West African countries are now in a better position to perform high-quality, production-boosting agricultural research than they were a decade ago, thanks to the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP). Since 2008, this World Bank initiative has invested significantly in agricultural research infrastructure and human capacity in addition to supporting regional and cross-country collaboration.
That is the main finding of a newly published status report by ASTI’s Gert-Jan Stads and Nienke Beintema, based on new detailed agency-level data from the World Bank on the allocation of WAAPP funding and WAAPP-funded staff training.
As ASTI research has repeatedly shown, agricultural research in West Africa remains severely constrained by underinvestment and poorly maintained infrastructure. In addition, in nearly all countries in West Africa, the majority of PhD qualified researchers will retire by 2025, leaving research institutes without a critical mass of senior researchers to lead programs and mentor junior staff. Stads and Beintema found that, overall, the financial support provided by WAAPP made substantial headway reversing these challenges.
- To improve infrastructure, WAAPP has upgraded research stations, laboratories, offices, field infrastructure, and staff residences; equipping research centers and laboratories with state-of-the-art facilities; and investing in broadband Internet, generators, and vehicles.
- To enhance human capacity, the program has funded postgraduate training of more than 1,000 young scientists across the region, 30 percent of whom are female.
- To maximize scarce resources, avoid duplication, and produce regionally relevant research, the program has established national centers for excellence for specific commodities.
As valuable as WAAPP has been for the region, there is still room for improvement. The national centers of excellence tend to focus on preselected commodities—such as rice, maize, and wheat—and overlook regionally important “orphan crops” such as yams in the tropical zones of West Africa and cowpea in the Sahel. In addition, more efforts are needed to scale up farmers’ adoption of new technologies – essential to meeting the food and nutritional needs of the region’s full population.
After nearly ten years, the World Bank is preparing to wind down WAAPP and build on its achievements with a new West Africa Agricultural Transformation Program (WAATP), focused on the uptake of climate-smart technologies. A key question that persists is how West Africa can maintain the successes that these externally funded projects bring. Will much of the progress made by WAAPP and WAATP be eroded in the absence of viable mechanism to sustain the gains achieved? In their IFPRI Discussion Paper, the authors offer a number of suggestions to help sustain WAAPP’s momentum.
Organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), play a crucial role identifying and coordinating research priorities for the region, and assigning countries to implement them. For their part, West African countries will need to undertake rigorous analysis to identify the most appropriate research portfolio for poverty reduction, nutrition, job creation, growth, and climate resilience. They will also need to invest in new and existing technologies that meet rising demand and perform well under projected climate change, as well as in human capacity, water management, and infrastructure.
With continued commitment from the region and its countries—and technical support from CGIAR centers and beyond—WAAPP’s achievements can set West Africa onto a trajectory towards agricultural productivity, food security, and income generation for the long term.