The West and Central Africa Semi-Arid Tropics (WCA-SAT)
The WCA-SAT covers an area of 5.3 million sq km spread over 24 countries. According to a 2000 census, the region is home to over 100 million people. The United Nations has classified the region as one of the least developed in the world.
More than 30 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1 a day and the same percentage is undernourished.
Life expectancy at birth and the other human development indices are low. Human population in these countries is projected to grow between 2.1 and 2.9 percent annually over the next 15 years.
Agriculture accounts for more than 30% of the gross domestic product, employs 80 to 90 percent of the total labor force and is the main source of livelihood for the poor.
Sorghum and pearl millet remain the staple foods. These crops account for 70% of the total cereal cropping area, 60% of cereal production, 75% of total caloric intake, and 52% of per capita grain consumption, and they supply one third of the protein content. Yet these cereals are poorly traded in the national, regional and international markets.
The region is characterized by a low and scantily distributed rainfall and a short growing period of 75 to 180 days interrupted by hot and dry periods.
Low soil fertility and low use of organic and mineral fertilizers are common. Phosphorus and nitrogen are the most deficient nutrients here.
There is a high dependency on rainfall with only about 4% of water resources used for irrigation (compared to 14% in Asia). The poor rainfall pattern has further exacerbated because of climate change.
Predominantly unselected genetic materials are often used in combination with poorly performing production and processing technologies.
Finally, less developed markets and unfavourable or inappropriate policies with little or no investment, service and support systems mean that agriculture remains uncompetitive in a rapidly globalizing context. This largely explains the low domestic food production in spite of a rapidly increasing population.
While agricultural productivity grew by 1.1% per year in the temperate zone, it fell at about the same rate in the dry tropics in the mid 1990s. During the same period, the annual rate of per capita food production growth declined or remained modest in the WCA, varying from -1.9% in Mauritania to +1.9% in Chad and Cape Verde. Such a poor sectoral performance combined with a low level of economic activity and a constantly increasing population have resulted in a negative or stagnant growth in real per capita incomes.
Governments and donors are striving to lift the population out of poverty and ensuring food security for the present and future generations without compromising environmental integrity.
ICRISAT is a key partner in this endeavour and has contributed significantly to the achievement of this goal. The institute has helped conduct custom made research for development programs guided by a vision in line with that of the National Programs and the Conference of the agricultural research leaders in West and Central Africa (CORAF).
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