Network analysis of regional livestock trade in West Africa


The livestock sector is a major trade opportunity in West Africa, particularly for the Sahelian countries that supply major urban centers on the Gulf of Guinea. Yet, few attempts to formally describe the regional trade structure have been made so far.

A new paper published in PLOS ONE today intends to fill this gap by mapping the livestock market structure, and guiding policymakers in designing development and trade policies. To our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive network analysis of regional livestock trade in West Africa.

Using a database of more than 42,000 livestock movements collected by CILSS, our goal was to map the structure of regional livestock trade, identify livestock trade communities, and identify key markets and their role in the trade network.

  • Our results show that close to two thirds of the livestock movements are international and that animal movements follow well-established long-distance routes. This reflects the fragmentation of the road network inherited from the colonial period and the poor accessibility of many peripheral markets in the region. Cattle trade relies on a handful of paved roads in each country and on a limited number of transnational routes that help connect the Sahel to the main consumption centers.
  • We also found that the livestock market was organized around cross-border communities of traders, like the groups that move animals between Benin, Niger and Nigeria. The existence of cross-border trade communities support suggests that multiple-country approaches are necessary to support intraregional livestock trade.
  • Finally, we found that key markets located primarily in urban centers and near borders serve as hubs that give peripheral markets access to the regional network.

Our findings advocate for increasing the density and quality of the regional road network, which could help develop livestock and other intraregional trade products that are primarily transported by vehicle.

Border areas should be prioritized as their infrastructure is not prepared to withstand increasing regional trade movements and will likely constrain them.

Additionally, our results substantiate removing border tariffs and delays that contribute to the higher cost of food in West Africa when compared to other regions of the world, and that decrease the population base reachable from border towns.

My colleague Valerie Valerio of the African Networks Lab was the lead author of this paper, co-authored with several other colleagues from the University of Florida, CILSS and CNFA: Valerio VC, Walther OJ, Eilittä M, Cissé B, Muneepeerakul R, Kiker GA (2020) Network analysis of regional livestock trade in West Africa. PLOS ONE 15(5): e0232681.


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