Innovative approaches and instruments for food and nutrition security


‌Our work focuses on emerging issues and structural transformations that impact on the scope and effectiveness of food and nutrition security policies and early warning mechanisms. During the current work programme we are looking at the impact of rapid urbanisation, population growth and transformations in food demand on the size and structure of the West African food economy. Our analyses will describe and provide evidence on ongoing transformations and identify policy implications and opportunities for improving policy design and instruments. The findings of this collaborative activity will feed into debates within the context of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) and the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) to ensure operational policy relevance.

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West Africa’s food economy is witnessing major transfromations that create new opportunities and pose new challenges for food and nutrition security. Population dynamics and in particular urbanisation have a been a major driver of these transformations. Between 1950 and 2010 the region’s population has grown from 73 million to 317. There are now 133 million people living in West Africa’s cities, 22 times more than in 1950. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, the urban population grew by over 40 million people. As a result, the size of the food economy grew spectacularly, accounting for USD 178 billion in 2010, or 36% of regional GDP.

A growing number of households are turning to markets for their food supply. In urban areas, almost all food is bought on the market. At the same time, increasingly diversified rural economies and the spread of urban products and lifestyles mean that the share of rural food supply from markets is also growing. Overall, markets provide at least two-thirds of household food consumption at the regional level (OECD, 2013).

Urbanisation and urban lifestyles are also accompanied by shifts in dietary patterns, which are spreading beyond the frontiers of towns and cities. More fruits and vegetables and more processed foods are being consumed, while consumption of cereals and pulses is declining. Demand for convenience is another overarching trend across income groups and area reflected in the strong demand for processed and prepared foods and in the expansion of street food. Processed foods represent 41% of food budgets in urban areas and 36% in rural areas.

The combined effects of rapid urbanisation, population growth and resulting transformations in the food demand have had major impacts on the size of the West African food economy and its structure. The size of the West African food economy is estimated at USD 178 billion in 2010. In many countries, the domestic food market is becoming more attractive for farmers than traditional export cash crops. A major evolution of the food economy is the rapid development of non-agricultural postharvest activities, such as processing, packaging, distribution and retail. Already today, these account for 40% of the sector's value added and will continue to expand quickly.

These ongoing transformations of the food economy have important impacts on the scope and effectiveness of food and nutritional security policies and early warning mechanisms, and food policy more broadly. Policies need to adjust to theses changes fully leverage the new opportunities in terms of value generation, employment and economic diversification improved affordability and stability of food supply, and nutritional outcomes.



  • Describe and quantify the transformations of West African food economy and agro-food value chains
  • Analyse the impacts of these changes on food and nutrition security and their contribution to the resilience of food systems
  • Identify policy implications and highlight policy solutions



> Map extracted from the study: West African Futures: Settlement, Market & Food Security, SWAC/OECD 2012.

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