Poverty is rife in Benin. Though the economy has been expanding annually at a decent rate, this has mostly benefited the services sector, while people surviving on subsistence agriculture continue to struggle. Subsistence farming remains the main source of sustenance and income for about half the population.
Traditional cotton farming has recently benefited from an upsurge in prices, but price levels are volatile and still basically low. Profits from this cash crop also depend largely on trade with Nigeria, which occasionally limits cotton imports.
Benin also imports the majority of its energy from Nigeria, but again oil supplies are often interrupted.
Benin produces maize, sorghum, millet, rice, cassava, yams and beans, and palm oil, cashews and peanuts as cash crops. But much is consumed locally, including what is produced by the fishing and livestock sectors. So Benin is still is a net importer of food products from abroad.
The government was able to temporarily soften the impact of rising food and energy prices by removing import tariffs and putting in place subsidies and other price controls. But prices of imported food and fuel continue to surge. According to the World Bank, the aggregate import costs for wheat, rice, maize and fertilizer increased two-fold from about US$120 million in 2007 to about US$328 million in April 2008.
FAO is supporting the government of Benin through a Technical Cooperation Programme project worth US$500 000, which is ensuring provision of garden vegetable seeds and fertilizers for the October-November planting season. The project is assisting 5000 of the most vulnerable farming families, especially those that were severely affected by floods in 2007-2008. Harvests suffered and small-scale irrigation systems were severely damaged.
Benin is also included in a regional TCP project that involves strengthening of mechanisms for monitoring prices and food supply trends across the sub-region. The regional TCP, worth US$500 000, supports capacity building within the main regional institution, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Information monitoring and data exchange
Improved data exchange will allow governments to harmonize their policy measures taken in response to soaring food prices. The project also aims to work toward the creation of a common agricultural zone.
Under the Initiative for Soaring Food Prices, an inter-agency assessment mission took place in Benin in August, with the participation of the World Bank, the World Food Programme, the national government and bilateral development partners. The main needs identified include:
- to improve access for poor farmers to improved seed and fertilizers, limited not only by prices but also by weak marketing and distribution
- to rehabilitate and expand farmland under irrigation by repairing disused irrigation canals and drainage systems
- to vaccinate livestock against deadly diseases that yearly cause vast loss of life among animal herds and poultry
- to leverage the programmes already put in place by the government and development partners in order to identify the most vulnerable households and support them through social safety nets (food aid, nutrition interventions) and productive safety nets (access to farming tools and supplies).
- to increase donor funding to support long-term rehabilitation of agriculture in Benin