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Development Account Projects

Mainstreaming climate change into agricultural policies
for achieving food security and poverty reduction in
West Africa


Climate change, with anticipated adverse effects on food security, economic activity, water and all other natural resources and physical infrastructure, is one of the most serious threats to sustainable development. It is a dangerous obstacle to the fight to reduce poverty in developing countries, which largely depend on rainfed agriculture. Although several years have passed since Member States ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, policies and strategies, whether at the national or regional level, pay little attention to climate risk. The objective remains that, national and regional development policies must include the climate change dimension, and the necessary technical and cultural measures must be taken to address that problem.

Achieving food security and reducing poverty in the West African subregion has been a major challenge for both Governments and development agencies. Per capita food production has been in a declining trend over the last two decades, exposing an increasingly high number of people to food insecurity and income poverty (FAOSTAT data, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2004). Several factors have contributed to this unfortunate situation, including the vulnerability of countries of the subregion to climate change; the poor nature of soils in the Sahel zone; rapid population growth; low utilization of modern technologies to improve crop varieties, including the use of fertilizers, mechanization and irrigation that have spurred agricultural development elsewhere in the world; and poor implementation of policies.

The agricultural sector employs between 75 and 90 per cent of the active population, depending on the country, and contributes close to 35 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the West Africa subregion. Yet, agriculture in semi-arid regions is a highly risky enterprise owing to unreliable and variable rainfall. Farmers often struggle unsuccessfully to produce enough food for their own subsistence. However, most climate models predict that the Sahel region will be drier in the twenty-first century. A hotter climate means that evapo-transpiration will be more intense, exacerbating the already arid conditions. Thus, if urgent action is not taken, food deficits will be more acute, exacerbating the current food crises and deteriorating the nutritional situation in West Africa. Climate change is likely to become the greatest obstacle to the achievement of food security, poverty reduction and other Millennium Development Goals in West Africa. Therefore, addressing the issues of food insecurity, poverty and environmental degradation in West Africa is a matter of urgency, especially with the prospect of climate change.

This project builds upon lessons learned from the outcome of the International Conference for the reduction of the vulnerability to climate change of natural, economic and social systems in West Africa organized by the ECA in January 2007. It will be implemented by the Office for West Africa of the ECA in collaboration with the secretariats of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union.


To strengthen the capacity of Governments in the ECOWAS region and the intergovernmental organizations for mainstreaming climate change into national and regional agricultural policies for food security and poverty alleviation.

Expected accomplishments:

  • Enhanced capacity of policymakers to mainstream climate change into national and regional agricultural policies for food security and poverty alleviation.
  • Improved crop varieties, fertilizers, mechanization and irrigation in agricultural production in the subregion as a result of support from the project.
  • Enhanced capacity of small scale-farmers in West Africa to use simple and effective technologies, including policy support to increase agricultural productivity

Implementation status: