Comprendre les enjeux de l'agriculture

The economic boom in West Africa is related to the agriculture and agri-food sectors. Feeding 500 million increasingly urbanised Africans by 2030 has kickstarted the growth of the agriculture and agri-food processing industries.
During the annual Farm-Pluriagri conference in Paris on 12 December, speakers demonstrated that the creation and sharing of added value relies on various highly structured public and private initiatives.

arachide-cacaoueteIn Senegal, Sylvie Sagbo Gommard is the director of the company Lysa and Co. Her company manufactures peanut and cashew butter with raw materials purchased from local producers. In Burkina Faso, Fondation Avril, managed by Philippe Leroux, has created a soybean production and processing network to make the country gradually more self-sufficient in terms of vegetable and animal protein (by developing poultry production).

These two business and foundation managers took part in the annual conference organised by Farm (1) and Pluriagri (2) on 12 December 2019 in Paris. The theme was the creation and sharing of added value in agri-food networks, specifically in West Africa.
In this sub-continent, 80% of agricultural production passes through local markets. These markets supply towns and cities which are continuing to grow. Niger has sixty-eight towns with over 10,000 residents, compared to ten in 1968.  The increase in the urban population is due to domestic demographic growth, and not migration. Few farmers leave their village to find a job in the city, as was the case in the West in the 19th and 20th century.

The countryside is becoming more urban and farmers are closer to urban centres and the markets which they supply. Moreover, the urban population is increasingly influenced by imported eating habits, which result in further imports.

As a result, agriculture and agri-food processing are pillars of the West African economy and they will remain so for many years.

In 2030, agricultural and agri-food production (including transport and food services) will represent 33% of GDP. 131 million men and women will work in these sectors, i.e. 62% of the working population.

In 2000, there were already 98 million people working in these industries (65% of total jobs), two-thirds women. Three-quarters of jobs were in rural areas and a quarter in towns and cities.

Creating added value by producing more

In this context, what does the main theme of the Farm-Pluriagri conference (“creating value”) mean?

In West Africa, creating added value primarily means growing crops to feed the population. It does not mean adding value to a product which has already been created by distinguishing it from other competing products.

The company Lysa and Co. manufactures and sells peanut and cashew-based products using family recipes.

Lydie SAGBO, the mother of Sylvie (who took over the reins of the family company in 2015), sold “homemade” peanut and cashew butter in 1977 from her front door. Her products were very popular, and five years later she set up the company SENAR to meet her customers’ demand.

The range of products was extended. They were the first to be sold in supermarkets. Their consumption demonstrates changing eating habits amongst Africans who are keen on processed products.

However West Africa is not a block of homogeneous countries. The richer the country, the lower the proportion of agriculture in the agri-food sector.

In Burkina Faso, food self-sufficiency is very low. The creation of added value is intrinsically linked to the growth in agricultural production. That is why Fondation Avril created a soybean network by bringing together production and transformation organisations within an interprofessional organisation known as the “Association de Promotion et de Développement de la filière Soja” (APDS-B) (Association for the Promotion and Development of the Soybean Industry).

Soybean production is formalised in a contract. A specification has been drawn up, with farmers committing to a certain level of quality and price.

In Colombia, sustainable added value creation is also a topical matter. Rafael Isidro Parra Pena Somoza – a guest speaker from the Ministry of Planning – demonstrated that the creation of added value relies on public initiatives to organise producers and companies into networks.

New technologies accessible in the most remote regions are key elements of the agricultural and agri-food economy. They extend the scope of activity of rural people at proportions which were unimaginable even 20 years ago. An example is organic carbon storage in soil, for which the US company Indigo will pay up to €15/tonne.

Incentivised carbon storage

Some explanations are required to help understand the project. Burying effluents and biomass enriches the soil with humus, and new technologies which are currently available can measure the tonnes of organic carbon stored each year.

On this basis, it is quite possible to imagine West African farmers being paid in the near future for storing a little more organic carbon in their soil each year. Indeed, by adopting agricultural practices which would increase the quantity of humus in the soil, they would have captured more organic carbon in their soil whilst increasing its fertility.

This carbon storage would be formalised in a contract, the operation would be financed by greenhouse gas emission rights, carbon credits and carbon quotas, paid for the polluting companies which emit them.

Worldwide, over 13 million acres (approx. 5 million hectares) are already involved in the carbon storage project supported by the company Indigo. The covered surface area is increasing by 2 hectares per second!

The creation of added value is intrinsically linked to its sharing, the second topic discussed during the Farm-Pluriagri conference. And as with the first theme, different initiatives were presented to illustrate the second theme.

The IECD (managed by Arnaud Britsch) coordinates groups of vegetable growers in Cameroon, who formalise retail sales of their produce in contracts. The contracts guarantee a fixed margin of approximately 30%. The initiative is funded by the company Bonduelle.

Making the informal sector more formal

Cameroon supermarket managers appreciate the reliable and punctual invoicing and supply of their stores by these groups of producers. Also, they are no longer reluctant to purchase more expensive products to promote the services provided.

The sharing of added value is also supported by public organisations. Proparco – a subsidiary of Agence France pour le Développement (AFD) – finances and supports business and financial institution projects in developing and emerging countries. In India, 65,000 dairy farmers got together to deliver 800,000 litres of milk per day to Prabhat Dairy, an Indian dairy company. For this purpose, it developed a huge supply network close to the farmers, who were willing to adopt livestock practices in line with environmental standards in Europe.

At Scoul in Uganda, a co-generation unit linked to a sugar refinery recovers bagasse, a fibrous residue from grinding sugar cane delivered by producers. It is part of the circular economy promoted by Proparco as it makes use of all canes delivered by producing “green” electricity.

The distribution of added value can also involve consumers who are mindful of eating products (milk, olive oil) purchased at prices which are sufficient to fairly compensate the farmers’ work. In Morocco, for example, Nawal Slamti presented “Dyalna La” which is based on the same concept as “C’est qui le patron” (Who’s the boss) in France.

On this platform, “consumers are able to create products of their choice, i.e. high-quality, fairer and more responsible products. The concept is under development”, explains Nawal Slamti, who established the project.

Finally, the creation of added value and its sharing naturally lead to the organisation of networks, making the informal economy more formal. This was the third theme of the Farm-Pluriagri conference. However, this formal approach must not restrict the array of initiatives established by farmers and processors in West Africa by enforcing poorly adapted Western organisation and distribution models.

  • The Fondation pour L’Agriculture et la Ruralité dans le Monde – FARM (the Worldwide Foundation for Agriculture and Rural Development) was created in 2005. It is a think tank whose mission is to promote agriculture and agri-food networks which are sustainable and environmentally-friendly, via an entrepreneurial approach.
  • Pluriagri is an association of French field crop network organisations and businesses (Terres inovia, Unigrains, Cgb, ARTB)