Regional, rural and urban development

Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa


The Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa is an ECOWAS – SWAC/OECD initiative aiming to increase understanding of regional integration dynamics in West Africa. It thereby hopes to facilitate the building of a regional space in West Africa. In particular, it aims to:

  • Provide a global overview of regional issues in West Africa ;
  • Describe and synthesize regional thinking on the different dimensions of regional integration in West Africa;

More information on the Atlas is also available at:

Chapters available:

Africa and China | Climate & Climate Change | Cocoa | Coffee | Communicable Diseases | Cotton | Demographic Trends |Ecologically Vulnerable Zone of Sahelian_Countries | Migration | Languages | Oil and Gas |Rural Environment & Agricultural_Changes | Transboundary River Basins


Africa and China

China is currently the third world economic power after the United States and Japan. As the third-ranking trading partner, strategic investor, development partner and future financial source, China is shaking up the balance of power established on the continent since independence. The impact is so great that traditional partners – Europe and the United States in particular – are forced to review their relations with Africa. This chapter of the Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa examines the issues involved in these new dynamics. As the Chinese strategy is first and foremost African, the "Africa and China" chapter focuses on the entire continent, even though West Africa is studied whenever possible.

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Climate & Climate Change

Like all other world regions, Africa and West Africa must take up the challenge of climate change which is essentially that of vulnerability and uncertainty. Analyses of this region have remained inadequate and the conclusions arrived at by climate projections and their consequences are too uncertain for an effective anticipation of the risks and opportunities linked to climate change. At a time when the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) and the “regional plan of action for reducing vulnerability in the face of climate change in West Africa” are being formulated, the development of more reliable information systems adapted to local and regional contexts should be at the heart of the strategies adopted. Greater awareness and participation by local actors will also be necessary to formulate and implement these adaptation strategies.

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Since 1960, world cocoa production has increased threefold, from 1.2 to 3.6 million tonnes. This growth was punctuated by several jolts caused by structural adjustment policies, crop infestations, diseases and market speculation, all of which have affected production. Three countries in the inter-tropical zone growing cocoa beans, dominate world production: Côte d’Ivoire (39%), Ghana (21%) and Indonesia (13%).The important West African production basin extends from Guinea to Cameroon where, apart from Benin, all the countries grow cocoa trees. Two-thirds of world cocoa production originates from West Africa alone. The political crisis in Côte d’ivoire has not compromised this region’s dominance at all. However in order to maintain its position the continent must strike a balance between increasing production and preserving quality.

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Admittedly, West Africa’s current share of the global coffee market is not very significant. But it could become so in the coming 20-25 years. Firstly, because coffee is a profitable crop, especially in areas where cocoa cannot be grown. Furthermore, increased freight costs have given West Africa a comparative advantage over its. Finally, there are limited possibilities for additional production in other regions of the world. This chapter of the Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa provides a global overview of the world coffee production and consumption and the stakes in international trade. It then analyses the evolution and prospects of the West African coffee market.

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Communicable Diseases

On the whole, the African continent – particularly Sub-Saharan Africa – remains the last major world region where mortality rates – particularly infant mortality rates – continue to be very high and life expectancy low. This situation calls for a closer examination of the health and environmental conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Particular attention
must be paid to nutritional and sanitation conditions, the accessible health infrastructure and personnel and to the health policies adopted at the national and regional level. This chapter provides an overview of the main diseases affecting the Sub-Saharan and West African population, the progress achieved in combating them and the challenges that remain.

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Considered as one regional entity, West Africa is the third largest exporter in the world. Yet none of the West African countries is today playing a major role in the international cotton trade. Jointly, the producing countries would be able to better defend their interests. Moreover, the West African cotton-growing zones are mostly cross-border basins, where agricultural and agro-industrial development should also integrate a regional co-operation process. This chapter provides a continental overview and describes the origin and development of West African cotton. It analyses the regional stakes for development of the West African cotton sector and underline the importance of a regional approach in order to better defend the position of West African cotton producers on the international market. 

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Demographic Trends

At a time when an increasing number of countries are facing demographic decline, West Africa will, for a long time, continue to experience strong population growth. Managing urban growth, including setting-up infrastructure and adequate services for an increasing number of demanding citizens must be considered a public policy priority. The younger generation should also be given high priority. Today, 60% of West Africans are under 25 years of age and 70% are under 30. This chapter of the Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa presents global demographic trends, urban dynamics and West African-specific demographic behavior patterns. It provides the necessary groundwork to understand the social, geographic and economic changes and perspectives in West Africa.

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Ecologically Vulnerable Zone of Sahelian Countries

CILSS (Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel) member countries often have to grapple with food shortages although the zone also defined as "agropastoral" undoubtedly suffers the most and its inhabitants are usually considered the region's poorest and its children the most vulnerable. Based on available data and drawing on sources of the CILSS and the Agrhymet Regional Centre (CRA), this chapter describes from a macro-regional perspective this zone, its people and how they live. It illustrates how structurally vulnerable their pastoralists and agropastoralists are and aims to stimulate strategic thinking on structural regional solutions to this vulnerability, quite apart from the emergency aid this area frequently requires.  

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International migration is a politically sensitive issue in the North as well as in the South. The debate it raises is often passionate, even extreme and dangerous. Within this context, a presentation and retrospective look at the facts seem essential. Despite the lack of reliability and the scarcity of statistics, this chapter presents the major migration dynamics within West Africa and North Africa. It also examines the relationship between West Africa and Europe. ECOWAS member states have embarked to the difficult but irreversible path to the free movement of people. Irrespective of future trends of migration policies of developed countries, the inter-regional mobility (at least seven times more than the volume of migration from West Africa to the rest of the world) should be preserved. West Africa can not be content with a passive attitude. The debate should therefore stronger focus on the future than on the past. The states of the region should define common priorities, taking into account their individual specific realities.

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Should national languages (in comparison to international languages such as English, French and Portuguese) be taken into account while carrying out strategic thinking and activities relating to regional integration? This chapter intends to contribute to the debate by drawing a picture of the West African linguistic landscape: language families, language groups, languages and dialects and by identifying the areas within which population groups are able to understand each other (inter-comprehension). There are approximately thirty languages spoken in the region by more than one million people and close to 1 200 languages spoken occasionally by a lesser number of people. Incredibly diverse languages such as Hausa (more than 30 million speakers), Yoruba, Fulfulde, Igbo (more than 20 million speakers each), Mandingo, Akan, Gbe, Moore and Kanuri (from 10 to 5 million speakers) dominate the West African linguistic landscape.

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Oil and Gas in West Africa

All major international energy firms are investing heavily in Africa, wells are being drilled along the entire coast from Morocco in the North to Namibia in the South as well as in the interior. Production and proven reserves have attained new heights. Currently, several factors are influencing oil production in West Africa: strong global demand, prices at levels not seen in almost thirty years, new technologies in oil and gas exploration and production, etc. This chapter of the Atlas on Regional Integration shows the current situation of world oil and gas production and the role West African oil and gas is predicted to play over the next decades. It also highlights some of the future challenges and stakes in the region.

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Rural Areas & Agricultural Changes

Rural development policies cannot look to the past to prepare for the future, for over the last 45 years, West Africa’s rural landscape has witnessed deep-seated changes. The growing population and urbanization have turned West Africa into a regional market. Rural and urban areas, local and national levels are closely interlinked and interdependent; they have jointly entered the competitive era. This chapter of the Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa, a joint ECOWAS/SWAC activity,  focuses on the rural environment and agricultural changes in West Africa. The work has benefitted from inputs of the Rural Development Division of the FAO’s Sustainable Development Department.

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Transboundary River Basins

Contrary to popular belief, West African countries, including those of the Sahel, do not lack water. They consume approximately 1% of their renewable resources every year. However, there are major problems in terms of availability at the desired time and place. The problem lies in the technical and financial difficulties of access to groundwater reserves of which very little is exploited today. These problems are for the most part regional, the essential water resources being the cross-border aquifer and river basins. West Africa has 28 transboundary river basins. The most important river basins (Niger River Basin, the Senegal River Basin, the Volta River Basin, the Lake Chad Basin and the Comoé River Basin) serve as examples to illustrate the interdependence of regional water resources. As water can also be a source of tension and conflict, this chapter presents positive examples of co-operation and experiences in joint management at the bilateral and macro-regional levels. It also invites to initiate some strategic thinking on subsidiary between the different levels of regional co-operation.

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