The West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF) is working to break down research silos among governments and across geographies in West and Central Africa. According to Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, former Executive Director of CORAF, these initiatives are critical to building climate resilience in the region.
“This is a global village,” Tenkouano tells Food Tank. “We are all inter-connected, interdependent, interlinked.”
CORAF, now under the new leadership of Dr. Alioune Fall, is the largest sub-regional research organization in Africa, working with 23 national agricultural research systems in the Sahelian, Coastal, and Central regions of Africa to improve agricultural research and economic growth. The organization focuses on localized solutions to issues facing farmers.
“What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that there is a restriction of movement that causes the necessity of what we call proximity economies,” or shorter, local food value chains, says Tenkouano. “At the local level, one should be able to produce as much as what is needed.”
Most agricultural production in West and Central Africa is from smallholder farmers. In addition to growing millet, sorghum, maize, and other crops, they produce seeds to use the following year. During the Ebola crisis from 2014 to 2016, farmers across the region were going hungry because of food shortages, trade restrictions, border controls, and rising food prices. Many, unfortunately, were resorting to eating the seeds they had intended to plant the following season. In response, CORAF mobilized entrepreneurs to source seeds of appropriate varieties and transport them across country borders.
“This was the first time that we had a regional response to a regional issue,” says Tenkouano.
Tenkouano notes that successful regional initiatives must seek out and respect farmers’ input. As an organization, CORAF takes a participatory approach to creating long-lasting agricultural solutions.
“From the beginning, we identify the issues together [with farmers], then we design the approach to solving together…that is a landmark thing that we do at CORAF,” says Tenkouano. “You cannot work on solutions away from where the problems are…Most farmers are local actors of change.”
But this model is not common in typical research settings. According to Tenkouano, often, solutions fail to meet their intended outcomes because research is conducted separately and brought to the farmers once complete.
“We can make things at the community level, involve the community from the start, so that they can own the process from the start,” says Tenkouano.
This participatory model of solution development will be critical to climate adaptation efforts in West and Central Africa, but “we need to give local context some support,” says Tenkouano.
According to a 2022 report by the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, localizing—or transferring responsibilities, capacities, and resources to national and local actors—can effectively build resilience in disaster-affected countries. But in 2022, just 1.2 percent of total international humanitarian assistance was provided directly to local and national actors.
Investing in local organizations and solutions is also an opportunity to help the region move away from a dependence on a global market, says Tenkouano. According to the United Nations, currency depreciation and high inflation are causing food bills to rise in West and Central Africa, which is highly dependent on imports to feed its growing populations.
CORAF’s regional initiatives seek to build resilience by “embracing all at once” interconnected issues like market access, trade, women’s equity, and the empowerment of youth.
“The best innovations are maybe not in the biophysical context, the best innovations are in the social constructs,” says Tenkouano.
For example, women and youth make up 62 percent and 65 percent of the agricultural labor force, respectively, according to Mariame Maiga, PhD, Regional Gender and Social Development Advisor at CORAF. They, however, have limited access to productive agricultural resources—like appropriate technologies and innovations, quality seeds and fertilizers, agricultural infrastructure, credit, extension services, and markets—because of the gender gap in agriculture.
“Gender inequalities in agriculture remain one of the main causes for the underperformance of the sector, with major negative impacts on food and nutrition security, economic growth, and sustainable socio-economic development of the populations,” says Maiga. “Closing the gender gap with women’s empowerment and leadership is critical to West and Central Africa’s food system.”
According to Maiga, the region’s food system does not currently have enough seeds to meet farmers’ demand. In 2022, CORAF developed a gender-smart approach to fill this gap by organizing a regional platform for women entrepreneurs in the seed industry, including a series of trainings on production techniques, quality control, policies, business management, and communications. The platform is now being used as a tool for scaling drought-tolerant and biofortified seed varieties in West and Central Africa while promoting women’s entrepreneurship.
And in 2023, CORAF trained more than one thousand women and youth in seed multiplication, processing, marketing, and management as part of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme initiative, and the Food System Resilience Program in Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Togo, and Tchad. Programs such as this build local capacities across the seed value chain while fostering entrepreneurship among women and youth in the seed sector.
Tenkouano is hopeful about new, digital solutions arriving to accelerate knowledge-sharing and connect women and youth leaders to better resources.
“[Young people] are highly connected among themselves, highly connected to the world. And they are very skilled at manipulating those gadgets and apps that pop in every day,” says Tenkouano. As “electronic extension agents,” youth are taking new technologies and making sure they are disseminated to those who could benefit. “These are areas that are new, that did not exist 10 years ago. And I think it’s all exciting, I can’t even begin to think of all the possibilities.”
Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons