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Food Security Improvements in the Sahel

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • West Africa
  • July 2012
Food Security Improvements in the Sahel

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • The growing season is progressing normally in the Sahel and West Africa and started early in many areas, with the exception of Mauritania and Senegal. In contrast to last year, maize crops from the first growing season in the southern reaches of the coastal states could be available by August, possibly reaching markets in the Sahel by September of this year. 

    • Even with the lean season already underway, the food security situation in the Sahel is visibly improving due to ongoing assistance programs and the presence of milk and short-cycle fresh maize, tuber, groundnut, and other miscellaneous green crops on markets in the southern Sudanian zone as well as certain parts of the Sahelian zone.

    • Prices for locally-grown cereal are still far above seasonal averages (10 to 80 percent in the case of millet).  Even with the stabilization of prices in June and assuming that the growing season progresses normally such high price levels will make it extremely difficult for very poor and poor households to maintain their food access until after the harvest in October/November.  

    • The food security situation across the region is currently classified as IPC Phase 3:  Crisis, particularly in agropastoral areas extending from Mauritania to Chad and receiving areas for refugees and IDPs. Ongoing assistance programs will need to be extended through September to offset the effects of high prices and the low food reserves of very poor and poor households.

    • Even with the regional outlook for a good growing season, the political instability in Mali is a continuing source of concern with regard to the impact on cereal and rice production, market performance, humanitarian access, and food security, particularly in the northern part of the country.

    • The desert locust threat continues to loom over farming and pastoral areas, particularly in areas of northern Mali  that are currently in the throes of a food crisis (IPC Phase 3), where the climate of insecurity is disrupting surveillance and control mechanisms. The immediate mobilization of adequate amounts of timely funding for detection, treatment, and prevention efforts is essential to prevent losses of crops and pastures.

    Updated food security outlook through September 2012

    Seasonal progress

    The entire region benefited from good rainfall conditions in June and July of this year, enabling farmers to plant crops and pastoralists to take advantage of incipient new pasture growth, though Mauritania and Senegal are still reporting large rainfall deficits. This rainfall activity helped relieve rainfall deficits in a number of areas, particularly in the western reaches of West Africa. In general, in view of rainfall levels as of June 30th of this year, the start-of-season can be categorized as normal to early in practically all parts of the area (Figure 3), except in the west (northwestern Guinea Bissau, eastern Gambia, and southeastern Senegal) and in localized areas of northern Burkina Faso and the central reaches of Nigeria, where minor delays are being reported. There are other areas with small to moderate rainfall deficits in western Niger, particularly in the southwestern reaches of the Tahoua region and the northeastern reaches of the Tillabéri region, and in northeastern Burkina Faso.

    Locust situation

    Even with the generally good start and progress of the growing season to date, final outcomes are still largely contingent on the threat of a major locust invasion materializing in the region. This concern heightened in view of the reported presence of locust populations in occupied areas of northern Mali, where the general climate of insecurity is preventing implementation of a canvassing or treatment program. 

    There were reports of a locust presence in the Kidal region in May/June of this year, but no further reports of locust activity in northern Mali since that time. The ensuing dry spell in June in that area most likely caused the locusts to disperse. However, they continue to pose a serious threat to crops and pastures. The lack of current data on locust movements, behavior, and locations in Mali continues to present a challenge in attempting to accurately assess their impact on crops and pastures in at-risk areas. Nevertheless, with the good rainfall conditions in these areas, ongoing locust hatchings in parts of Adrar des Iforas and Tamesna are likely. This is a continuing source of concern and requires  diligence on the part of neighboring countries like Niger, Chad, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso to mount appropriate monitoring and treatment efforts in order to to prevent or mitigate the impact of a possible invasion by locust swarms from northern Mali.

    Since May, Niger has been deploying necessary resources to combat current locust threats and avoid any future locust outbreaks. Canvassing operations are ongoing and treatments are applied as needed. The government has rolled out its locust prevention and detection plan for July and August, which includes provisions for the pre-positioning of control teams along the Malian border, along with the use of maps and helicopters to conduct surveillance operations in remote areas of northern Niger. These resources are presently being deployed with the help of a number of foreign donors. The situation in other neighboring countries appears to be somewhat more stable for the time being.  Mauritania has already deployed canvassing teams in the southeastern part of the country for the treatment of locusts sighted in the vicinity of Nema. There are also reports of locust sightings in eastern Chad, which is beginning to formulate a locust control and prevention plan.  While to-date, there are no reports of any major damage in Niger or Mali, a high level of risk and concern remains across the region due to the failure of efforts to control the locust situation in Mali. The immediate availability of adequate amounts of timely funding for detection, treatment, and prevention efforts is essential to avoid losses of crops and pastures throughout the region.

    Developments in the food security situation

    >With the lean season already underway in the Sahel, most households are currently dependent on market-buying for their food supplies. The good growing season conditions in June of this year and an adequate flow of imports are currently helping to ensure a regular supply of cereal, with traders and large farmers looking to unload their cereal inventories. Widespread farming activities are helping to diversify income sources for poor households, even in rural areas. In addition, shipments of early maize, tuber, and groundnut crops from markets in the southern areas of coastal states to certain Sahelian markets are helping to improve supplies and ease demand pressure, unlike the situation at the same time in 2011.

    However, in spite of these improvements, cereal prices are still high compared with the same time last year and seasonal averages for this time of year. This is especially true in the case of millet, as June prices on major reference markets across the region, though generally stable, were 10 to 80 percent above seasonal averages (compared with a range of 40 to 102 percent in May). The case of maize prices is completely different due to the harvests already underway in the southern reaches of the Gulf of Guinea countries. Maize prices have begun to come down from last year and to dip below the seasonal average on major reference markets in these areas, though they are still up by 40 to 75 percent on markets in the central trade basin, in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana.

    These extremely high price levels are limiting the scope of any reported improvements in conditions and curtailing the food access of market-dependent households, particularly in structurally deficit areas of the Sahel and poor urban and peri-urban areas. The continued success of efforts to contain the general deterioration in food security conditions to IPC Phase 3 (crisis) will require the extension of assistance programs through the end of September, when harvests are expected to begin in Sahelian areas. Ongoing operations will need to continue in the face of these high prices and the low levels of household food reserves, particularly in agropastoral areas stretching from Mauritania to Chad and receiving areas for refugees and IDPs.  Rebel-occupied areas of northern Mali where conditions are not conducive to a normalization of business activities will require special attention. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Cumulative rainfall anomalies for the period from the 1st dekad of April to the 3rd dekad of June compared with the 2007-2011

    Figure 2

    Cumulative rainfall anomalies for the period from the 1st dekad of April to the 3rd dekad of June compared with the 2007-2011 average

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Start-of-season anomalies as of June 30, 2012

    Figure 3

    Start-of-season anomalies as of June 30, 2012

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Increases in June 2012 millet prices compared with the June average on selected reference markets

    Figure 4

    Increases in June 2012 millet prices compared with the June average on selected reference markets

    Source: OMA Mali; SIMA Niger; DMDA Kano; SIM CSA Senegal; SIM SONAGES Burkina Faso; FEW…

    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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