West Africa already grows much of the food needed to make it self-sustaining. But barriers to regional agricultural trade – such as bribes and delays at border checkpoints – add to the cost of food, preventing it from getting to markets at affordable prices, or at all.
“We know the food is there,” said Dr. Candace Buzzard, USAID Regional Agriculture Director. “It needs to move.”
Dr. Marjatta Eilittä, Director of the Abt Associates-led, USAID-funded Agribusiness and Trade Promotion (ATP) project, recently moderated a discussion in which Dr. Buzzard answered questions about trade obstacles and food security with Dr. Marc Atouga, Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment, and Water Resources for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS represents 15 West African nations.
ATP, which is working to remove unnecessary barriers to regional trade, organized the joint USAID-ECOWAS Food Across Borders Conference in Accra, Ghana, Jan. 29-31. The conference brought together the public sector, private businesses and advocacy organizations to develop an agenda for improving West Africa’s food security through regional trade.
Truck drivers, among others, are often asked to pay multiple times to cross a single border— exponentially increasing their costs, which are then passed on to customers. Dr. Atouga said people with vested interests in maintaining this “road harassment” say these checkpoints are there to stop the flow of drugs and bandits between countries. But they also depress legitimate regional trade.
“There are regional policies which prohibit those barriers and those tariffs,” Dr. Buzzard said. “It’s a matter of getting together and implementing those policies.”
The situation can improve as the private sector, public sector, and civil society work together to raise awareness about what is legal and what is required to cross borders, Dr. Buzzard said.
The ATP project is part of this movement. Over the last four years, the project held educational road shows at markets in major West African markets and at rest stops. Staff and designated trainees coached truckers and traders on the required documents for transporting goods across borders and on professional conduct. Coaches also traveled with drivers along their routes, observing real-life conditions.
Monitoring reports show the strategies are effective. Truckers along all livestock trade corridors saved about a quarter million USD between January and March 2011. This means the drivers paid 25% less in bribes than expected, based on project estimates of the numbers of trucks transporting commodities.
“People should stop paying at the border. If those barriers are there and they’re not making money out of it, I’m sure they would be discouraged and would take them out,” Dr. Atouga said.