, there remains a wide gap between the region's produc-
tion and consumption. The region has not been able to meet its internal demand for cereals.
This lack of supply means that the region is vulnerable to seasonal and interannual stress on
the price of food, and is vulnerable to weather shocks.
Seasonality in West Africa
Food price seasonality, coupled with volatility in production and a stagnating per capita pro-
ductive capacity, significantly affects food security in West Africa. Every year from May to
September, food prices increase from 50 to 200 percent over dry season means, depending on
the year (Cornia et al ., 2012). Figure 6.1 shows the annual price increase for retail sorghum,
a frequently consumed coarse grain in the small northern community of Zinder, Niger. The
seasonality of the prices, increasing each year and then declining, can be clearly seen. This
seasonality means that during the growing season in July and August, the price of sorghum is
significantly higher than in the dry season (Brown et al ., 2006).
Seasonality in food prices is important because it occurs typically during the growing
season when farming households have exhausted their store of grain from the previous season
and have to come up with cash to purchase staples on the market at higher than average
prices. Cash is often borrowed at high interest rates during these months, and must be paid
back after the harvest, forcing the household to sell its excess grain at much lower prices than
can be obtained later in the year (Brown et al ., 2009). The widespread increase in demand in
a farming region during the growing season pushes prices upward to their highest intra-
annual levels. The hunger season also corresponds to the period when farmers have their
highest energy expenditure and all household members participating in agricultural work
need more calories than normal (Cornia et al ., 2012; Sahn, 1989). Food security is therefore
significantly affected because of these seasonal cycles.
As per capita farming income declines and households diversify into more cash-earning
livelihoods, exposure to food price variability increases. While food markets are becoming
more integrated across more areas, annual and interannual variations in local food prices are
still large due to constraints in the production system and inefficiency in distribution in the
small, isolated and informal markets that are typical of the region, food prices are intimately
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