West African Futures 2011-12: Settlement, market and food security


cov-waf130 The 2011-12 West African Futures (WAF) programme focused on the spatial, economic and social consequences of settlement and market dynamics on food security. Capitalising on this two-year work, the final study provides policy makers and key stakeholders with a description of food security challenges that need to be addressed in regional policy and strategy design. In particular, it highlights the importance of coherent and regionally harmonised statistics in improving West African agricultural and food strategies. The programme also demonstrates how the failure to account for unrecorded regional trade in agricultural products considerably biases analyses of food security. Key findings were discussed with West African policy makers at the SWAC Forum; training workshops were held at the UEMOA headquarters. Data can be visualised within the Statistical Mapping and Analytical Regional Tool (SMART) which allows you to map, follow and compare key settlement data for the 17 West African countries and country groups between 1950 and 2050. Throughout 2013, the SWAC Secretariat pursued efforts to share and discuss key findings in West Africa and international settings. blueline

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At a glance

Presentation of the programme

Expected results

Impact of settlement dynamics

Information sheets



Data visualisation - SMART

smart database log

‌Statistical, Mapping and Regional Analysis Tool (SMART)

The data produced by the programme is accessible online within the Statistical, Mapping and Regional Analysis Tool (SMART), launched in April 2013. This interactive tool allows users to map, graph and compare 40 different indicators for the 17 countries of the region and eight sub-regional groupings. SMART also offers the possibility to cross-analyse settlement data and agricultural performance, providing alternative ways of interpreting past trends and assessing future potential. The population and settlement data cover the period from 1950 to 2050. The data and maps can easily be downloaded. 



Meetings of the Working Group and Forum

A Working Group composed of key stakeholders was at the centre of the entire process. It drew on existing work conducted by Members and other institutions, and provided inputs and guidance on work priorities. West African statisticians also participated in training workshops to learn more about alternative methods such as spatial modelling in order to fill the data gap. Some key findings and policy options from the WAF study were presented and discussed at the SWAC Forum.



Policy dialogue & Oucomes

Throughout 2013, the SWAC Secretariat shared and discussed results from the 2011-12 WAF programme in West Africa and international settings. These occasions served to introduce key findings at conferences and workshops, to share data and methodology with on-going foresight programmes on the future of food security in West Africa and to inform policy and development programme formulation.

More than 500 e-book copies have been downloaded from the OECD I-library. Some 1 000 copies were disseminated by the SWAC Secretariat to West African policymakers, development partners and other target audiences.

  • Key findings and analyses from the WAF programme fed into the formulation of the AGIR Regional Roadmap, emphasising a comprehensive interpretation of market dynamics and the importance of urbanisation and settlement patterns in food and nutritional strategies; 
  • Discussions on integrating Africapolis data in food security early warning and other spatial population measurement tools have already started, notably with USAID/FEWS NET; 
  • WAF analyses were extensively referenced in the Australian Aid’s food security programme for West Africa.




Follow-up 2014: Africapolis - updated urbanisation data

Having demonstrated the crucial importance of urbanisation and settlement data in the field of food security policy formulation, the SWAC Secretariat worked together with the Africapolis team on an up-date of the “West African urbanisation dynamics” study. This updated study, to be published in Mid-2014, integrates new census data from 13 countries. It identifies and geolocalises 2 965 agglomerations (versus 1 582 in 2008), of which 1 366 are located in Nigeria, providing the most extensive database on Nigerian urbanisation to date. 



Did you know?

  • Between 1950 and 2010, the total population of West Africa grew from 72 to 290 million inhabitants.
  • The demographic transition in West Africa is accompanied by a significant spatial redistribution of populations.
  • Over the past six decades, the urban population multiplied by 20, from 6 million to 118 million inhabitants, and the level of urbanisation grew from 8% to 41%.
  • During the same period, the rural population multiplied by 2.6, from 66 million to 172 million, and rural population densities increased.
  • Agricultural production between 1980 and 2010 saw an average annual growth of 3.7% compared to the world average of 2.21%. 
  • Imports, as a share of total food availability, are stable.
  • Higher yields account for 40% of the increase in production between 1980 and 2007.
  • The prevalence of undernourishment has declined by 44% since 1990, but 33 million West Africans still remain undernourished.


  • In 60 years, the urban population increased by a factor of 20, from 6 to 118 million inhabitants (1950-2010). none of the countries had an urbanisation level of more than 20% in 1950, while eight countries were close to or above 50% in 2010.
  • The urban population of the region will be 400 million by 2050, which equates to an urban-rural ratio of 2 to 1.
  • The urban population, which grew at an annual rate of 6%, doubled every 11 years between 1950 and 1980. This growth slowed to 4% in 2010.
  • In 2050, as a result of migration and natural growth, West Africa will have the same proportion of urbanites as the 27 Eu countries, but with a lower urbanisation rate. nigeria will represent a large proportion of the West African urban population.
  • The concentration of urban growth in cities – since 1980, urban growth has resulted from the natural growth of cities more than migration from rural areas.
  • The development of small- and medium-sized cities – the region was a sparsely populated and predominantly rural in 1950, with six urban centres of more than 100 000 inhabitants and an urbanisation level of 8%. In 2010, the region boasted 122 cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants and an urbanisation level of 41%.
  • Six of the ten largest cities are coastal cities (Lagos, Abidjan, Accra, Dakar, Conakry, Lomé). Ouagadougou, Niamey and N’Djamena, are, respectively, the 11th, 18th and 20th largest cities of the region, growing at a rate close to or even above that of coastal cities. Urbanisation level: < 25%: Chad, Mali, Niger ; ≥ 50%: Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Senegal and Togo.

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"The network of cities dictates the spatial organisation of markets by serving as the connective tissue between rural and urban areas. They act as exchange platforms for agricultural and rural output, as stimulators of rural non-farm activity, as places for seasonal job opportunities for farmers, and as facilitators of economies of scale. Therefore, urbanisation takes on multiple forms and operates at different rates in relation to economic and social development."



Urban network and growth of towns and cities


Rural population

  • The West African rural population continues to grow simultaneously with rapid urbanisation, increasing from 66 million in 1950 to 172 million in 2010.
  • The projected rural population for 2050 is 197 million.
  • In 2010, 59% of the West African population was rural. While in the MENA region, 37% was rural, and in South Asia 69% was rural.
  • Rural areas are becoming denser. The average distance between agglomerations (> 10 000 inh.) has been divided by three, falling from 111 km to 33 km between 1950 and 2000. Connections (roads, mobile communication) integrate rural areas into the market economy.
  • Local diversified economies are more densely populated and well connected to cities. Urbanisation creates a growing market for agricultural production: upstream (inputs and services) and downstream (marketing and processing) economic activities support the development of small- and medium-sized towns and cities.

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Rural population (2000)


  • West Africa has not completed its demographic transition. Between 1950 and 2010, the population increased from 72 to 290 million inhabitants.
  • The number of urban dwellers has risen by a factor of 20, from 6 to 118 million inhabitants. In 1950, no country in the region had a level of urbanisation greater than 20%; in 2010, eight countries had a level of urbanisation close to 50%. These trends have led to profound changes in agricultural geography, market dynamics, incomes and thus food security.
  • Reassessing the impact of agricultural transformations: The rural economy is changing. Reliable information on agricultural and non-agricultural populations, as well as their ratios, would illustrate geographic and social changes and the relationship between food demand and supply. Available statistics do not provide an accurate sense of the scale of this change. Rural populations are often likened to agricultural producers and urban populations to consumers. As a result, the number of producers is overestimated, their geographic distribution incorrect and their productivity underestimated.
  • Understanding the impact of the informal economy: The majority of non-food producing consumers are comprised of urban dwellers that derive their income from the informal sector. Most of these urban dwellers lack the income needed to purchase the goods produced and marketed by the modern (formal) economy. Consequently, the food consumed is supplied by “informal networks”, which are poorly monitored by national accounting systems. Despite its major significance, the informal economy remains imprecisely defined and poorly measured. As a result, it is largely neglected in food security policies.

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