We are leading this project funded by Australian aid, and implemented by four research agencies (CSIRO, CILSS, CORAF and CIRAD) in partnership with selected countries in Africa. The initial pilot study is with the Government of Burkina Faso.

The challenge

Food security issues facing West Africa

Governments across West and Central Africa are concerned with providing growing populations with sufficient food from safe and reliable sources. They strive to meet this challenge with a limited set of policy options, and significant budget and institutional constraints.

This project uses science from diverse disciplines to enable policy advisors across agencies dealing with the multiple dimensions of food security to discuss and move towards consensus on policy priorities, and appropriate sets of policies for achieving these priorities.

Governments can pursue a range of strategies to increase agricultural productivity, or the wealth available to import food through increases in economic growth, incomes and trade. West and Central Africa are facing increasing challenges to food security through rising populations and slow growth in agricultural productivity due to infertile soils and climate variability and change.

One of the major impediments to climate resilience and food security in Africa is an underdeveloped and underproductive agricultural sector. Over two-thirds of Africa's population depends on subsistence agriculture for employment and income, yet the region produces less food per person today than in the 1970s.

Agricultural production is also inextricably entwined with soil fertility and natural resource management. Over the last 20 years increases in production have mostly been obtained by putting more land under cultivation, with a 229 per cent increase in farmland accounting for 70 per cent of the growth in regional production.

Future food security depends in part on sustainability intensifying agricultural production, recognising that this will involve transformation across value chains from the farmer to consumer.

A range of other factors contribute to a nation's food security, including:

  • trade policies
  • infrastructure
  • incentives schemes for the food sectors
  • private investment
  • transport
  • access to credit.

Many of these aspects of food security cannot be influenced by governments alone. This means that governments need to work with individuals throughout society – the farmers, traders, business owners and consumers who directly influence important aspects of food security.

Our response

Policy pathways to promote food security in Burkina Faso

The project team is working with governments in West Africa to develop a set of national policy options, based on scientific evidence, designed to improve future food security.

This pilot project has begun working with the Government of Burkina Faso and is designed to test rapid assessment methods that pull together diverse scientific expertise to support ongoing policy development. It brings in the capability of researchers who do not normally work on food security to apply their knowledge and skills to this issue.

Specifically the project team is:

  • identifying desirable attributes of a food-secure future for Burkina Faso
  • developing alternative policy pathways (coherent sets of policies across multiple government agencies in Burkina Faso) for achieving these attributes
  • defining specific policy interventions necessary to implement these pathways, including the roles and responsibilities of agencies.

The results

Sharing the results across the region

This project is an application of participatory action research to policy development. Direct participation and self-direction of the process by policy advisers is the primary mechanism for delivering improved policy development, and the benefits of improved food security that flow from it.

The research partners will produce a range of peer-reviewed scientific publications on improving participatory science support for policy development, and the methods and models used to project future scenarios for food security in Burkina Faso under alternative policy pathways.

This pilot project provides both a test of the proposed approach and also an opportunity for other collaborating countries to evaluate its relevance and applicability to their circumstances. The participation of CORAF and CILSS provides regional context and a pathway for implementation if other countries want to adopt the approach.


The pilot project in Burkina Faso is being implemented via partnerships between local and international researchers working closely with participants in the Government and Citizens' Innovation Platforms.

The key partners are:

  • CILSS (Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel) is an organisation of nine countries in the Sahel region of Africa that invests in research for food security, drought and desertification
  • CORAF/WECARD is the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development that coordinates agricultural research programs across 22 nations
  • CIRAD is a French research agency working with developing countries to tackle international agricultural and development issues.

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