In the last five years (1997-2001) approximately 5 million metric tons of groundnuts were produced in West Africa. This represents 60% of the African continent's groundnut production and 15% of world production. Since 1961, West Africa has lost production share, dropping from 23 to 15% of world production. Similarly export share has also significantly decreased by more than 50% (from 55 to 20%) for groundnut oil. However, since 1984, groundnut production in West Africa has been rising by 6% annually mainly due to area expansion. Yields are low and static (averaging 980 kg/ha) and lower than the world average (1390 kg/ha).
Demand for groundnut products has been driven by a number of factors. In Africa, population growth has been the primary factor. Another important factor has been substitutability. Groundnut oil competes directly with oil from soybeans, sunflower and other sources such as palm and cotton oil. Groundnut meal must compete with meal from these oilseeds and also with cereal-based products such as gluten. In semi-arid areas, groundnut haulms (leaves and stems) for livestock feeding must compete with cowpea dry fodder. Groundnut is by far the most nutritive oil-seed used in West Africa. The kernels have an average fat and protein content of 75% and an energy value of 360 kcal/100g, compared to 60% and 430 kcal/100 g for soybeans. However, groundnut is also significantly more expensive than soybean. The selling price of groundnut is at least 30% higher than that of soybean. For example in July 2001, the world market price of graded regular confectionary groundnuts was US $ 800 per tonne while that of soybeans was 190 USD/tonne. The average price per tonne of groundnut oil was USD 775, compared to $ 325 for soybean oil. For groundnut and groundnut products to become more competitive, prices must fall, which can happen only if productivity and production increase.
One factor in favour of groundnut is the trend in consumer preference. In soybean and cotton - major competitors of groundnut-genetically modified varieties are widely grown in developed and some developing countries. With increasing consumer scepticism about GMO foods, demand for groundnut (a non-GMO crop) is likely to increase. International demand is largely for confectionary groundnut, and the Groundnut Germplasm Project (GGP) for West Africa has identified varieties that can respond to this market.
World trade in groundnut is small (about 5% of production) and has been declining since the 1960s, largely because exports from developing countries are declining. In West Africa, trade in oil and meal has fallen substantially due to lost competitiveness in relation to substitutes such as palm oil and substitutes. Another factor is aflatoxin contamination in groundnut products. Health concerns have led the main importers to set strict standards for Aflatoxin content, which are often not achievable by most of the groundnut farmers in West Africa. For example, enforcement of the European Union's standards for aflatoxin contents will have an adverse effect on African exports of edible groundnut to Europe. In Senegal the presence of Aflatoxin B 1 toxins has reduced groundnut exports to the EU, the main importer.
Despite these factors, export demand for confectionary groundnuts is growing. These nuts are produced in developing countries for local consumption; implying the potential for developing an export-oriented market. In West Africa, groundnut is widely traded in domestic markets and there is a substantial national and regional demand for groundnut products. Investments by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) in ICRISAT and its national partners have resulted in identification oŁ adapted confectionary groundnuts with the right characteristics. Varieties tolerant to aflatoxin contamination are also available. These varieties are ready; but dissemination is hampered by lack of seed.
Studies in West Africa and elsewhere have shown that technology adoption is closely linked to product markets. For example, farmers in Senegal have been quick to adopt improved varieties such,as Fleur 11, because there is a strong market demand for groundnut. Variety development will depend on the development of product markets. To regain the lost share in production and export, there is a need to invest in building sustainable seed supply systems that will deliver high quality seed and meeting market requirements.