Strategic areas of ECOWAP

Overview of ECOWAS

Founded by treaty on 28 May 1975, ECOWAS is now composed of fifteen (15) Member States (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo) with a total surface area of 5,112,903 km2.

The region's population is estimated at 401.9 million in 2020, with a high proportion of young people (over 60%). This makes West Africa one of the youngest regions in the world, with strong urban growth.

The region offers significant potential in terms of mineral resources and vast arable and pastoral lands, as well as various river basins with enormous irrigation potential. From an economic point of view, commodities remain the pillars of production in the Region, notably extractive resources (oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, phosphate, manganese, among others) as well as agricultural raw materials (basic foodstuffs including fruit and vegetables and cash crops such as cocoa, peanuts, cashew nuts, coffee, cotton, gum, and wood).

ECOWAS mission

ECOWAS' mission is "to promote cooperation and integration within the framework of a West African Economic Union in order to raise the standard of living of its people, maintain and increase economic stability, strengthen relations between Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent".

In order to fulfil its mission, ECOWAS has set up governance bodies and institutional structures (

The Department of Economic Affairs and Agriculture within the ECOWAS Commission is responsible for implementing the regional agricultural policy (ECOWAP).

Regional Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP)

Aware of the importance of the agricultural sector in the West African economy and considering the structure of the sector and the diversity of farming and production systems, the Heads of State and Government adopted the ECOWAS Regional Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) in January 2005 in Accra (Ghana) as part of the continental dynamic of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

As the result of an inclusive consultation process initiated in 2003, ECOWAP is the policy framework for guiding and supporting the desired transformations in the agro-sylvo-pastoral and fisheries sector of the fifteen (15) Member States. Therefore, the general objective of ECOWAP is to "contribute in a sustainable manner to meeting the food needs of the population, to economic and social development and to reducing poverty in the Member States, as well as inequalities between territories, zones and countries".

Reviewed in 2015, through the Strategic Orientation Framework (SOF) which sets out the orientations for the period 2016-2025 and integrates the evolution of the continental framework through the new Malabo Declaration, ECOWAP 2025 has been able to evolve its strategic framework by integrating cross-cutting issues related to climate change and gender.

The implementation of "ECOWAP 25" is based on four (04) strategic axes :

  • Strategic axis 1: contribute to increasing productivity and agro-sylvo-pastoral and fisheries production through diversified and sustainable production systems, and to reducing post-production losses


    This strategic area concentrates on production, i.e. agro-sylvo-pastoral and fishing farms, land issues and natural resource management (soil, water, forests and biodiversity, marine and river areas, etc.), their production systems, the upstream sector (supply of seeds, inputs and equipment), farm financing and management of climatic and market risks, agricultural research and advisory support, knowledge management, adaptation to climate change and resilience, reducing post-harvest losses (an aspect that also concerns priority 2), protecting farmers' incomes and guaranteeing decent jobs, etc.

    Priority products are those that are considered to be strategic at regional level, due to: (i) their importance in diets, and consequently in achieving the objective of food sovereignty in the region; (ii) sub-regional market connections and the importance of foreign trade policy; (iii) the impact of national incentive policies (targeted input subsidies, for example) on production costs and competitiveness at national level and in neighbouring countries; (iv) the expected gains from pooling national efforts, particularly in the areas of research, leveraging and sharing best practices; etc. 

    Strategic area 1 is at the heart of agricultural policy, especially at national level (subsidiarity principle) for crop production. However, there are a number of areas where action is required at regional level, particularly in the regulatory field. But there are two sub-sectors for which the regional level is absolutely essential, if not decisive: the ruminant livestock sub-sector and the fisheries sub-sector, for which efforts have been very inadequate in the first decade of ECOWAP. In the case of livestock farming, the region has a truly integrated production and marketing system on a West African scale, with numerous interrelations both in terms of natural resources and markets. In the case of sea and river fishing, the shared (and threatened) nature of the resource means that national approaches need to be coordinated and harmonised. The region must also work to establish a framework for professionalising agriculture.

  • Strategic area 2: Promoting contractual, inclusive and competitive agricultural and agri-food value chains, geared towards regional and international demand, with a view to integrating the regional market


    This area focuses on the organisation and structuring of regional value chains for strategic agricultural and food products, from the collection and marketing of products by farmers' organisations through to distribution. In particular, it includes institutional issues, technological questions, quality, standards and traceability, promotion of the image of regional products, financing of economic agents, the operation of regional markets and management of the interface between the regional market and international markets, both for exports and imports (see below on cross-sectorial dimensions). Unlike the 1st generation PRIA, the 2025 Strategic Orientation Framework includes export sectors around which several countries choose to cooperate, both at the technical level (research, compliance with standards, etc.) and in terms of joint investment in processing and adding value to products, and finally at the level of specific international negotiations (the case of cotton at the WTO).

    This strategic area is fundamental insofar as it should help to speed up the adaptation of agricultural and food supply to a demand that is changing rapidly as a result of demographic growth, urbanisation, income differentiation and the changes in eating habits brought about by these last two factors. Area 1, which deals with production, is complemented by Area 2, which focuses on product processing, storage, preservation, packaging and distribution. It is in this area that ECOWAS believes private sector investment should be concentrated. It is also an area that requires appropriate instruments for financing investment and ongoing activity, as well as a regulatory, legal and institutional framework conducive for long-term investment.

    There are many different approaches to organising and structuring value chains, based on different models. ECOWAS is promoting approaches based on a number of principles :

    • Building the capacity of the various categories of stakeholders to negotiate with other economic actors in the value chain.
    • Contractualization of relations between farmers, their economic organisations, and other actors upstream and downstream of production, within the framework of clear, inclusive and effective institutional arrangements.
    • Fairness and predictability of contracts within the value chain.
    • Encouraging the creation and modernisation of craft businesses, SMEs and SMIs that combine a high employment content with appropriate technologies.

    As part of the PRIASAN programme, agri-food sectors that are particularly strategic for women and their economic status will be identified and given specific support.

  • Strategic area 3: Improving access to food, nutrition and the resilience of vulnerable populations


    Increasing production and improving the functioning of markets are two fundamental aspects of food security and sovereignty. But chronic food insecurity in West Africa is primarily due to difficulties in accessing food and a combination of factors that affect the nutritional status of children, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and the elderly. These difficulties are due to (i) low incomes (in rural and urban areas); (ii) insufficient capital endowment (mainly land and livestock) to generate enough produce for self-consumption by the household or for sale on the market; (iii) disparities in access to basic social services (health, education, access to drinking water and sanitation) in rural areas, which have a major impact on malnutrition, despite the significant progress made over the past 15 years. Finally, the successive shocks to which a large proportion of rural populations in Sahelian and Sudano-Sahelian zones are subjected are causing major cyclical crises that are affecting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable households and gradually reducing their ability to cope with subsequent shocks.

    Area 3 therefore deals with these aspects of food and nutrition insecurity, both in their structural or chronic and cyclical forms.

    These issues have come to the fore since the 2008 food crisis, particularly in Sahelian countries. However, there are still major disparities between countries in terms of their capacity to warn of and respond to crises. International humanitarian and development agencies are heavily involved in these issues and in the innovations introduced in crisis management, but there are major problems in coordinating interventions and ensuring the sustainability of the innovations tested (particularly cash transfers). There is therefore a major need for member states to take ownership of these issues and build West Africa's collective capacity to tackle them.

    This area includes support for the promotion of social safety nets geared towards food security and nutrition, capacity-building for governments and national stakeholders and the sharing of knowledge and best practice in these areas, the promotion of nutrition-sensitive agricultural programmes, programmes to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable households, the development of information and early warning systems, the promotion of crisis response capacities, and in particular the implementation of the regional security storage strategy, including the Regional Reserve, national stocks and local stocks.

  • Strategic area 4: Improving the business environment, governance and financing mechanisms for the agricultural and agri-food sector


    This strategic area covers the cross-cutting dimensions of PRIASAN that cut across several of the first three strategic areas. These include, in particular, issues relating to the financing of agriculture, dealt with holistically in this strategic area, the creation of a regulatory environment and, more broadly, a business climate conducive to private sector investment, the upgrading of information systems, the development of the capacities of public institutions and professional organisations, and of civil society, the impetus and support for new initiatives responding to the priorities set by the Ministers for Agriculture in November 2015 (setting up of young people, promotion of the local milk and offensive rice sectors, and promotion of employment).

    As part of the implementation of CAADP, the issue of financing has focused on increasing the budgetary resources devoted by the States to the agricultural sector, with the objective of 10% of public expenditure allocated to agriculture (Maputo Commitment). These national resources were to be supplemented by contributions from donors and the private sector. The main aim was to finance the cost of investments and the various programmes of PNIA and PRIA.

    This approach took little account of the issue of financial services to meet the structural financing needs of the sector's economic actors, i.e. farmers, processors, storage operators, etc. In West Africa, as elsewhere in the world, every agricultural producer and every economic agent in the value chains, every supplier of inputs or equipment, needs to have access to adequate and competitive banking and financial services, provided by institutions whose business it is to enable them to conduct their business under normal conditions and to invest: broadly speaking, they need capital (which can be amortised over several seasons) and cash flow to finance the production cycle.

    The massive transformation of the agro-sylvo-pastoral and fisheries sector requires modernisation and investment to increase the productivity of the vast majority of family farms. Similarly, the development of value chains enabling food products to be placed on the market that meet consumer expectations requires modernisation of the links downstream from production: modernisation of individual businesses, SMEs and SMIs, and even the development of agro-industries. In all these instances, the question of financial services and risk management is at the heart of this transformation strategy. The latter requires a high degree of consistency between the financing of public services and the strategies adopted by the State and stakeholders, and the financing of the economic activity of agents in the sector.

    This strategic area also includes the ECOWAP/CAADP and PRIASAN steering mechanism, the implementation mechanism, the monitoring-evaluation mechanism and mutual accountability, the PRIASAN funding mechanism, institutional capacity building and human resources training for the various stakeholders involved in implementing ECOWAP, as well as the development of information and decision-making support systems. Coordination issues are one of the main keys and involve many aspects: (i) coordination between Member States on the coherence and complementarity of their approaches and priorities; (ii) inter-institutional coordination (between ECOWAS, WAEMU, CILSS, CORAF, etc.); (iii) inter-Departmental coordination within the ECOWAS Commission to investigate and arbitrate on cross-sectorial issues; (iv) coordination of external support with the ECOWAP Donor's Group, etc.

ECOWAP implementation

To implement these strategic axes, the RAAF works through strategic plans. The current one is a five-year operational strategic plan (2021-2025) built around four (04) areas of intervention : 

  • Intervention axis 1: strengthening the RAAF's institutional and operational capacities.
  • Intervention axis 2: strengthening the steering, governance and coordination of projects and programmes.
  • Intervention axis 3: strengthening monitoring-evaluation/communication-visibility and knowledge production.
  • Intervention axis 4: promoting innovative approaches to contribute to a sustainable agriculture and food system.