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A research and development partnership between CORAF/WECARD and USAID/West Africa

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Background and Context

The year 2008 marked the peak of events characterized by the upsurge of food prices, particularly triggered by increases in fuel prices, the cost of imported food upon which the region depended had been directly affected. Access and availability of food had worsened with the rise in grain prices on the global market. This led to widespread and rapid increase in domestic food prices, which in turn led to food riots in several countries. Raising farm productivity and production represented the most reliable way to end the food crises in West and Central Africa.
It was in this light, that CORAF/WECARD conducted stakeholder consultations and studies in selecting priority areas in the staple crops and biotechnology/ biosafety sectors to identify constraints, needs and opportunities of value chain stakeholders through which identified projects were developed, some of which have been implemented. Various themes through which identified projects were implemented within the two program areas address key agricultural constraints in achieving accelerated growth.

The selected priority areas represent interventions through projects implemented under the staple crops and biotechnology programs that would address food insecurity and rural poverty in the CORAF/WECARD sub- region. The implementation of priority programs was timely as the food insecurity situation continued to worsen in affected areas where large populations are likely to continue to suffer the consequences for years to come. The need arises, therefore, to turn the crises situation to the advantage of rural communities by providing farmers in the sub-region with technological innovations coupled with a more favourable enabling environment in which they would operate profitably to boost productivity in the short run. To break the hunger-poverty cycle, the two priority programs contributes in making food accessible to those vulnerable groups in West and Central Africa, while helping small –scale producers raise their output and earn more income. The two programs thus provide critical support including policy, institutional, markets and technological support to improve agricultural productivity to satisfy the increased demand for food and to capitalize on this demand to improve the incomes of value chain actors, particularly women and other vulnerable groups in rural communities.

The success of both the Staple Crops and Biothechnology/ Biosafety programs hinge on the extent to which identified challenges have been addressed to bridge the gap between potential and actual yields and thus fulfilling the food and income needs of target groups. Indeed, if a significant proportion of the current potential of the major crops could be harnessed and losses due to field and storage pests, diseases and handling are minimized, most countries in the sub-region can achieve the desired 6% agricultural growth target (IFPRI, 2006). In Africa where 75% of the population live in rural areas, any investment intended to make a profound impact on reducing poverty, would need to adequately focus on the means of livelihood of the rural communities, which is mainly agriculture. At the livelihoods level, vulnerability is related to assets and how people manage them (Cannon et al, cited by the Sahel Working Group, 2007).

Among major assets available to smallholder farmers for agricultural productivity in West and Central Africa are land, water and labour; harnessing the full productivity of these assets is key to sustainable growth, and were major focuses during the period covered by this support. This are being achieved through the development and promotion of technologies, as well as increased use of improved inputs and the adoption of appropriate post-harvest technologies. This approach were used both for commissioned research projects.

In view of its designated coordination role in the various dimensions of agricultural research management, CORAF/WECARD specifically engaged in the oversight and management of programs (which are of sub-region significance and relevance) whereas implementation of  projects were through the NARS whose stakeholders represent major beneficiaries of those projects.



Purpose and Expected Outcomes of the partnership

The main purpose of the USAID/West Africa assistance is to support CORAF/WECARD achieve its mandate to develop and ensure effective implementation of sub-regional research for development programs aimed at adding value to national programs, harmonize the activities of the existing research constituents, and facilitate the creation of new operational research organs with a regional character. The support of USAID is therefore in the context of contributing to the achievements of CORAF/WECARD's principal objective of "...Sustainable improvements to the competitiveness, productivity and markets of the agricultural system in West and Central Africa by meeting the key demands of the sub-regional research system as expressed by target groups" which responds to the objectives of CAADP pillar 4 and the ECOWAP.  In that vein, USAID support serves to firstly strengthen the institutional capacity of CORAF/WECARD as an organization and to secondly strengthen the institutional and human capacity of its relevant key actors in the staple crops and biotechnology sub-sectors to be more responsive in addressing agricultural production and marketing constraints.

Outcomes or deliverables from the USAID support come through the commissioned projects implemented. Deliverables and milestones are provided here for both the Staple Crops and Biotechnology/Biosafety Programs. All expected deliverables are measured against baseline information that were collected and analysed at the start of each project.

All activities and sub-agreements conducted under this support fall within the Operational Plan programs and core-functions of CORAF/WECARD, classified as "technical research, policy research, efficient research delivery"; and "knowledge management, and capacity strengthening and co-ordination". Agreements and sub-agreements conformed to the USAID requirements.