Some women farmers within the ECOWAS sub region have decried the non-prioritization and low investments in the agriculture sector despite its potential to end poverty and malnutrition.
Although the 2014 Malabo Declaration calls for at least 10 per cent of national budget allocation to the agriculture sector, not many ECOWAS countries have adhere to this commitment.
Countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal have been singled out to have made significant strides in complying with the commitment. The five countries have exceeded the minimum 10 per cent target.
Others like Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone are way below target. None of these countries has even attained a 4 per cent target.
However, Ghana, Gambia, and Cape Verde are making efforts towards nearing the target.
In June 2014, the Heads of State and Governments of the African Union came together in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, and declared Accelerated African Agricultural Growth and Transformation (3AGT) for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods.
As part of the commitments, all member states are expected to allocate at least 10% of public expenditure to the agriculture sector annually to drive at least a 6% GDP growth.
Also, ECOWAS member countries are to support and facilitate preferential entry and participation for women and youth in gainful and attractive agri-business opportunities.
These among others are expected to help End Hunger in Africa under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Framework, halve the current levels of post-harvest losses and halve poverty by 2025.
However, majority of the ECOWAS member states have not complied with this commitment.
At the 2nd ECOWAS People’s Agriculture Budget Summit pre-summit consultative meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria, the women farmers from various ECOWAS countries raised concerns over governments’ low commitment in the growth of agriculture sector.
They also hinted of neglect on the part of government to support women and the youth in the agriculture business.
“If the Africa sub-region really needs to move out of poverty, they need to look at agriculture as their major because that is the only thing that can sustain us. Women and the youth form the majority on the labour front on farming activities from production, processing, and marketing but unfortunately, governments in Africa don’t recognise the effort of these two groups.
We need to target these groups to grow the agriculture sector through achieving food security and generating more income in the country by way of export”, Mary Afan, a Nigerian farmer said.
A farmer from Gambia, Zainab Issah stated that “being a smallholder farmer in the sub-region is not an easy task, especially as a female. Access to credit facility, land, and market remains a challenge for most of us. Sometimes we manage to get the capital to farm and improve on production but getting access to ready market for the produce becomes a nightmare.
According to her, “We end up selling it below price or risk losing everything to post-harvest losses. We need the attention of the government to really invest on women farmers to strengthen our economy”.
The women farmers complained about the low level of political will to invest massively in the agriculture sector with priority given to women and the youth who hold over 70% of the workforce in the sector.
Civil Society Organisations such as ActionAid, Oxfam, Trust Africa, One Campaign and Non state actors on CAADP have wondered why agriculture holds so much promise for the development and sustainability of ECOWAS but member states are not committed to the Malabo Declaration.
On the back of that, ECOWAS countries have been urged to give attention to agriculture modernisation to achieve food security, job creation, and poverty eradication.
For the farmers, what is needed is the political will and legislative oversight that would ensure that the ECOWAS member states do not deviate from their commitment on allocation of minimum 10% of government expenditure to agriculture.
Also, with the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) by ECOWAS Countries, there is an urgent need for massive and unprecedented investment in the agriculture sector for domestic consumption, rural infrastructural development and export promotion for West Africa to take advantage of the opportunities the Agreement offers.
By Ibrahim Abubakar, 3news.com|Nigeria