The West Africa community of practice (CoP) focuses on improving food security and nutrition for smallholder farming families in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. With a cumulative population of approximately 45 million individuals and up to 65 percent of the population living on less than U.S. $1 per day, these three countries continuously rank among the world’s poorest. As a result, millions of people are malnourished and food insecure. Food production in the region is impaired by low soil fertility; highly erratic rainfall and inter-annual climate variability; and biotic crop production constraints such as the parasitic weed Striga, insect pests, and fungal diseases. Political instability has disrupted some international donor support, but farmer organizations are growing in size and influence in the region.
The West Africa CoP is striving to improve productivity and nutritional content of cereals (sorghum, pearl millet and fonio) and grain legumes (cowpea, groundnut ,and Bambara groundnut) as well as other traditional or introduced crops. Strengthening farming systems demands continued attention to improved soil and water conservation and agronomic management; better seed varieties and seed distribution systems; integrated pest management; strengthened and diversified value chains; improved diets and nutrition; and improved income and education for farming families.
The CoP strategy for achieving these ends involves promoting more systems-oriented research, diversifying partnerships, and using modeling and other new tools to determine how to break the poverty cycle. The CoP encourages projects to think creatively about social innovations and promote farmer-driven research and innovation. As part of this effort, the CoP is increasing its support of farmer organizations, which bring a valuable systems perspective to scientific research and can help speed adoption and adaptation of technologies that farmers themselves have validated. The CoP also provides mentoring from outside the region to facilitate the exchange of ideas and increase opportunities for regional capacity building.