The four nations of West Africa – Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire – are part of a complex political and ethnic landscape in which the economies of these nations are highly dependent on external factors such as the regional free trade area and its internal markets. In order to understand this dynamic, multi-ethnic and ever-changing region, it is essential to look beyond the dry textbooks and talk to people on the ground. A recent article in this journal, “The New Faces of Africa’s Markets,” written by anthropologists Flavio Pelle and Ulrich Roux, tackles this issue head on by describing previously unseen consumer behavior at the regional level, including the complex dynamics of the West African food market. The article offers fresh insights into the dynamics of regional trade and its impact on food preferences and cultural traditions, while suggesting avenues for future research.
According to the researchers, the presence of a plethora of cross-border trade routes and robust political and social frameworks allow the diverse communities across the borders to coordinate and interact constructively rather than simply reacting in destructive ways. For example, cross-border trade in grains such as millet and sorghum supports cross-cultural exchange and adaptation in agriculture and allows for cultivation of tolerant interdependent crops. The political and social environments also allow for greater regional control by some groups while hindering access by others. This provides a unique opportunity to observe and record new practices and behaviors in the context of West African regional trade at various spatial and temporal scales.
The paper identifies four main activities shaping the dynamics of west africa’s regional trade. These include migration, security, religion and economy. The research shows that West African migration has been shaped by security issues, with many individuals heading towards the safer, warmer regions of the country.
Religion has had substantial implications on west africa food markets, especially in terms of security. In most societies, religion plays a significant role in providing guidance and discipline in everyday life, particularly in times of conflict. The role of religion in this context refers to the social norms followed by the individuals living in different communities across the borders. Security services are deployed to protect people and properties. Thus, religion provides a sense of cohesion and identity to the individuals living in the same community, which helps them to form cohesive communities.
Economic factors have also had a huge role in shaping the dynamics of west africa food market. The presence of transit goods, like vehicles and equipment for farming, and metals and coal, as well as the infrastructure required for food production, fuel distribution, and waste management, provides opportunities for local farmers to access markets and compete on the price. On the other hand, the high capital costs and subsidies offered by the government help farmers to adopt new technologies and attract new investment into the region. As a result, the quality of the local raw materials and the variety of goods available in the market are improving. The fall in the prices of crops led by falling agricultural investments has helped the local economy to recover, but only at a very slow rate.
West Africa’s food markets are witnessing great changes and are providing ample opportunities to local producers and traders to reap benefits from international agricultural trade. The current global food crisis, together with the recent spike in the prices of basic commodities, has made it imperative for the governments to look for ways to promote the growth of the west africa grain trade. In this regard, ecowas trade liberalization programmes supported by the west africa regional trade and co-operation forum (WAF) are helping to boost the food market in this part of south-eastern Africa. The regional trade and co-operation forum (WACOF) was set up to promote business and investment in the area and encourages multi-country trade.