[INTERVIEW] Interview with ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment & Water Resources Lapodini Marc Atouga
On World Food Day, thought you might be interested in an interview of the ECOWAS Commissioner in charge of this sector to speak on Food security challenges...enjoy!
Since its inception in 2005, where does the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) stand today?
"A big step has been made towards the effective implementation of ECOWAP since 2009 with the development and implementation of National Agricultural Investment Programmes (NAIPs) and the Regional Agricultural Investment Programme (PRIA). However, the implementation of these programmes has only partially started and more concrete projects need to be put into place on the ground. For example, Togo is already well advanced. The implementation of its NAIP was officially launched in February. Other countries will follow and some countries have already made good progress. In March, Burkina Faso held a meeting with its partners to assess the resources required to implement its National Rural Development Programme. We will continue to push states to transform their programmes into concrete projects and we will do everything in our power to encourage them to do so."
What’s your personal priority during your tenure at the ECOWAS Commission?
"Increasing rice production is one priority that counts a lot for me. I think the potential is certainly there and we could easily produce 20 to 30 million tonnes of rice within the ECOWAS zone, if the means to encourage farmers to invest in rice were put into place. We will take all necessary measures to promote the development of specific projects in rice production, in particular targeting young people. If these programmes, over the next three or four years, are able to contribute to an increase in rice production to reach a volume of 18 million tonnes, it would already be a great success."
For years, ECOWAS has sought to develop a regional strategy for the livestock sector. Has this been a neglected sector?
"The livestock sector cannot be ignored when it comes to food security. It is important to have a balanced diet; we should not only eat cereals, but also animal proteins. Moreover, livestock and agricultural production are complementary. Livestock generates income and helps increase the purchasing power of livestock farmers who in turn can buy grain and other foodstuffs. Livestock development is thus an indispensable element for achieving food security.
However, I think the approach which was chosen for the development of the livestock sector could be improved. We should proceed step by step: for example, it is easier to address poultry at first, before tackling cattle. Each family in rural areas has several chickens. I think they are the most profitable animals in the short term. The problem of large cattle is different and much more complex.
In short, we have not neglected that sub-sector but we need to push for more programmes related to the livestock sector."
Is it really useful to maintain two common strategies in the region to boost agriculture? What is the fundamental difference between the PAU and ECOWAP?
"I do not believe that there are two different strategies or objectives; the agricultural policy of UEMOA (PAU) and the ECOWAS Common Agricultural Policy are essentially the same with converging objectives. The key difference lays in the political and administrative divisions: UEMOA is composed of the eight CFA franc zone countries and ECOWAS covers fifteen countries in the region, including the eight UEMOA member countries. If there are programmes to be implemented, UEMOA could focus on its eight member countries while ECOWAS can take care of the seven other countries that are not part of the UEMOA zone. This division of labour allows us to more easily cover the whole territory. Making the two institutions more dynamic and strengthening consultations will avoid duplication and waste of resources. PAU was developed while I was director in charge of agriculture at the UEMOA Commission; it is indeed the outcome of a long-term process initiated by UEMOA. Today, I am in charge of overseeing the implementation of ECOWAP. Following the implementation of these strategies for over a decade now, I can tell you that we all have the same goal: to boost our agriculture to ensure food security in our region."
How can synergy between the actions of ECOWAS, UEMOA and CILSS be further developed? Who does what and how can you move forward together?
"In general, I think that dialogue between these institutions is a key requirement to avoid duplication of activities. We do not have enough resources to allow ourselves to do the same thing several times in the same country; it is therefore imperative to rationalise. Today, the three institutions work together with each having a specific role to play. ECOWAS and UEMOA are decision-making bodies; we can take measures that apply to the Member states. CILSS is the technical branch of the two institutions, helping us make the right decisions through its studies and analyses. Whenever we have something that falls within the expertise of CILSS, we entrust it to them. I am pleased that my colleagues at UEMOA and CILSS share this vision and understand the need for consultation. I have no doubt that we will be able to avoid duplicates."
How do you see the divisions between Francophones and Anglophones within the Community? Do you think it is possible for ECOWAS to reduce the language gap within ECOWAS and UEMOA?
"To me, there is no division between Francophones and Anglophones within the Community, at least not for those who have the interest of the region and Africa at heart. It is only those who do not understand that “Divided we stand to all lose and that united we can all prosper’’ who see some division or think division exist. This problem is the result of colonisation and I think our English-speaking colleagues should make an effort to speak other languages such as French. The problem is that when you speak English, you no longer feel the need to learn other languages. About eighty percent (80%) of Francophone people working in the ECOWAS Commission speak English while only five to ten percent (5-10%) of Anglophones speak French. I think there should be a big effort to encourage our Anglophone colleagues to learn French as it can only be useful for them and for the whole Community. This could help bridge any gap in relations and avoid a lot of misunderstanding that lead to divisions.
I had the chance to study in the United States and I lived there for eight years in total. I am thus perfectly bilingual. For sure, it is easier for someone bilingual to work regionally and internationally, and communicate better and faster with each lingual group. This does not mean that we are necessarily heading these institutions. Ultimately, learning foreign languages also depends on economic opportunities. Those who reside in troubled countries are more motivated to engage in learning other languages in order to obtain positions at the regional level. It is all a matter of will and mastery of several languages helps open doors and opportunities."
Interview led by Julia Wanjiru, SWAC Secretariat.
Lapodini Marc Atouga, ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment & Water Resources
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