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Late start to the growing season and protracted lean season in pastoral areas of the Sahel

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • West Africa
  • August 2013
Late start to the growing season and protracted lean season in pastoral areas of the Sahel

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Projected Outlook through December 2013
  • Key Messages
    • Noticeable disruptions to the start of the season precluded the anticipated improvements in food security conditions in pastoral areas. The expected new pasture growth in July in all did not materialize equally across the Sahel, limiting improvement in milk production in some areas.

    • Food assistance from governments, the WFP and NGOs, as well as social assistance during the observance of Ramadan, prevented food security from deteriorating in affected areas. Poor households will continue to face Stressed if not Crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 2 and 3) through September, particularly in eastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, and the Kidal region of northern Mali.

    • The steady deterioration in public services, market disruptions, low levels of household income, and problems with the delivery of humanitarian assistance will keep households in northeastern Nigeria and the Central African Republic in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through September.

    • The normalization of seasonal rainfall in August and ensuing harvests will visibly improve the food security situation by October. In general, households across the region will experience Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1), except in the Central African Republic, where conditions will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), particularly in the north.

    Current Situation

    In general, accumulated in July in the eastern and western Sahel and the central reaches of the Sudanian zone, from Nigeria to Ghana, was below-normal and poorly distributed,, exacerbating the delay in planting activities in the northern reaches of Gulf of Guinea countries. On the whole, rainfall was favorable in the central reaches of the Sudano-Sahelian zone and parts of the Saharan zone, where there were reportedly heavy rains.

    August is normally considered the height of the growing season, with regular rainfall activity helping to spur crop growth and development. This year there was a dry spell in the first half of the month of August in bimodal areas, which is a normal occurrence, with regular rainfall activity in the Sudanian-Sahelian zone and the western and eastern reaches of the Guinean-Sudanian zone but persistent rainfall deficits in northern Ghana, central Nigeria, and Côte d'Ivoire.

    The main source of income for poor households during the month of August is wage income from farm labor. Cereal purchases on local markets are their main source of food. With the two to five-week-long delay in the start of the growing season, there was little change in regular daily wage rates for farm labor, but the growing shortage of employment opportunities in certain areas in July sustained the stressed food security conditions faced by poor households in affected areas. Markets continued to function normally in spite of the poor start to the season. Cereal prices across the region were relatively stable, but price levels in central and eastern Niger and northern Nigeria were well above seasonal averages in many cases.

    Food security situation

    Food security across the Sahel has been relatively stable with expanded assistance programs by governments, the WFP and NGOs as part of efforts to help poor households during the lean season. However, conditions in northern Mali, northern Nigeria, southeastern Niger, and the Central African Republic have been a continuing source of concern.

    • Northern Mali: Security has notably improved and markets in the Timbuktu and Gao regions are functioning better than earlier in the year. However, food security is still problematic, particularly in pastoral areas where the growing season got off to a late start, even with the resumption of humanitarian relief programs in these areas. In fact, with cereal prices 20 percent above-average and the extension of the lean season in pastoral areas into the month of July, poor households are seeing their situation temporarily deteriorate while facing an atypical lack of improvement in milk production and increasing costs of maintaining livestock.
    • Northern Nigeria: Food security in this area is still of concern, with a poor start to the season delaying harvests of early crops. The ongoing conflict with Boko Haram is disrupting markets in northeastern Nigeria. The flow of displaced persons into southeastern Niger is increasing; according to recent estimates by the UNHCR and the governments of Niger and Cameroon, there are over 14,000 displaced persons in both countries as a result of this conflict. Residents of northeastern Nigeria, the epicenter of the fighting in the conflict with Boko Haram, continue to face Crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3).
    • Southeastern Niger: Continuing insecurity in northern Nigeria is disrupting markets and driving cereal prices above seasonal averages. The late start of the growing season and lack of any real improvement in pastoral production until the beginning of August are compounding current food security constraints. As a result, acute food insecurity among poor households remains Stressed (IPC Phase 2).
    • Central African Republic: Socioeconomic conditions and food security in the CAR are steadily deteriorating in the face of deteriorating security and the continued disruption of public and financial services such as markets and banks. The lack of public security services, preventing local populations from engaging in their normal income-generating and productive activities, has triggered population displacements all across the country. Households in all parts of the country continue to face Crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3).
    • Rest of the region: In spite of the mixed progress of the growing season, even in Sudanian areas, the rest of the region is still experiencing Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1). Markets stocked with supplies from traders and large-scale farmers endeavoring to unload their inventories are functioning normally. Most poor households in all livelihood zones were able to meet their food needs during the past month.

    Pastoral conditions

    This year’s lean season was longer than usual due to the late start of the rainy season in just about all parts of the Sahel, from Mauritania to Chad. However, pastoral conditions have been improving since the beginning of August with the steady growth of new pasture and rebound in milk production and prices for livestock. Thus, in general, terms of trade are in favor of pastoralists, even with cereal prices still above seasonal averages in pastoral areas. Animal watering conditions are also improving. Wealthy households are still resorting to the use of animal feed readily available from retailers, even after the end of the lean season in pastoral areas. Poor households, who care for small livestock less demanding of food, are relying on available new pasture growth. Animal health conditions in all livelihood zones are stable. In general, despite localized delays in the start-of-season, on the whole, livestock prices are still above-average, particularly prices for animals in good physical condition as a result of last year’s good supply of pasture.


    In general, markets across the region are functioning normally, particularly in areas where the growing season has been making good progress. Harvests of early maize, yam, and peanut crops are already underway in certain localized areas. These crops have begun making their way to local markets in the coastal states and certain urban areas of Niger and Burkina Faso. Despite the improvement in rainfall conditions in northern Nigeria, markets are still disrupted by the after-effects of last year’s production shortfalls and by the ongoing civil conflict in the north. As a result, though stable since June, prices are still unusually high compared with seasonal trends on Nigerian markets, as well as on cross-border markets and neighboring markets in central and southeastern Niger. (Figures 3 and 4)

    Nutritional situation

    A study of the subregional nutritional situation based on the findings from the latest SMART surveys in Niger (May/June 2013) and the Gao region of Mali (May 2013) and trends in admissions to treatment facilities shows a slight deterioration in nutritional conditions (between June and July of this year and between last July and July of this year), as reflected in the uptick in admissions to major therapeutic feeding centers. This recurrent trend during the yearly lean season in all Sahelian countries could be attributable to the combined effects of the depletion of household food stocks, the limited supply of water, the growing numbers of cases of malaria, and, indirectly, the consideration of mid-upper arm circumference measurements as a separate criterion for admission to treatment centers, as well as the expansion of treatment programs.

    Projected Outlook through December 2013

    The normalization of seasonal rainfall should normalize major food security drivers in this region by producing a larger and more diversified food supply with the maturation of early crops (tubers, cowpeas, etc.), improving milk availability and dairy products, normalizing the supply of jobs for poor households, stabilizing cereal prices and, in some cases, bringing prices down in local areas unaffected by the poor start-of-season. Acute food insecurity should start to improve by September, with more noticeable improvements in some areas of concern than in others.

    Security in northern Mali will likely continue to steadily improve. In fact, the full recovery of pastoral production since the end of August and the normalization of market conditions and economic activity with the military deployment in that part of the country will visibly improve household livelihoods, which should help reduce food insecurity to Minimal levels (IPC Phase 1). Generally, improvement in household food security could become increasingly widespread as of October assuming the continued progression of the rainy season as forecasted in the seasonal rainfall outlook.

    Security in northeastern Nigeria is expected to improve over the next few months. Overall, the current Crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) will decrease, giving way to Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) by October with the replenishment of household food stocks from what are according to the latest forecasts expected to be good harvests. However, residual civil security problems and the inability of certain households affected by the conflict to engage in their normal farming activities could maintain localized pockets of severe food insecurity.

    The international community’s growing awareness of insecurity in the Central African Republic should help normalize economic activity in that country over the next few months. Food insecurity in the south is already improving with the beginning of the harvest and conditions more conducive to the delivery of food assistance by local NGOs. On the other hand, consistent with the seasonal calendar, harvests have not yet started up in the northern part of the country, which is less accessible to NGOs and where farming activities have been severely disrupted by the conflict. Households in this part of the country could continue to face Crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) until October, when the beginning of the harvest should ease the crisis, translating into Stressed food security conditions (IPC Phase 2).  Elsewhere, the steady expansion in harvesting activities as of October will reduce food insecurity across the region to Minimal levels (IPC Phase 1).

    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 in July 2013, compared with 2012 and the average

    Figure 2

    Millet prices on West African reference markets in July 2013, compared with 2012 and the average

    Source: FEWS NET

    Maize prices on West African reference markets in July 2013, compared with 2012 and the average

    Figure 3

    Maize prices on West African reference markets in July 2013, compared with 2012 and the average

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4


    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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