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2013 Press Releases

Remarks by Ambassador Gene A. Cretz at the Food Across Borders Conference

January 30, 2013


Welcome to Accra, and let me extend my welcome to each participant in this week’s Food Across Borders Conference. We are here to draw attention to the often-overlooked, yet crucial role that regional trade plays in West Africa’s food security, at both the policy and grassroots levels.  We are also here to discuss the important role that regional trade can play, with the help of the private sector and governments of the region, to ensure the long-term resilience, health and prosperity of the 300 million residents of West Africa.  This conference brings together those responsible for policy with those who are on the frontlines of regional trade in agriculture.

In recent years, African leaders have voiced the need for collective action to improve agricultural development and, ultimately, reduce poverty and hunger. They have noted the important role that stakeholders – including farmers, government officials, agribusiness and other private sector leaders and development partners – play in coordinating their efforts to make tangible and sustainable improvements in food security.

Regional trade is one critical piece of the effort to improve food security in West Africa. Stakeholders have identified mutual accountability as critical to improving trade flows and incomes across borders of the sub-region.  In addition, robust trade across West Africa will improve the nutritional status of those who will have increased access to essential food products, in markets and communities where they are needed, and when they are needed.

The United States is proud to join with the members of ECOWAS and other stakeholders from the public and private sectors on this important undertaking.  As most of you know, we are no strangers to efforts to improve food security in West Africa.

The New Alliance for Food Security

In August 2012, the United States along with other development partners from G-8 countries launched the New Alliance for Food Security in Ghana. Ghana, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire were three countries in the sub-region, along with Tanzania, Ethiopia and Mozambique to participate in the New Alliance in its first year.

For those in the audience unfamiliar with the goals of the New Alliance, let me summarize them briefly. The New Alliance was an outgrowth of action by G-8 leaders at their 2009 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy. At L’Aquila, and at subsequent G-8 summits, including last year’s Camp David summit hosted by President Obama, world leaders made commitments for sustainable agriculture development and safety nets for vulnerable populations. In the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, these leaders pledged to work in partnership with African countries to provide sustainability in times of drought, flood, or poor crop yields. In addition to the positive impact on agriculture in the short-and medium term, their long-term purpose was to reduce poverty and increase nutrition among the youngest Africans, who represent the future of this great continent.

The New Alliance, along with the related Nutrition Cooperation Frameworks and USAID’s Feed the Future strategy will help 50 million people in Africa emerge from poverty by 2022. These are not just numbers, but represent your sons and daughters, your neighbors, and your future leaders.  Your recommendations during this conference and your actions after we disperse will be critical in helping West Africa achieve its share of poverty reduction and improved food security.

Food Security for the 21st Century

Increasing regional trade is a cornerstone of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future strategy for food security in West Africa.  USAID works with multiple West African partners to boost competitiveness of the transportation and logistics sectors, reduce or eliminate legal and regulatory barriers to trade, and improve the efficiency of regional market transactions.  USAID also coordinates its programs with other development partners to maximize the benefits and minimize duplication of effort.

Over the past five years, the United States has consistently worked to strengthen regional trade through its support to ECOWAS, to the USAID-sponsored Agribusiness and Trade Promotion (ATP) Project, to the West Africa Trade Hub and other associated projects.

We will continue to promote increased trade ties in close partnership with the regional institutions and national governments.

We will also continue to liaise with and encourage the private sector to play its role in facilitating regional trade. 

For what is food security, after all?  Development efforts have often emphasized one aspect of food security: the ability to grow your own food.  But as the participants in this room can attest, you can be food-secure without growing any of your food – as long as you have food available in the market and money in your pocket to buy it.This is where regional trade comes in.  West Africa, with its bounty of agro-ecological zones, offers diverse crops, harvested at different times. Yet the region’s production environment, especially the drier Sahel region, is unpredictable, so food needs to move from surplus to deficit areas. Through regional trade, food moves across borders, making a greater variety of staples available in West Africa’s numerous markets. More staple foods means access to foods with a higher nutrition value and potential for better incomes for those who produce, trade and sell these staple foods.

How can we work together – public sectors, private sectors, and other stakeholders, to ensure better access to these essential foods?

First, participants in this conference can work with ECOWAS and individual governments to enforce the policies that have already been adopted to enable free movement of staple foods across borders.

We can explore existing alliances with the private sector and look to form new ones so that members are informed of trade procedures and practices and provide a united voice to interact with governments on trade policy and procedures.

We can work together with technical experts and governments to set quality standards of regionally traded food commodities.

We can build alliances that combine competitiveness and social responsibility. For example, Chris Brett of Olam International recently spoke in Johannesburg on "Feeding the World: Africa's Role in solving the Global Food Crisis." He said that Olam's approach is to build strong relationships with groups of farmers based on the company's "Livelihood Charter" which is based on eight principles: finance; improved yield; market access; quality; social investment; labor practices; environmental impact; and traceability.

We can work together to reduce post-harvest losses that reduce incomes to farmers and the supply of staple foods to West Africa’s consumers.  Around 40% of food produced is lost during the post-harvest period due to inadequate drying, storage, transport and spoilage, often related to delays at borders. The private sector can invest in and improve infrastructure and processing to reduce post harvest loss.

Finally, we can continue to foster modern business practices in the agriculture and transport sectors by linking bigger, more organized businesses with the more traditional, small/medium-scale businesses in West Africa. When these stakeholders work together, they can create more organized private sector participation and voice for reducing barriers along inter-regional transport corridors. Some of this is already happening. I have been encouraged to see that the non-profit Borderless Alliance is seeking to collaborate with associations for selected commodities and that the regional livestock association (COFENABVI) is already a member of the Alliance. This seems to be the direction in which collaboration should go to improve regional trade. It is necessary for all stakeholders to get a more accurate picture of how much trade moves through borders of ECOWAS member countries.  Given that the majority of the regional trade moves through borders undocumented, the quantities of agricultural goods and processed foods moving across borders in West Africa are not accurately known.  But we have enough data available to be able to state unequivocally that they are significant.  For example, USAID’s Agribusiness and Trade Promotion Project, which collects data in key markets across the region, estimated annual trade flows in grains and livestock of $232 million and $212 million from Burkina Faso.

Although data collection did not cover all trade corridors, the national statistics, based exclusively on documented, official trade at borders, are only about one-half, or 53% of the total value of trade ATP has documented for Mali and about one quarter (26%) of that for Burkina Faso.  As parts of the Sahel were struggling with drought last year, significant quantities of millet and sorghum, worth over $55 million, were exported from West Africa’s largest cereal market Dawanau  in Kano, northern Nigeria, towards Niger, as well as onwards to other Sahelian countries.

But the promise of regional trade goes beyond its ability to fill markets and offer a wide range of products. Through regional trade—and more broadly, regional integration—farmers gain access to larger markets, while processors can meet demand from multiple countries and procure raw materials from wider areas, thereby stabilizing supply. Greater regional trade thus generates income and investment in agriculture and in agribusiness.

Much remains to be done to realize the potential of regional trade to increase food security and economic development in West Africa. Goods should move freely but according to sensible rules of commerce, from one country to another, reducing cost and increasing investment and interest in regional trading.


This conference is predicated on the idea that expanded regional trade will unlock West Africa’s ability to feed itself. We especially look forward to learning about ways to raise awareness of what trade activities are legal and illegal, what paperwork and planning is required and not required to move goods across borders, and how to empower those on the frontlines of regional trade to advocate for change in streamlining trade practice and implementation of freer trade policies. By the end of our time together, we hope to have hammered out an agenda that charts the way forward.

This conference would not have been possible without the effective collaboration of many key stakeholders. We thank the Government of Ghana for hosting this conference. We thank ECOWAS for its close collaboration over many years, including the organization of this conference. We thank the representatives of the many countries who are here, as well as leaders from the private sector, for your interest.  We look forward to several days of deliberations and exchanges of ideas, and building on the outcomes of this conference.

Thank you for your attention.