The growing potential of the ECOWAS food economy
The food sector, which comprises agriculture, food processing, food marketing and food-away-from-home, is a key pillar of all ECOWAS economies. In 2020, the sector’s value is estimated at USD 259 billion or 35% of regional GDP. The economic giant Nigeria alone accounts for 72% of the sector’s value. By 2030, the ECOWAS food economy is expected to nearly double to reach USD 473 billion or 33% of regional GDP. This unprecedented expansion occurs in a context of rapid urban development. To date, 47% of the ECOWAS population lives in cities where almost all food is bought on the market. Urban agglomerations along the Gulf of Guinea represent 33% of the regional food demand. Urban consumers dedicate a greater proportion of their food expenses to perishable and processed foodstuffs. They are more attentive to quality and prefer less time-intensive food preparation. Some 38% of food consumed in the ECOWAS area is now processed. At the same time, increasingly diversified rural economies and the spread of urban products and lifestyles mean that the share of the rural food supply from markets is also growing. Rising domestic demand fosters the development of regional value chains, in which the off-farm segments are growing rapidly. As a result, the share of agriculture within the food economy dropped from 66% in 2010 to 57% in 2020. The diversification of the off-farm segments opens up new opportunities for value creation and intra-regional trade. The share of overseas import and export markets has become small compared to internal food demand. Since the early 2000s, the food import and export markets have shrank and now represent less than 10% of the ECOWAS food economy. This context is favourable to agro-food entrepreneurs who reap the benefits of an enormous domestic food market. The job creation potential is tremendous. Some 94 million ECOWAS citizens (or 61% of the labour force) currently work in the food economy. The fast-growing off-farm segments represent 17%. Off-farm segments are particularly important in providing job opportunities for women; as much as 76% of employees in these segments are women. The food economy presents large and untapped employment potential that will continue to grow with population growth, urbanisation and income growth.