ECOWAS countries in West Africa have long reasoned that the issue of food security cannot be left to a single country to shoulder. Instead, the regional bloc embraced the fact it takes collective efforts to secure the food security of a single nation and in so doing protect the whole region.
In is address to member countries during the ongoing virtual meeting, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water Resources, Sékou Sangaré said the regional goal of stockpiling some 40, 000 metric tonnes of food reserve is a visionary course that will protect each member state of the sub region.
The conference begun on April 28th and will carry on through to May 10th. The conference falls is part and parcel of the EU-funded Support Project to the West African Food Security Storage System.
The Food Security Storage System came into being back in 2015 and is in doubt a magnanimous initiative. To dot all the i’s and cross the t’s the ECOWAS member states are deliberating the applicability of the initiative for a span of two weeks.
The fortnight virtual conference serves as a platform to discuss policy change between member states and its international partners. The high-level meeting is attended by technical and political leaders is looking at how to secure the proposed stockpile of 40, 000 metric tonnes of food reserve.
Ghana is currently chairing the sub regional body, and reports that it has benefitted from a similar food bank initiative. Since it already had a national food storage policy, in the wake of the Covid pandemic lockdown, Ghana was able to conduct school feeding programmes that provided a cushion for what would otherwise have turned out to be a catastrophic scenario.
Ghana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Mrs. Shirley Ayorkor, who is Chairing the meeting, urged the other ECOWAS countries to play their part since more than food security the initiative also creates employment in the sub-region. Addressing the conference, she said the programme will ensure what he described as ‘ food sovereignty’ as well as foster intra-regional trade and integration.
Looking ahead: Implementing Resolutions
The conference has another week to go, in which time it is expected to assess the achievements, challenges and important lessons learned thus far.
This one of a kind food security strategy is hinged on four basic but complimentary aspects:
(i) Local stocks set up and managed by local producers’ organizations or decentralized communities
(ii) National security stocks managed or co-managed by States and their financial partners
(iii) The Regional Food Security Reserve set up and managed by the ECOWAS Commission
(iv) The resort to international Aid, when no solution can be found at the first three lines of defense.
It is now 5 years since the initial implementation of the Support Project, and so far, the member states have been able to systematize key achievements and lessons learned. Now they are working on scaling up the strategy, that is envisioned to be the key instrument for the elimination of hunger in the region by 2030.
Background: Learning from the EU
The ECOWAS group effort to store food together has its roots in the European Union model where member states came together to store agro-products in a common place for a common goal, to aide any one of the states that would face food shortages.
It actually follows a five-year implementation of the regional storage strategy adopted back in 2012 with the support of the European Union.
“This strategy deploys a regional storage system based on decentralised local stocks, national stocks and the Regional Food Security Reserve created in 2013, comprising both a physical stock and financial reserve,” reports local media.
Lagging Behind: East Africa Community Yet To have Regional Food Security Plan
Unlike their counterparts in West Africa, the East African Community (EAC) does not have a joint regional food storage strategy. Granted, the EAC has harmionised policies on how to go about securing food in the adverse weather conditions caused by global warming, but these steps are in large, implemented by individual countries rather than the bloc.
The EAC Agriculture and Rural Development Strategy is the main plan that is meant to garner food security in the region. It outlines the strategic interventions for improving Food Security through three key works.
First, the EAC looks to improve performance and increasing contribution of agriculture (for individual countries) by increasing availability of water in rain-fed agricultural areas. Second is improving early warning signs of adverse conditions to come and third is developing an efficient network of physical infrastructure in rural areas that will help increase productivity, trade and cooperation.
All in all, while the initiatives are sound, it leaves much to be desired that there is no strategy for regional cooperation of all the countries in the bloc to, together, collect food and store it for the common good of the region.
The ECOWAS plan moves beyond individual country efforts, yes, it is a key aspect that each country must grow and collect food, but it has to do so in decentralized manner allowing for small groups to produce for the common regional storage facility.
There is need for the EAC to consider setting up a similar approach and that way collectively provide aide to individual countries that fall short. Since climate change has adversely changed weather patterns it is now, more than ever, important for neighbouring countries to assist each other to develop common strategic approaches to food security and the ECOWAS bloc is an example to learn from.