Dr Paco SEREME, Executive Director of CORAF/WECARD

CORAF 16 February 2016 /

In 2015, it was celebrated the 10 years of the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy. As the technical arm of ECOWAS, CORAF/WECARD is coordinating the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) which aims to generate and accelerate the adoption of improved technologies in key priority areas of agricultural sectors. In this interview, Dr Paco SEREME, Executive Director of CORAF / WECARD highlights the contribution of the institution to the ECOWAP for the transformation of agriculture in West Africa.

What are the major achievements of the 10 years of implementation of the ECOWAS Common Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP)?

The greatest achievement of this policy was the creation of enabling conditions for the promotion of agriculture through the adoption and especially the harmonization of key regulations, such as the seeds regulations adopted for the entire sub-region.This is particularly reflected in one of the major component of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme steered by CORAF/WECARD: creating favourable conditions for regional cooperation between stakeholders in agriculture.

In the light of the evaluation of the 10 years of ECOWAP, what are the prospects for 2025? 

The evaluation of the first decade of the ECOWAS Common Agricultural Policy as presented at the conference revealed down-beat assessments with respect to policymakers’ commitment to budget allocation for the sector of agriculture. At national level, the Member States have made significant efforts but at the regional level, the programme has not benefitted from sufficient resources to meet the targeted goals. This portends huge challenges for the next 10 years. Thus, we strived to promote success stories of endogenous resource mobilization models at country levelNew challenges that can considered as global priorities such as nutrition, climate-smart agriculture, the management of natural resources, and youth employment; and national and regional policies will duly reflect the new 2025 agenda.

What are the challenges facing West Africa in terms of agricultural research and human capital needed for an agriculural transformation? 

Research is the “sickly child” of the sector of agriculture. The Maputo Agreement ratified by the countries and which stipulates that countries allocate at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture is not respected in most countries. The human capital of the agricultural research sector is ageing. The average age of researchers is 55 years which raises the thorny issue of the paucity of succession plans. The other challenge is that research sector is dependent on development aid provided by Technical and Financial Partners. Consequently, this has led CORAF/WECARD to look into a sustainable funding model for research in West and Central Africa. These challenges were submitted to policymakers by way of recommendations to mainstream them into the regional agricultural policy.

By contributing to ECOWAP, the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) developed by CORAF/WECARD appears as in innovative financing model. What are the main results achieved by this programme and what are the key success factors?

The initial objective of WAAPP is to create favourable conditions for the promotion of regional cooperation in the field of agricultural research, to create and disseminate demand-driven technologies and to build the capacities of research institutions on priority sectors of the subregion. And rightly so, the issue of sustainable funding for research is at the heart of WAAPP activities wherein we have been striving to promote success stories of endogenous resource mobilization models at country level. In terms of improved seeds and equipment, WAAPP has supported the implementation of regional seed regulations based on strengthening national seed regulations to facilitate producers access to seeds in the sub-region. Technology development and transfer within the sub-region is one of the key successes of WAAPP insofar as they have been adopted by farmers and other beneficiaries through the innovation platforms. WAAPP had the merit of initiating efforts to take over research through the development of the capacities of research staff. Nearly a thousand young researchers have been trained to date. From a socio-economic perspective at the regional level, WAAPP has yielded a 34 % increase in the incomes of direct beneficiaries of the project, thereby reducing the lean periods and improving the quality of nutrition with an increase in calorie intake from 2777 kcal to 2964 kcal.

Platforms of innovation were also celebrated at the International Conference on Agriculture. Why such a concept?

CORAF/WECARD adopted the concept of Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) which builds on Innovation Platforms (IP) in agricultural value chains. This concept has the merit of promoting collaboration between researchers, extension agents and the producer and all other stakeholders such as processors and traders involved throughout the agricultural value chain. The existence of these platforms of innovation enables to diagnose problems, explore opportunities and to seek solutions. These different social and economic actors of the platforms of innovation are encouraged to carry out necessary changes by honing their skills and competences.

What is CORAF/WECARD’s strategy to facilitate access to all the technologies and agricultural innovations for vulnerable groups such as women and youth?

The mission of the innovation platforms include the promotion of gender-sensitivity. This enables greater participation of women and youth for a better consideration of their needs in order to make the agricultural sector more attractive to young people, CORAF/WECARD has initiated a socio-economic assessment of agricultural technologies and innovations generated in a bid to keep young people apprised of economic opportunities associated with available technologies. CORAF/WECARD also facilitates the development of agribusiness incubators for youth in the sub-region. Similarly, our national centres of specialization are expected to develop into regional centres of excellence within the framework of the WAAPP, which will also provide a framework for start-up business incubation to facilitate the uptake of technologies generated.

What are CORAF/WECARD’s priority areas for the next five years?

CORAF/WECARD in the process of implementing its Second Operational Plan (OP 2) for the period 2014-2018. The OP2 takes into account new emerging issues such as nutrition and climate-smart agriculture. But the overarching goal of CORAF/WECARD is to establish a sustainable funding framework for agricultural research tapping into home-grown resources. Over the next five years, priority will be given to Central Africa in order to strengthen cooperation with the Economic Community of Central African States. This will enable both regions to pool their efforts.