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High risk of an escalation in food insecurity levels with the start of the growing season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • West Africa
  • June 2012
High risk of an escalation in food insecurity levels with the start of the growing season

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Poor households are beginning the growing season without any food reserves. Acute food insecurity levels range from IPC Phases 2 (Stressed) to Phase 3 (Crisis). Without assistance, there could be widespread food Crises (IPC Phase 3) in this region, particularly in agropastoral areas stretching from Mauritania to Chad and in receiving areas for refugees and displaced persons. 

    • Even with the beginning of the rainy season and the improvement in pasture production, the lean season for agropastoral households will extend into September. Without continuing or timely deliveries of food aid, certain agropastoral households in Sahelian areas of Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania will be transition from Phase 2 into Phase 3 of the IPC acute food insecurity phase scale by the middle of July.

    • After the abnormally sharp hikes of over 20 percent in prices for local grain crops in March and April of this year, prices stabilized between April and May, fluctuating by less than 10 percent. Current prices are well above seasonal averages (by 40 to as much as 101 percent in the case of millet) and continue to make food access extremely difficult for very poor and poor households.

    • The growing season in (southern) Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso got off to a normal start where, in general, the rains began on schedule or earlier than usual. However, the desert locust threat in agricultural zones is a source of concern in areas currently in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) after the poor 2011 growing season and given the high price of food. This means stepping up surveillance as the growing season progresses.

    Updated food security outlook through September 2012

    The month of June generally marks definitive progress in the growing season in Sudanian areas and the start-of-season in localized areas of the Sahel, where the growing season generally gets underway in July. An examination of the ten-day satellite rainfall estimate (RFE) shows rather heavy rainfall activity already sweeping into the far southern edges of Mali, southwestern Burkina Faso, the Burkina Faso-Niger border area, central Nigeria, and the southernmost edges of Chad by the first dekad of April. Rains associated with the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone advanced northwards throughout April, eventually covering the eastern part of Guinea, most of southern Burkina Faso, the entire Sikasso region of Mali, practically all of northern Nigeria, and southern Chad, as far as Salamat in the southeastern part of the country. In the west, there was heavy rainfall in southern and eastern Senegal and most of the southern reaches of the Kayes, Mopti, Koulikoro, and Ségou regions of Mali. In the east, practically all farming areas of Chad saw rain in the second dekad of May. As of the end of May, the rainstorm activity in the western part of the region had abated, with reports of a new rainy spell farther east, particularly in the Tahoua, Maradi, Zinder, and Diffa regions of Niger and in central Chad (in the Lac, Kanem, East and West Batha, Ouaddai, and Wadi Fira regions).

    In general, cumulative rainfall totals for the period from the beginning of April to the beginning of June of this year are at or above seasonal averages in all parts of the region with the exception of Mauritania, Senegal, northwestern Mali, northeastern Burkina Faso, western Niger, and localized areas along the West African coast (Figure 3). Thus, with the rainfall activity and amounts of precipitation reported in the Sahelian countries and the northern reaches of the Gulf of Guinea countries, it is safe to say that the start-of-season is a “given” in most parts of the region, except for an area extending from Guinea Bissau northwards to central Senegal and Mauritania and on into southwestern Burkina Faso and the southern reaches of the Tillabery region of Niger. With the onset of the rains, the lean season for pastoralists in many parts of the Sahel should soon be over. However, this will not fundamentally change current food security conditions, with poor households continuing to rely heavily on market-buying and prices likely to stay above seasonal averages through the end of September, which marks the beginning of the upcoming harvest season.

    Desert locusts have been observed in border areas of Libya and Algeria since February. Though preliminary canvassing and treatment efforts reduced the numbers of locusts in these areas, some swarms are now migrating south, heading for the Sahel. The above-average rainfall in certain parts of northern Mali, Niger, and Chad in May and June created conditions conducive to locust breeding activities. The first traveling swarms of immature adult locusts were sighted at the end of May and spread rapidly thereafter. Breeding activities were expected to begin in June in Niger and Mali, increasing locust populations and band formation. Seasonal breeding activities are likely to get underway in Chad and Mauritania in the next few weeks. Without adequate treatment efforts, the continuation of current propitious conditions for locust breeding activities will result in locust infestations, which could cause localized crop failures and sizeable losses of pasture resources. The situation in agropastoral areas of Mali and Niger is of particular concern, where local households depend on unimodal crop production to meet their annual food and income requirements for up to nine months. Many areas with the highest probability of being invaded by swarms of locusts are currently in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) due to mediocre 2011 harvests, high food prices, and inadequate food aid programs. Locust damage in the weeks ahead could affect food security conditions between July and September by reducing available supplies of wild foods and continuing to fuel price hikes normally curbed by crop production forecasts. However, the most serious effects would probably be felt next year, in 2013, when households hit hard by crop failures will be facing a harsher lean season.

    A normal start to the rainy season will usually cause large farmers and traders to unload their inventories on the market. As recently observed, this improves supplies on local markets and slows price increases. There are already reports of price drops on certain markets in southern Sudanian areas, but they are not yet that widespread, particularly in the Sahel where prices are still well above-average (Figure 4). In fact, current coarse grain prices are above seasonal averages for maize prices by 12 percent in Malanville (Benin), 11 percent in Niamey, 34 percent in Kano, 53 percent in Bobo Dioulasso, 63 percent in Bol, 70 percent in Sikasso, and 101 percent in Tamalé (Figure 4). Millet prices are above the five-year average by 48 percent in N’Djamena, 56 percent in Kano, 62 percent in Maradi, 52 percent in Ouagadougou, and 102 percent in Ségou. As the growing season gradually settles in, rising prices could stabilize in July-August and begin to come down in September. However, it is equally possible that grain demand from households with below-average production will continue to rise until the upcoming harvest, putting constant pressure on supply, which will drive up or keep prices high on local markets, particularly in the Sahel. Moreover, with the sharp increase in millet prices in many parts of the Sahel since the beginning of the marketing season, more and more poor households will be substituting maize and sorghum, which are still less expensive than millet.

    Terms of trade for livestock-grain and/or grain access could strengthen between now and September with an improvement in the physical condition and market value of animals and with the job opportunities created by the more intensive use of farm labor. However, without a sharp drop in grain prices, livestock-to-cereal terms of trade could stay 10 to 40 percent below average through the end of September of this year, and, in the case of labor-to-cereals terms of trade, as much as 40 to 70 percent below average. This will continue to make food access difficult for poor agricultural and agropastoral households, which will require assistance between now and the end of September. Without assistance, Crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) will become increasingly widespread all across the Sahel, particularly in agropastoral areas extending from Mauritania to Chad. The corollary of this escalation in food insecurity levels could be a rise in global acute malnutrition rates in these areas, which, even in a year of surplus cereal production, exceed critical and emergency thresholds in the Sahel. 

    Figures Typical seasonal calendar

    Figure 1

    Typical seasonal calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Cumulative rainfall (RFE) anomalies for the period from the 1st dekad of April to the 1st dekad of June, compared with the 20

    Figure 2

    Cumulative rainfall (RFE) anomalies for the period from the 1st dekad of April to the 1st dekad of June, compared with the 2007-2011 average

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Percent difference between millet prices on selected reference markets and the five-year average

    Figure 3

    Percent difference between millet prices on selected reference markets and the five-year average

    Source: OMA Mali, SIMA Niger, DMDA Kano, SIM/SONAGES Burkina Faso, 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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