Food Crisis and Food Security Policies in West Africa

An Inventory of West African Countries' Policy Responses During the 2008 Food Crisis

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Abstract

A brief overview of the policy responses of countries in West Africa to the food security crisis that occurred in 2008. The inventory of policies has been complied for and used in the capstone (graduation) project and respective research paper, prepared by a group of graduate students (including myself) from the International Trade and Investment Policy Program at the George Washington University – Elliott School of International Affairs.

General Overview of the Situation

Overall situation during the 2007-2008 agricultural seasons in West Africa was characterized by: [1]

  • Delayed rains in some areas;
  • Heavy floods and droughts;
  • Abrupt stoppage of precipitation in September;
  • Surges in prices for staples.
 
National policy responses of the West African countries to the food crisis have varied in nature and effectiveness.  Often, governments have used existing policy measures already in place. [2] In general, the possible policy responses to tackle food security issues are usually grouped into three broad categories: [3]
  • Policies targeting consumption;
  • Policies targeting trade;
  • Policies aimed at supporting production.
 

Policies Targeting Consumption

Many countries have intervened to safeguard poor consumers’ access to food using a variety of emergency and “safety net” measures. Such measures included distribution of basic food staples, cash to buy food (or food for work programs) to the most vulnerable groups – the poorest in urban and rural areas, schoolchildren. Consumer price subsidies, especially for the main food staples, have been widely used. At the same time, some governments have also reduced consumption taxes and subsidized consumer prices. For example, price controls, through sales from public stocks at pre-set prices or administrative freezing of retail prices, have also been used. [4]
 

Policies Targeting Trade

There have been numerous trade policy measures introduced to curtail price increases and ensure adequate supplies on domestic markets. These included tariff reductions to facilitate imports, export bans and restrictive export taxes to divert supplies onto domestic markets. [5]
 

Policies Targeting Production

Reducing producer taxes, especially on grain production, has been a widely used policy to boost production. Production subsidies, especially on grain production, have been used to reinforce incentives. Subsidies on inputs such as fertilizer and seeds have also been common. [6] Country-specific issues and policies that have been enacted by governments in response to the crisis are presented further.

Country-specific Policy Responses

Benin

  • Established price control for key staple product (wheat) through regulation; [7]
  • Released food stock (maize, sorghum, wheat flour and rice) at subsidized price;
  • Developed an emergency program for immediate production of off-season short-cycle rice and maize; [8]
  • Reduction of import tariff and quota on wheat four; [9]
  • Provision of loans to entrepreneurs and rice importers;
  • Creating community grain banks. [10]

In Benin, the season of 2007 was marked by an unusual price decrease during off-season (April to June). In November 2007, during the harvest period, when prices are normally supposed to go down, prices surged. That happened due to insufficient reserves of cereals and the due to producers and intermediaries hold newly produced grains in reserves in order to delay selling. Thus, there was an increase in food imports seen from neighboring countries.

Burkina Faso

  • Suspension of customs duty on certain food imports, such as rice, salt, dairy-based products and baby foods;
  • Suspension of value added tax on durum wheat, baby foods, soap and edible oils;
  • Negotiations with importers and wholesalers to establish recommended prices for sugar, oil and rice;
  • Release of stock on the market to lower prices (3,560 tons of maiz in the Southern part of the country and 1,000 tons in the city of Ouaga [11] );
  • Establishment of village-level grain reserves (community grain banks) to ensure food security at the community level. [12]
  • Food  distribution;
  • Reduction of electricity cost, partial payment of utility bills for the poor; [13]
  • School and hospital feeding program;
  • Safety net – cash transfer;
  • Production support program;
  • Fertilizers and seeds program; [14]
  • Reduction/elimination of consumption taxes: grains and other staple foods; [15]
  • Banning cereal exports. [16]

Prices for agricultural products started rising in October 2007. The shortage of cereals was most severe in the South and East of the country with 30% and 25% of population respectively facing extreme food insecurity. The situation in these two regions was aggravated by a decrease in production in neighboring Ghana and Togo. Floods in Ghana in 2007 led to its domestic food shortage, which in turn impacted rural markets in the Southern part of Burkina Faso. In addition to that, there was an increase in demand for cereals in Togo; all that contributed to decreased availability and cereals price surge in the Eastern of the country. [17] Fodder price increased by 64% from December 2007 to January 2008 creating problems with cattle feeding. Hence, prices for livestock fell due to decrease in its weight and rising prices for cereals. [18]

Cape Verde

  • Administrative price control;
  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports;
  • School feeding program. [19]

Côte d’Ivoire

  • Tax relief for certain staples (rice, refined oils, fish);
  • Administrative reform to reduce administrative costs and ensure a smooth flow of domestic food supplies;
  • Food crop and livestock emergency program. [20]
  • Direct seed Distribution [21]
  • Reduction of value added tax and other taxes (March 2008)
  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports
  • Administrative price control on food and basic services [22]

Production of rice and maize in 2007-2008 seasons was average. In contrast, production of sorghum, millet, and peanuts improved; as well as that of yam and manioc. Livestock population increased but not enough to satisfy the demand. Thus the rest had to be imported from other countries to cover deficit. Local production of milk covered 10% of the needs. For some minor exceptions, prices remained stable with typical seasonal fluctuations during the entire year of 2007. First trimester of 2008 was marked by an increase in price of staples, especially rice. This led to demonstrations in March and April and made the government to take urgent actions. [23] Subsequently, the Government decided to reduce taxes, particularly the value-added tax on some major consumer items in order to mitigate the impacts of the crisis. A rice production recovery program was adopted. [24]
 

Gambia, The

  • Credit schemes to farmers for fertilizer, pesticides, groundnut, rice, seeds and other cereals;
  • Negotiated with traders a price ceiling for rice;
  • Elimination of sales tax on rice;
  • Building of village-level grain reserves to ensure food security at the community level; [25]
  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports. [26]

The agricultural production was average, especially with regard to cereals, specifically rice deficit of which led to increased imports. Prices for staples went up. Thanks to cooperation with China, rice production later reached acceptable levels. Other measures that government took included an urge to the population to return “back to the land” in order to get the Gambia back on track of food self-sufficiency. [27]
 

Ghana

  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports;
  • Production support program; [28]
  • Broad safety-net system, which included a targeted cash transfer program (LEAP – Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty) and school feeding. [29]

Guinea

  • Reduction of import taxes on rice (from 12.7% to 2.75%);
  • Productive safety net; [30]
  • Export ban (until December 2008) on export and re-export of all agricultural commodities including livestock; [31]
  • Creation of a national grain bank;
  • Strict monetary and budgetary policies to contain inflation. [32]

The situation in Guinean agriculture was characterized by a combination of socio-economic, climatic phenomena, as well as the invasion of caterpillars’. Market supply of foodstuffs remained average during the entire year of 2007. At the same time, a number of regions of the country faced high levels of food insecurity in 2008 due to decrease in agricultural production. Thus, a deficit of 308,769 tons of rice was compensated by imports. [33]

Guinea-Bissau

  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports (diesel fuel); [34]
  • Removal of taxes on imported rice. [35]

In Guinea-Bissau, Market supply was steady and price on major cereals stable up until October 2007. In January – a surge in price was seen due to the shortage of cereals, specifically rice, which had to be covered by increased imports. Inflationary pressure on price was partially due to deregulation of the mahogany market, which is the major cash crop of the country. [36] Cereals stocks significantly dropped in the East, Northeast and South of the country. Facing shortage of staples in local markets population living in the border regions supplied itself with foodstuffs from neighboring countries, most notably Diaobé region in Senegal. Own cereals production was enough just to cover 61% of consumption needs. [37]
 

Liberia

  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports;
  • General food assistance and implementation of a food-for-work program;
  • Cash transfer to the population;
  • Production support program;
  • Productive safety net. [38]


Mali

  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on food imports (April to October 2008); [39]
  • Fuel subsidies;
  • Price control over imported rice;
  • Productivity development program (2008-2009 Rice Initiative); [40]
  • Administrative measures aimed at better coordination of regional food banks;
  • Distribution of staples among those in need (155  tons in Kayes) and in schools (140.3 tons in Kayes, Diéma, Nioro du Sahel and Yélimané);
  • Export ban on cereals and fodder. [41]

Despite the imposition of an export ban on cereals and fodder, prices grew through the entire period of 2007-2008. Measures to restrict exit from the country provoked tensions in some border regions and in the areas suffering from food shortage, decreased officially reported exports and created additional problems with export data collection. [42]
 

Mauritania

  • Reduction of value added tax on food products;
  • Subsidies for wheat flour and reduction of the tax on rice; [43]
  • Release of stock at subsidized price;
  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports of foodstuffs;
  • Replenishment of strategic food reserves. [44]

Niger

  • A three-month suspension (starting March 2008) of import duties and taxes on edible oil, wheat flour, sugar, powdered milk and rice;
  • Suspension of the mandatory quota of local rice withdrawals;
  • Grant of customs credits to importers who had not disposed of their rice stocks on the market at the moment the tariff measures came into force;
  • Increased pay for civil servants;
  • Infrastructure development (pond construction, extension and management, small-scale irrigation, rehabilitating rural tracks, etc.);
  • Strengthening existing grain banks, rebuilding of reserves; [45]
  • Sale of sorghum and cereals stocks at below-market prices in vulnerable areas; [46]
  • Free targeted food distribution in vulnerable zones; [47]
  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports; [48]
  • Consumer price control and stabilization (cereals). [49]

Although the risk of the food insecurity was high, the agricultural season of 2007-2008 was characterized by a good average production of cereals with an excess of 251,881 tons. The prices went up comparing to the same period of previous year; for livestock, by 19% in the peak period. [50]
 

Nigeria

  • Fertilizer and seed (rice) input credit schemes for small-scale farmers; [51]
  • Release of stock at subsidized price;
  • Reduction of tariffs and customs fees on imports (duties on rice imports reduced from 100 to 2.7 percent);
  • Food assistance;
  • Production support program; [52]
  • Consumer price control and stabilization (cereals);
  • Reduction in producer taxes for grains. [53]
The situation in Nigeria in the period of 2007/2008 agricultural season was aggravated by an insufficient rainfall. Prices of cereals increased, community stocks were not enough to satisfy the demand in most regions in the North of the country. Thus, Federal government was forced to sell its stocks to regulate the price level. Also, a minimum purchasing price was established in order to increase agricultural production. [54]
 

Senegal

  • Price control for key staple food products (rice, wheat) through regulation; [55]
  • Released public stocks and offered targeted and untargeted subsidies for staple food;
  • Reduction of value added tax and other taxes; [56]
  • Enacted production support program (rice) aimed at development of rice production in Senegal river basin; [57]
  • Consumer price subsidy: rice, wheat;
  • Reduction of import tariff and quota on wheat flour; [58]
  • Establishing a program to reach self-sufficiency in food production (GOANA – the Grand Agricultural Offensive for Food Security);
  • Production subsidies (seeds, fertilizers); [59]
  • Food assistance to support rural communities suffering from food deficits. [60]
Situation on rural markets differed depending on a region’s agricultural production capability. Prices fell during the period from October to December 2007, followed by the surge in January 2008 after the announcement of government’s plans to increase production of peanuts. [61]

Sierra Leone

  • Reduction of tariffs on imported rice from 15 to 10 percent;
  • Assistance to farmers with tractor services and other measures aimed at improving agricultural productivity;
  • Implementation of rice seed and organic fertilizers loans;
  • Negotiation with importers to minimize the pass-through of food prices to consumers; [62]
  • Release of stock at subsidized price (6,145 tons of maize). [63]

Togo

  • Release of food stock at subsidized price;
  • Administrative price control. [64]
Heavy rains during the 2007 season were the cause for millions of hectares of agricultural land to become flooded, led to destruction of granaries, decrease in the population of livestock, degradation of physical and social infrastructure, displacement of numerous families and caused many deaths. In addition, mass “migration” for food was seen from border regions to neighboring countries (Benin, Ghana, and Nigeria). In rural markets, prices for cereals had been rising since October 2007. All these forced the government to release security food stock and create a special authority to evaluate capacity of national agricultural sector to increase agricultural production. [65]
 
 
 


[1] Rapport Général: Conférence régionale sur la situation agricole et alimentaire et les opportunités d’echanges au sahel et en Afrique de l’Ouest (CORSAO). Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel: Ouagadougou, 2008.  http://www.coton-acp.org/docs/politiques/CILSS%20rapport_CORPAO%202008.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2009. FAO: Rome, 2009. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/i0854e/i0854e.pdf.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[8] Country responses to the food security crisis: Nature and Preliminary Implications of the Policies Pursued. FAO: Rome, 2009. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ISFP/pdf_for_site_Country_Response_to_the_Food_Security.pdf

[9] The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2009.

[10] Rapport Général.

[11] Point sur la situation alimentaire au Sahel – Information sur le prix des céréales : Burkina Faso – Mali – Niger. Afrique Verte: Montreuil, 2008. http://www.afriqueverte.org/r2_public/media/fck/File/Bulletins/PSA/83PSA_03-08.pdf

[12] Gérard Viatte et al. Responding to the Food Crisis: Synthesis of Medium-Term Measures Proposed in Inter-Agency Assessments. FAO: Rome, 2009. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/011/i0769e/i0769e00.pdf

[13] Guide for Immediate Country Level Action.

[14] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[15] The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2009.

[16] “Burkina Faso: Urban Poor Most at Risk From High Food Prices”, 18 July 2008, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79330

[17] Rapport de situation mensuel: Bureau régional pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest. OCHA: Geneva, 2008. http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWFiles2008.nsf/FilesByRWDocUnidFilename/RMOI-7FEKVP-rapport_complet.pdf/$File/rapport_complet.pdf

[18] Rapport Général.

[19] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[20] Gérard Viatte et al. Responding to the Food Crisis.

[21] Guide for Immediate Country Level Action.

[22] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[23] Rapport Général.

[24] Côte d’Ivoire Global Country Strategy Note, 2009-2010. ADB: Abidjan, 2009. http://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Project-and-Operations/AR_%20Fss%20En.pdf

[25] Gérard Viatte et al. Responding to the Food Crisis.

[26] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[27] Rapport Général.

[28] Ibid.

[29] The State of Food Insecurity in the World: Economic crises – Impacts and Lessons Learned. FAO: Rome, 2009. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/i0876e/i0876e.pdf

[30] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[31] The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2009.

[32] Rapport Général.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[35] “Guinea-Bissau: Soaring Prices Could Trigger Social Conflict”, 7 August 2008, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79696

[36] Rapport Général.

[37] Rapport de situation mensuel

[38] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[39] Ibid.

[40] “Mali: Food Situation Looks Positive Despite Insecurity”, 11 July 2008, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79197

[41] Point sur la situation alimentaire au Sahel – Information sur le prix des céréales

[42] Rapport Général.

[43] Gérard Viatte et al. Responding to the Food Crisis.

[44] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[45] Guide for Immediate Country Level Action.

[46] “Niger-Nigeria: Low Rains, High Risks”, 22 October 2009, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=86689

[47] Gérard Viatte et al. Responding to the Food Crisis.

[48] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[49] The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2009.

[50] Rapport Général.

[51] Guide for Immediate Country Level Action.

[52] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[53] The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2009.

[54] Rapport Général.

[55] Guide for Immediate Country Level Action.

[56] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[57] Summary of the FSN Forum Discussion: Food Price Rise as a Motive for Action against Hunger and Malnutrition. FAO. http://km.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/fsn/docs/DISCUSSION_SUMMARY_FoodPriceRise.doc

[58] The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2009.

[59] “Senegal: Government celebration of farming initiative “premature”, 31 October 2008, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=81241

[60] “Senegal: Food insecurity threatens 2.1 million”, 8 August 2008, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79728

[61] Rapport Général.

[62] Gérard Viatte et al. Responding to the Food Crisis.

[63] Country responses to the food security crisis.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Rapport Général.