Washington — On the eve of two major agriculture summits in Mauritania and Senegal, the World Bank is urging African countries and communities in the Sahel and the international development community to help protect and expand pastoralism on behalf of the more than 80 million people living in The Sahel who rely on it as a major source of food and livelihoods.
The Bank is also calling for more large-scale irrigation to help the region to move towards embracing climate smart agriculture that can manage competing demands for land, water, and other natural resources, in a region that has long suffered from drought, hunger, and low economic growth
In background papers released in preparation for the two summits, the Bank says that more than 50 percent of the meat and the milk which people consume in West African coastal countries come originally from the Sahel.
The two summits on improving pastoralism and boosting irrigation in the Sahel, which are being organized by the World Bank and its development partners, will be held in Nouakchott and Dakar respectively on October 29 and October 31, 2013. High-level participants will include President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, President Idriss Déby of Chad, as well as regional Ministers of Agriculture, Rural and Community Development, senior business leaders, and representatives of producer organizations and civil society.
"African agriculture employs a massive 65-70 percent of the continent's labor force and typically accounts for 30-40 percent of GDP. It represents the single most important industry in the region, and therefore its transformation and growth is vital to reduce poverty in a region like The Sahel and avoid humanitarian crises that have all too frequently plague the region," says Makhtar Diop, World Bank's Vice President for Africa Region, who will open the Pastoralism Forum in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital on October 29th.
"Addressing the challenge of agriculture in the Sahel is an opportunity to redress past economic imbalances and position the region to become a player in addressing the global increase in food demand."
Diop says boosting investment in the Sahel will help to significantly improve living standards for people and reduce the frequency and severity of food crises
According to the Bank, Africa is home to some 50 million pastoralists with some 16 million of them living in The Sahel and in extreme poverty. The vulnerability of pastoral communities to drought, flooding, and other disasters remains unduly high in Sahelian countries and is made worse by their historic social exclusion and increasing competition for access to water and grazing lands for their herds and crops.
Given that The Sahel will continue to be one of the world's regions most seriously affected by climate change, drought and other weather extremes are likely to increase the pressures on pastoralism to survive as a way of life and livelihoods.
"We urgently need to mobilize more investment to support pastoral systems in the arid lands of The Sahel in order to reduce the vulnerability of communities to poverty and hunger while building up their resilience to weather adversity, and promoting more social cohesion and security in the wider region to prevent new conflicts from arising," says Jamal Saghir, the World Bank's Director for Sustainable Development in Africa.
Saghir says that a regional approach to boosting pastoralism is essential since many issues such as trade, trans-boundary animal diseases, policy harmonization, early warning and rapid response systems, conflict, and peace building measures, all involve a cross-border dimension.
More irrigated land also vital for transforming agriculture
In addition to promoting and expanding pastoralism, irrigating more land is also vital to produce more food, create jobs, reduce poverty, and improve the lives of people throughout The Sahel. .
Although the region is blessed with some of Africa's largest aquifers, for the most part they are under-used and many countries lack the scientific data and infrastructure to tap into and manage these water reserves sustainably. On top of that, only 20 percent of the irrigation potential in Sahelian countries is currently developed, and many existing irrigation systems need to be repaired.
"The Niger, Senegal, Lake Chad, and Volta River basins have tremendous undeveloped irrigation, fisheries, transport and hydroelectric potential. So my colleagues and I in the World Bank want to improve this situation so that the famers and families of the Sahel can take advantage of rising demand for food, meat and dairy products. More water in The Sahel means more development in the form of food, more jobs, more money and opportunity, especially for young people, and women in particular as farmers and traders," says World Bank Africa Vice President Diop.
The High Level Forum on Irrigation, which will be held on October 31st in Dakar, Senegal, will build on the Ouagadougou Call for Action and highlight success stories and strategies that could be scaled up or replicated, like the Great Green Wall, or inclusive agribusiness projects based on irrigation development in Senegal and Burkina Faso.
High-level participants at the Dakar irrigation summit will include President Macky Sall of Senegal, Government Ministers from Sahelian countries, business leaders, and representatives of water user associations and civil society.