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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: The 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) and its significance for food security in Africa

Emile Houngbo
Emile HoungboNational University of Agriculture (UNA)Benin

Agricultural trade and food security are two factors important for economic growth and development. They are concerned about public policy. That's why, through the 2014 Malabo Declaration, African governments made a specific and clear commitment to boosting intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services, and to harnessing market and trade opportunities locally, regionally, and internationally. This is also why a place of choice has been given to the fight against hunger in the SDGs, especially the 2nd SDG, which aims to eliminate hunger, ensure food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, the logic that governs agricultural trade is fundamentally different from that governing the achievement of food security for the population. While agricultural trade is governed by the economic rule of profit maximization, food security is governed by the social rule of justice and altruism for the production of sufficient human resources for development. It even happens that this contradiction of logic leads to what I called "perverse trade" in my article entitled “When Food Trade Threatens Food Security of Small Farmers in West Africa: the Perverse Food Trade”. This article is accessible on:

This means that trade is not the right way to eradicate hunger by 2030 as the SDGs provide. Precise answers to the three questions of the discussion are provided below.

1. Do you think the provisions of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) provide sufficient policy space for domestic support for countries in Africa? Why or why not?

The general approach of the Agreement on Agriculture with regard to domestic support is to allow unlimited support through policies. As far as I’m concerned, I think these provisions of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) could provide surely sufficient policy space for domestic support for countries in Africa.  For, if properly applied, they can improve production, crop yield, product conservation and the limitation of food losses and waste. In short, they are provisions that will lead globally to abundant agricultural production. But, it should be emphasized that to be effective, the efforts must be centered on "staple crops". Effective promotion of the staple crops requires taking into account the different food systems at both national and intra-national levels in West Africa.

2. In your opinion, do export restrictions enhance or undermine food security in African countries? Should the WTO disciplines on export restrictions be stricter or allow greater flexibility?

Generally, export restrictions of agricultural products are not effective. Two reasons justify this phenomenon. First, export restrictions are never effective in the long run. They can only really be used in case of emergency to respond punctually to a random phenomenon that has negatively affected food availability (flood, drought, ...). The second reason is that trade is still essential for a proper distribution of agricultural products. As then, trade is a means of optimizing labor productivity among the countries in the West African sub-region. This is an economic theory already known and supported by the Economist David RICARDO; the theory of comparative advantage.   

3. What efforts can be made at the multilateral level, to complement regional integration efforts? In your opinion, are there some policy areas that are better addressed at the multilateral level, and others at the regional level?

Regional legal measures hardly succeed in West Africa. The success of decisions will not necessarily come from regional or multilateral measures, but from objective, realistic and inclusive national measures. For, corruption, language barriers, poor communication routes and poor physical security of people are often obstacles to compliance with regional legal provisions in Africa in general, and West Africa in particular.