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FEWS NET analysis shows that acute food insecurity in West Africa will reach IPC Phase 3: Crisis level between March and August 2012 in agropastoral areas of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad. The extent and severity of the expected food security conditions are not atypical for any recent year in the region, except for Mali.
Households most affected by this acute food insecurity crisis are mainly very poor and to some extent poor households in eastern and central Mauritania, western and central Mali, western Niger, and the Sahelian zone of Chad. These households account for about 60% of the population in the affected areas. Targeted assistance will be needed to cover their unmet food needs between March and September 2012.
In terms of the geographic scope, size of affected populations, and severity of the acute food insecurity crisis in the Sahel, the crisis in the eastern Horn of Africa remains a much more serious problem, and will remain so for 2012.
Even with the agricultural shocks this season in West Africa, the Sahel region is expecting an average cereal production of 16.6 million MT. Regional trade will play a key role in alleviating food insecurity in the region for the 2012 lean season.
According to CILSS, 2011/12 cereal production for the Sahel and West Africa is about 55 million MT. This is higher than the first estimation of 50 million MT made in September, which is near the five year average based on 2005/06 to 2009/10 data (unbiased by the exceptional record harvest of 2010/11). The 2011/12 cereal production is 4 percent above the five-year average and 8 percent below the record production of 2010/11. For the Sahel, its production of 16.6 million MT of grain is equivalent to the five-year average.
Per capita cereals production for the Sahel this year is 17 percent lower than the 2006-10 average (Figure 3). This decrease is due mainly to population growth and to a lesser extent the unusual production shock in the region this year. Chad and Mauritania register the largest per capita cereals production declines, at 43 and 45 percents respectively. The decline in Chad is exaggerated due to a change in population estimates, as the 2008/09 census resulted in an upward adjustment of population estimates by 25 percent. The per capita production declines in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali are 23, 14, and 12 percents respectively when compared to the 2006-10 average.
However, cereals production in the Sahel is not the key factor in ensuring food security in the region; regional trade plays an important part. Taking into account favorable regional cereal availability with imports forecasted at about 3 million MT of mainly rice and wheat, and carryover stocks from the record 2010 production (estimated at over one million MT), production shortfalls could be met, resulting in an overall balanced cereal balance in the Sahel. Trade between areas of production surplus and deficit will be above average levels in 2011/12, as well as consumption substitutions between cereals and vegetables and/or tubers. Regional cereals availability is sufficient to meet the needs of trade in the region. Nevertheless, the surpluses are not concentrated in the Sahel region as usual this year, and this will increase the costs of assembly.
Prices of traditional cereals are currently not following seasonal trends and are at atypical levels—with no price drop during harvest and staying well above seasonal averages, especially in Mali (Figure 4). One explanation for this is the delayed harvest in the Sudanian and Sahelian zones due to a delayed start-of-season, which compressed the harvest into a shortened period resulting in a bottleneck in agricultural labor for processing. Another explanation, especially in Mali, is the need to draw stocks from surplus areas in the coastal countries to the Sahel. With the various evidence including the agricultural anomalies of late harvests, 2011/12 regional cereals and food production that are expected to be average (in the Sahel) to good (for Gulf of Guinea countries), carryover stocks from an outstanding 2010/11 season, and the lack of price decreases at harvest time, it is premature to assume an additional surge in food prices this year. Nonetheless, FEWS NET is incorporating the assumption of seasonal increases in food prices in its food security analysis.
The international price trend for rice, wheat, and maize is downward, but price levels remain higher than those of last year. This is favorable for supply in various countries and for keeping the prices of rice, wheat, and bread at stable levels throughout the region. Food prices will likely increase in the following months as demand increases from traders, groups rebuilding national security stocks, cereal banks, and soon from households who will have exhausted their own stocks.
Global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates in the Sahel exceed crisis and emergency thresholds even during times of relative favorable food access. Chronically high GAM rates can be attributed to poor health and care practices in much of the region. As highlighted during the Praia meeting of the Food Crisis Prevention Network, even if emergency food assistance were to provide for 100 percent of needs throughout the year, the majority of acute malnutrition cases would persist. Interventions aimed at improving long-term health and care practices will go a long way to reducing global acute malnutrition in the Sahel.
Assessments are currently underway in various countries to accurately determine the number of people who will face food security crisis (IPC Phase 3), particularly in the Sahel. In fact, the people in need of emergency food assistance are from very poor and sometimes poor households in eastern and central Mauritania, western and central Mali, western Niger, and the Sahelian zone of Chad. Data on populations requiring assistance that are currently distributed in various national reports tend to be overstated and often include the total population of villages that experienced certain anomalies without adequately considering the importance or the impact of resilience and coping by different households on livelihoods.
In November 2011, FEWS NET conducted field assessments in pastoral areas of Mauritania (areas of pastoral and agro-pastoral transhumance), Niger (Tuareg areas in Tahoua), and Chad (southwestern areas of transhumant pastoral zones). Pasture and water conditions are generally below average levels. However, in most villages visited, incomes of poor households will be significantly above 2010/11 levels due to increased demand for herders, intensified out-migration, and increased income-generating activities such as the sale of hay, firewood, or coal. As cereals prices are also above average, it is too soon to determine the net effect of these opposing trends on purchasing power and food access of pastoral populations. Careful monitoring of terms-of-trade of cereals against the sale of labor, hay or wood, and animals will be needed.
Food security is generally stable compared to the previous month, with most of the region, except southeastern Mauritania, at IPC Phase 1 (No or minimal acute food insecurity). This is due to favorable current stock levels and the recent harvest of main season and off-season crops. Between January and March, increased demand on domestic markets and high cereals prices, coupled with decreasing income-generating opportunities, will increase the stress on livelihoods in areas of the Sahel affected by agricultural and pastoral shocks. Between January and March, areas classified in IPC Phase 2 (Stress) will expand to western and central Mali, western Niger, and the Sahelian zone of Chad. After March 2012, continuing declines in income-generating opportunities will result in some of these areas falling into IPC Phase 3 (Crisis).
Despite the difficulties in the Sahel in 2011/12, overall food security conditions are not expected to deteriorate dramatically during the next year. Nevertheless, pockets of acute food insecurity reaching IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) will occur in the Sahel. Still, overall food insecurity will not approach the level of famine and emergencies observed this year in the Horn of Africa. FEWS NET will continue its detailed analyses in the coming months to provide more information on the changing food security situation and the people affected by this crisis.
Seasonal calendar and timeline of critical events
Source: FEWS NET
Figure 1. Current Status of Food Security, December 2011
Source: FEWS NET
Figure 3. Per Capita Cereals Production in 2011 compared to 5-year Average and Consumption Needs
Figure 4. Sorghum prices (XOF/kg), staple food for the western basin, at Kayes, Mali
Source: OMA Mali
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.