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Food insecurity levels increase due to market disruptions

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • West Africa
  • April 2013
Food insecurity levels increase due to market disruptions

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Outlook through June 2013
  • Key Messages
    • The combined effects of market disruptions, weak household purchasing power, and low stocks in areas severely affected by civil insecurity, such as northern Mali, northeastern Nigeria, and the Central African Republic, have caused Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of acute food insecurity.  

    • Limited trade flows and unusually high grain prices are creating Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity in central Nigeria, northwestern Niger, and northern Mauritania. The rest of the region is experiencing Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. 

    • Markets, which are currently destabilized due to below-average supplies, will become the main source of food for households over the next few months. Thus, the monitoring of inventory levels and trade flows between now and September is crucial to detect any price anomalies which could curtail household food access during the lean season.


    Current Situation

    Conditions during the month of April were marked by the depletion of food stocks for households whose harvests normally meet no more than half of their yearly cereal needs. These generally poor households make up more than 20 percent of the population in almost all Sahelian livelihood zones, despite good crop production levels during the 2012-2013 agricultural year. April also marks the end of market garden crop harvests in areas with good irrigation potential, offering households with the option of substituting off-season crops for grains in their diets. It is also typically the beginning of the lean season in bimodal areas of the coastal states, as well as the time of year when household food demand begins to exceed all other types of demand on markets across the region.

    The main sources of income for poor households between April and July are wage labor, short-term seasonal labor migration, and livestock sales (in certain agropastoral and pastoral areas). Market grain purchases are the main source of food for poor households. However, the food security situation varies from one livelihood zone to another. In general, the after-effects of last year’s floods in Nigeria, which reduced grain production by approximately eight percent compared to average, and insecurity relating by ongoing conflicts are continuing to disrupt grain and livestock marketing channels and household livelihoods, particularly in areas dependent on Nigeria.

    Food security situation: While food insecurity levels across the region are generally Minimal, conditions as of April are beginning to raise concerns with the continuation of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels in northern Mali and in Nigeria. Niger could also experience heightened levels of food insecurity due to unusual negative trends in market conditions and high prices which are obstructing adequate food access and consumption by poor households.

    There was a visible improvement in grain availability on markets in northern Mali between February and March. This is due to the normalization of trade with the south and with neighboring countries, which is sustaining the increasingly active market recovery in northern Mali. The normal depletion of household food stocks, coupled with a slump in livestock sales (due to low demand), and a lack of income-generating opportunities for the majority of the population in northern conflict-affected areas, is severely curtailing household food access. For agropastoralists in liberated areas (the southern Gao and Timbuktu areas), Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity levels will continue due to the recovery of markets. However pastoralists, who are facing the start of the lean season in areas that are not completely secure (the Kidal region and the northern reaches of the Gao and Timbuktu regions), will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity as there is still no clear sign of a rebound in trade and socio-economic activities.

    The food security situation in the Central African Republic has deteriorated compared to last month due to poor food availability, market disruptions, and disruptions in basic social services. Households in the central, northern, and eastern reaches of the country are already in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with the flare-up of civil insecurity in these areas.

    Pastoral conditions: Animal grazing and watering conditions are in line with seasonal norms, with localized improvements in off-season cropping areas where crop residues are bolstering existing pastoral resources. In general, livestock prices on markets across the sub-region were stable between February and March. However, price declines were reported in Mauritania (in line with normal seasonal trends), as well as in northern Mali, northeastern Nigeria, eastern Niger, and western Chad. For the affected areas of Nigeria, Niger, and Chad, livestock market disruptions are occurring due to civil insecurity in northeastern Nigeria, which is blocking normal trade routes. Terms of trade will remain stable (except for the areas were livestock prices are already falling) despite expected increases in grain prices and will allow poor households in agropastoral and pastoral areas to improve their food security during this month.

    Markets: Markets are currently disrupted due to three factors: 1) unusually low cereal supplies due to production shortfalls in Nigeria and low market inventory levels, 2) growth in Nigerian demand due to normal industrial demand and atypically strong consumer demand from flood-stricken households, and 3) conflict in northern Mali. In the eastern marketing basin (consisting of Benin, Nigeria, Niger, and Chad), continuing market pressure, due to demand from Nigeria, is causing atypically high staple food prices to spread to markets in neighboring countries, such as Benin and Niger. These price increases have created unfavorable price differentials for grain exports from Nigeria/Benin to Niger. As a result, more and more traders in Niger have been turning to Mali and Burkina Faso, since the end of March, for cereals as price differentials for millet and maize are more in their favor in these countries. Only in Chad are market grain prices declining due to its unusual isolation from the rest of the trade basin with the civil insecurity in Nigeria and its large 2012 grain harvest (which has made the country self-sufficient). The increase in internal grain trade flows in the central and western marketing basins is helping to stabilize prices in March. Consequently, prices in these areas are following normal seasonal trends.

    Prices: Prices for maize, rice, and sorghum in the central and western basins between Mauritania and Burkina Faso are stable or edging downwards and are close to their five-year averages. In contrast, prices of millet and other grains on markets in the eastern basin (Figures 3 and 4) are above their seasonal averages by as much as 53 percent in Maradi, Niger and 48 percent in Dawanau, Nigeria. This compares to a 37 percent differential on both markets one month earlier. These simultaneous prices increases compared to average are indicative of continuing demand pressures on market supplies in the eastern basin due to flooding and market disruptions in Nigeria. The price of millet has been rising since 2009, in line with steady declines in millet production in Nigeria in favor of maize and sorghum production, which farmers find more profitable. Increases in millet and maize prices over the next few months are expected to outstrip normal seasonal trends through July/August, due to growing demand from grain-deficit households and higher needs during Ramadan.     


    Updated Outlook through June 2013
    • Food supplies on markets in northern Mali, particularly in agropastoral areas of southern Gao and Timbuktu, which were inadequate, below-average, and lower than last year's levels as of last month, should gradually stabilize. On the other hand, market supplies in the northern reaches of these regions and in the Kidal region, which is still exposed to repeated armed skirmishes, will be vastly inadequate. Agropastoral populations in more secure southern areas will continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity over the next few months. In contrast, households in less secure areas farther north are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) next month due to below-average  household and market food stocks in these areas, as of the beginning of the pastoral lean season. These pastoral households, who are essentially dependent on livestock sales to access cereals, are receiving below-average prices for their animals due to the continuation of livestock market disruptions and will require food assistance.
    • At least 20 percent of the population in the states of Yobe and Borno in Nigeria, the epicenter of the Boko Haram conflict where civil insecurity is preventing the normal resumption of trade and socio-economic activities, will continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity through September. Staple food prices are still increasing and remain above-average. In contrast, poor households in other states, particularly in flood-stricken areas, will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity between now and the end of the lean season (in July/August in the south and in early September at the beginning of the next harvests for Niger, Kebbi, and Katsina states).
    • The increasing prices and market disruptions in Nigeria will have an increasingly large effect on food security conditions in northeastern Burkina Faso, central-western and southwestern Chad, and in the Diffa region of Niger. In the affected areas of Burkina Faso and Chad, households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between July and September. In the Diffa region of Niger, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels of food insecurity will start at the beginning of May.  
    • The Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity outcomes in the Central African Republic could continue until the upcoming September harvests, sustained by the serious socio-political situation in that country that has been marked by population displacements, looting problems, and unusually sharp increases in food prices.
    • Poor households in all other livelihood zones in the region are generally able to protect their livelihoods. Thus, at least 80 percent of households in these areas will face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity levels between now and the end of June. However, the normal depletion of household food stocks, as well as a growing dependency of market purchases and expected food price increases, could lead to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity in certain low-performing agropastoral areas and for poor households in urban areas of Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso, primarily in July/August.
    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Millet prices on West African reference markets as of March 2013, compared with 2012 and the five-year average

    Figure 2

    Millet prices on West African reference markets as of March 2013, compared with 2012 and the five-year average

    Source: FEWS NET

    Maize prices on West African reference markets as of March 2013, compared with 2012 and the five-year average

    Figure 3

    Maize prices on West African reference markets as of March 2013, compared with 2012 and the five-year average

    Source: FEWS NET

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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