West African Futures


"Settlement, market and food security" 

This is the focus of a two-year programme on "West African Futures". Based on an analysis of links between settlement trends, markets and food security, it will provide policymakers and key stakeholders with a description of food security challenges that will need to be addressed in future policy and strategy design. Analytical tools that help define appropriate response policies and strategies will also be proposed.

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Presentation of the Programme

Expected Results



West African agricultural and food security policies stress the importance of demographic challenges, including correlated urbanisation and settlement re-composition processes. These processes are an integral part of development and will lead to increasing economic concentration. This concentration will impact on the West African agricultural geography, market dynamics, income distribution, social and nutritional habits as well as other food security aspects. Although these processes have been well documented in the past (see reference documents), their impacts on food security are not sufficiently integrated in policy and strategy formulation.

The analyses are focusing on the spatial, economic and social consequences of settlement and market dynamics and its impact on food security. Based on quantitative and qualitative analyses the Club’s “West African Futures” programme will provide information to support the design and implementation of food security policies at the national and regional level.


Working method

Club members participate in this collective reflection and analyses. They share experience and expertise by participating in the working group and experts meetings. The working method is centred on a progressive construction of a common vision, aiming at identifying policy options on the basis of assessments and projections. The process will be supported through thematic syntheses, technical workshops and external expertise. The Club will work in close collaboration with specialised partner organisations such as the FAO, FEWSNET, IFPRI, UNECA, the University of Ouagadougou, the WFP and others.


Thematic analyses

Food security - a historical review


A comparative analysis of the evolution of food insecurity in the world and in West Africa in particular, provides a first insight into which factors have contributed to an improvement in food security:

  • At what stage of development have other regions seen their food security situation improve?
  • What are the drivers of this improvement?
  • How did food security evolve in West Africa?

The answers to these questions will contribute to identify possible correlations between food security and economic growth, rapid urbanisation, evolution in the ratio of consumers to agricultural producers, etc.




According to UN data, West Africa’s population increased from 70 to 318 million between 1950 and 2010 and is projected to further double between 2011 and 2050 to reach 650 million. Urban population increased even more spectacularly from only 7 million in 1950 to 140 million in 2010. These powerful settlement dynamics, defined as the growth and redistribution of population within each country and across the region, are an important element in understanding the region’s food security characteristics.

  • What are the consequences of a growing urban population?
  • How is the evolution of the ratio between primary population and non-primary population changing agricultural production?
  • How will the spatial characteristics of settlement processes influence food security?

The analyses on settlement dynamics will describe main trends and its drivers, integrate new data in mapping West African settlements (“Africapolis: Urbanisation dynamics 1950-2020: a geo-statistical approach”, 2009) and provide medium- and long-term projections.


Regional market


Regional trade flows of agricultural products are increasingly important in food security in West Africa. Although the share of regional trade is estimated at around 15% only, the real figure is likely to be significantly higher given that a large share of regional flows are not recorded in official statistics. In West Africa with its large variability and substantial complementarities in production, the regional market is a key parameter in evaluating food security and designing and implementing policies and strategies. However, the absence of timely and reliable data limits the scope and leverage for policy formulation.


The work aims to highlight the benefits in terms of food security of regional trade in agricultural products and its medium-term potential. The analyses will be based on estimations of actual flows in main staple crops, the degree of market integration and main obstacles to integration. 



  • 3rd Working Group Meeting, April 2012
  • SWAC Strategy and Policy Group Meeting, June 2012
  • SWAC Forum, December 2012, presentation of key findings and policy options.

Past Events



Global food security trends

Estimated food security conditions in West Africa

FEWS NET, September 2011

> FEWS NET Region Centre West Africa



Settlement and agro-climatic conditions


Agglomerations with more than 10 000 inhabitants in 2010 and average annual growth rate (2010-2020)





Rank-size distribution of urban agglomer

This figure presents a ranking (in decreasing order of size) of all agglomerations identified by Africapolis on a logarithmic scale. Each centre is identified by its place in the ranking order (horizontal axis) and its population Pn (vertical axis). From the graph obtained, we can assess the extent to which the distribution deviates from Zipf’s law, which links a centre’s population to its rank by the relationship Pn = A/n, represented by the black dotted line. It shows the trend of this distribution from 1950 to 2000.

Population and settlement evolution in West Africa

This figure shows the trends in West African population and settlement patterns between 1950 and 2020. It indicates official estimates and growth projections of the region’s total population (dotted black line). The total population has been estimated at 237.8 million people in 2000.

  GDP growth and pace of urbanisation

This figure plots growth in GDP against the pace of urbanisation measured by the variation in the U/R ratio for the 17 West African countries. With the exception of two groups of countries, the rates of urbanisation growth and GDP in the region between 1970 and 2000 seem related; countries with the highest economic growth rates were also experiencing the fastest pace of urbanisation.