Overall, markets now provide at least two-thirds of household food supply as West Africans become buyers – rather than producers – of food and spend a larger share of their food budget at markets.
Photo: FAO/Carl de Souza


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Food prices in West African countries are significantly higher than in other areas of the world with comparable levels of development. This situation is having serious effects on the welfare of households and on food security. One more reason to unlock the trade potential of the region.

The 2007-08 world food price crisis caused political turmoil and social unrest in many West African countries. Poor urban households, in particular, were unable to afford food and demonstrated vocally in cities such as Dakar and Abidjan. Price is a key determinant of a household’s access to food. As the region urbanises rapidly, more and more consumers are becoming dependent on markets for food. Yet structural changes in demand are driving food prices upward, independent of the global context. Food demand has increased fivefold over the past 60 years and dietary patterns have also transformed considerably. Consumers are increasingly looking for foods that are convenient to buy, prepare and consume; 39 per cent of all food consumed in West Africa today is processed. West African supply is adjusting to these growing and diversifying consumption patterns, but at a slower rate than demand. This is affecting market conditions and resulting in higher prices.

Getting prices right

Prices have mixed effects on the welfare of households.

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