The escalation of agricultural production and subsequent economic growth in West Africa depended on many factors in the early 2000s – most notably the existence of supply systems that ensured smallholder farmers fair and full access to quality agro-inputs at affordable prices. This was the fundamental premise of the MIR project. MIR was a joint effort of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a coalition of 15 countries, and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) – also known as regional economic communities (RECs). The project was funded by the Netherlands’ Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS), and was implemented by IFDC.
Both RECs shared the will to implement change, yet lacked the expertise to create a common market based on the free movement of persons, goods and services and the establishment of common tariffs and trade policies. It was apparent in their existing agricultural policies that ECOWAS and UEMOA recognized that national input markets working alone in West Africa were too small to foster a dynamic or competitive environment. The organizations also recognized the promotion of a broader common regional market that permitted free movement of agro-inputs within the region, without endangering public health or the environment, was likely to increase farmers’ access to quality inputs and create greater economic opportunities for participants in the region’s agricultural value chain.
Over a six-year period (2003-2008), MIR supported UEMOA and ECOWAS and several of their member states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Togo), as well as private trade and producer organizations, in the development of a common regional market. Throughout the project, MIR utilized strategic partnerships that made it possible to leverage technical expertise and financial resources. The project ensured that its activities were fully supported by the regional farmers’ organization ROPPA, member states’ ministries of agricultural development and other partners with interests in input procurement and distribution.
Creation of a Favorable Agro-Economic Environment
To facilitate the creation of a favorable policy and regulatory environment for the development of a West African agro-input market, MIR worked closely with ECOWAS, UEMOA and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS). These organizations were created by different treaties, and were therefore required to develop policies and regulations following their own rules and procedures. Each also had its own annual work plan, making integration of policy potentially difficult. It was apparent that each of these organizations desired to lead policy and regulation development in the region, so the challenge was to successfully bring the three organizations together with a common agenda. Among IFDC’s accomplishments in this area:
- IFDC facilitated the development and adoption of a national fertilizer policy and a national fertilizer strategy for Nigeria.
- IFDC significantly contributed to the development and adoption of the Economic Community of West African States Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP). In recognition of MIR contributions and capabilities, ECOWAS subsequently selected IFDC as its lead technical partner for all agro-input matters.
- IFDC supported the organization of the Africa Fertilizer Summit, held in Abuja, Nigeria (June 12-13, 2006) by providing technical assistance to ECOWAS, UEMOA and Nigeria.
- IFDC led the development and validation of the regional fertilizer strategy for ECOWAS, which was subsequently adopted by ECOWAS Member States at the 2006 Africa Fertilizer Summit.
- Through advocacy efforts and information provided to the UEMOA president and commissioners, IFDC helped generate the exemption of raw fertilizer from the five percent import duty prescribed in the common external tariff policy.
Building the Capacity of the Private Sector
MIR focused on professionalizing the private sector involved in agro-input production and distribution. Various activities were facilitated to strengthen individual entrepreneur professionalism and the organizational level of their associations. For example, in 2007, of the 32 known agro-dealer associations in West Africa, 27 received MIR support in various forms. Activities raised stakeholder awareness, stimulated association creation and reinforced the capacities of existing organizations.
MIR facilitated the establishment or further development of agro-dealer associations in Benin (ANASEB) and Burkina Faso (AGRODIA, COCIMA), and supported institutional capacity building of existing associations in Ghana (GAIDA) and Nigeria (FEPSAN, SEEDAN, CropLife Nigeria and five state associations). MIR also developed the first directory of agro-dealers in West Africa.
MIR implemented 49 training sessions with a total of 1,180 participants from the private sector. These sessions included technical training (product knowledge, handling, storage, etc.), business training (basic bookkeeping, stock management, business plan, regulations, etc.) and training in association building (procedures, internal democracy, record keeping, lobbying, etc.).
The project developed tested training strategies and developed four tools for agro-dealer training: 1) a “training-of-trainers” manual for facilitators; 2) a “training-of-trainers follow-up” manual for facilitators; 3) a “starter kit” for agribusiness associations; and 4) an “association-building” manual for facilitators. These training manuals will be available for future programs that seek to professionalize private agribusiness enterprises and their associations. MIR also contributed to the development of business relations among agro-dealers, most notably through workshops and study tours.
Platforms for Awareness Creation and Dialogue
MIR facilitated the establishment of a number of platforms for the exchange of experiences and dialogue on matters concerning agro-input procurement and distribution. These platforms were essential tools in the implementation of the project’s primary areas of intervention. These forums contributed to the improvement of stakeholders’ understanding of others' challenges and facilitated business relations and the flow of information along the inputs supply chain. Some of the most important platforms included the following:
- Workshops on the harmonization of national seed and pesticide regulatory frameworks.
- A workshop on agro-input procurement in Mali.
- The Africa Fertilizer Summit (from which came the Abuja Declaration).
- Public debates on agro-input procurement in Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo using a 30-minute MIR-produced documentary “Hope for West Africa – Agro-Inputs Markets.” The debate in Togo provided the opportunity for the public and private sectors to openly discuss the issue for the first time.
In addition, MIR produced and disseminated numerous publications to create awareness and provide information on critical agricultural and agribusiness issues. This information was published in quarterly newsletters, technical reports, information notes and press releases. As a result of these platforms, publications and other communications efforts, the project made an important contribution to raising and sustaining stakeholders’ interest in the development of the regional agro-input market.
Emergency Plan for the Cotton Input Market
This component of MIR supported stakeholders of the cotton and non-cotton agro-input sector. Training workshops were held and information was produced and disseminated to discuss participants' strengths and weaknesses in agro-input procurement. The most successful of these efforts was the support provided to GSCVM, a farmers’ association in Mali, and the national cotton-producing company CMDT. These organizations were taught proactive procurement procedures that take into account the fertilizer price trend cycle at the international market level. This approach enabled these organizations to save significant sums of money in their purchases.
MIR also carried out a catalytic agronomic research effort for the development of the newest and most appropriate fertilizer formulae suited to the plant and soil requirements of various areas in the region. The work was executed in partnership with producers, fertilizer suppliers and researchers. This effort facilitated a better understanding of new farming practices for cotton crop protection (e.g., integrated pest management and biological pest control using trap plants). In addition, this research enabled a better understanding of factors causing the decline in cotton yields in West Africa.
In the 1990s, the cotton network of CORAF organized periodic workshops with cotton researchers and other stakeholders. For various reasons, these workshops were no longer held when MIR was launched. MIR initiated a platform that made it possible for CORAF to revive these events, beginning by organizing a conference of West and Central African Cotton producers in May 2005 in Cotonou, Benin. This meeting, which welcomed over 180 participants from 17 countries, provided a platform for informational exchange among stakeholders. The conference itself, along with subsequent MIR efforts, contributed to the creation of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded West Africa Cotton Improvement Project (WACIP) in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali.
The project was widely praised by DGIS, ECOWAS and UEMOA for its successful agricultural intensification and common market development – so much so, in fact, that a five-year project extension was planned and initiated in 2009 under the name MIR Plus. DGIS continues to be a primary donor, but is now joined in the funding by ECOWAS and UEMOA to ensure that the project receives all of the support necessary to build and sustain new agro-economic and common market progress.
Towards a West African Agriculture Inputs Market (MIR-produced documentary)