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Sahel and West Africa Assumptions for Quarterly Food Security Analysis

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • West Africa
  • October 2013
Sahel and West Africa Assumptions for Quarterly Food Security Analysis

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  • Seasonal Performance
  • Regional Trade and Price Dynamics
  • Cross-Border Conflicts and Displacement
  • Other Regional Issues

  • Seasonal Performance

    FEWS NET’s Food Security Outlook reports for the Sahel and West Africa for October 2013 to March 2014 are based on the following regional assumptions developed at the beginning of October 2013: 

    End-of-season/Agro-climatic conditions

    The Intertropical Front (ITF) has been retreating southwards, towards the Equator, since September in line with normal seasonal trends (Figure 1). Based on its mean position during the last dekad of September, all end-of-season forecasts are predicting the following:

    • In the Sahelian zone, the rainy season generally finished up at the end of September, although sporadic storms may allow crops in localized areas to finish maturing. In many areas within the zone, planting delays were observed earlier in the season and as a result, crops are at unusually early stages of development. This could lead to localized declines in crop yields compared to average, particularly in the far northern reaches of Burkina Faso, Niger (localized areas of the Diffa, Tillaberi, and Tahoua regions), northeastern and west-central Nigeria, Mali (localized areas in central Mali and in western Kayes), Chad (the Sahel and western Chari Baguirmi), south-central Mauritania, and north-central Senegal and Gambia.
    • In the Sudano-Guinean zone and bimodal areas, the rainy season will continue into November (for the Sudano-Guinean zone) and into December (for bimodal areas), with a normal increase in storm activity during the month of October as the ITF retreats southwards. This will allow standing crops in the Sudano-Guinean zone to finish maturing normally and will help get the second growing season (October to December) in bimodal areas off to a good start.

    Outlook for pasture production

    Given various rainfall conditions observed throughout the region during the 2013 rainy season, pasture availability is expected to be average, although there will be large pockets of pasture deficits in northwestern and eastern Niger, central-western Nigeria, eastern and western pastoral areas of Chad, southeastern and western Mali, central and northern Senegal, and southwestern Mauritania.

    Desert locusts and other crop pests

    In most gregarization areas of the Sahel, there was very little breeding activity by desert locust populations, despite reports of locally favorable conditions (Figure 2). Thus, desert locusts pose little to no threat to this year’s crops, except for in Mauritania. However, there is a high risk of above-average damages to late-season crops in eastern, central, and western Niger, northern Mali, and northeastern Burkina Faso from grasshoppers and birds in September and October. This increased risk is due to poor pasture growth, as plants failed to fully mature and produce seeds that would normally be consumed by the bird populations.

    Crop production outlook

    Quantitative harvest forecasts will be released upon the conclusion of the CILSS/FEWS NET/FAO and WFP missions currently underway in all countries. However based on current rainfall patterns, crop progress, and end-of-season conditions in different areas, cereal production will generally be average, with localized deficits and surpluses throughout the Sahel, from Mauritania to Chad and across northeastern Nigeria. Based on reported 2013/14 hydrologic conditions, there should be above-average opportunities for market gardening activities, except for in Chad where current water levels in semi-permanent lakes and ponds are below-average, translating into fewer opportunities than normal. Accordingly, given this year’s wage rates for farm labor, market gardening activities will serve as an important source of food and income in most countries. The following is an outline of crop-specific production projections for each trade basin:

    For the eastern basin:

    • Millet harvests will be average to slightly above-average as the major millet-producing areas of Niger (southern Zinder, Maradi, Tahoua, and Dosso) and Nigeria (southern Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Gombé, Bauchi, and Kano) have not been seriously affected by poor rainfall conditions.
    • Maize harvests will be slightly below-average due to the poor growing conditions in major maize-producing areas of west-central Nigeria and northern Benin.
    • Sorghum harvests will be average due to the late start-of-season and poor conditions for flood-recession agriculture in Chad and Nigeria.
    • Cowpea harvests will be above-average, despite expected production deficits in Nigeria’s Niger state, due to an increase in land area planted and good growing conditions between the end of July and the first dekad of September in major cowpea-producing areas.
    • Harvests of other cash crops (cotton, groundnuts, sesame, and soybeans) will be above-average due to good crop production in the Sudanian areas of Chad, Nigeria, and Benin.
    • Harvests of tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, and cassava) will be above average, with the largest increases expected for cassava. Cassava meal is currently selling for 50,000 FCFA per sack, compared with 28,000 FCFA per sack at the same time last year, which has motivated farmers in Benin to increase the land area that they have planted in this crop. In addition, growing conditions in Nigeria for these crops are more favorable than last year.

    For the central basin:

    • Millet harvests will be average due to generally average conditions in key millet-producing areas of Mali and Burkina Faso.
    • Maize harvests will be average to slightly above-average. This is based on expectations of a good harvest in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, an average harvest in Mali, and a below-average harvest in Ghana.
    • Sorghum harvests will be average due to the effects of a late start-of-season.
    • Cowpea harvests will be average in the basin as a whole, although there will be above-average harvests in localized areas of Burkina Faso.
    • Harvests of other cash crops (cotton, groundnuts, sesame, and soybeans) will be above-average. With the exception of cotton production in Mali, these projected above-average harvests are due to farmers planting more land in these crops this year.   
    • Harvests of tuber crops (yams, sweet potatoes, and cassava) will be above-average.  When planting delays and/or crop failures occurred earlier in the season, many farmers planted tuber crops instead of maize and cotton, particularly in southwestern Mali and western Burkina Faso. As a result, a larger land area was planted in these crops this year.

    For the western basin:

    • Millet, sorghum, and maize harvests will be below-average due to a late start-of-season, rainfed crop losses, and a generally average harvest projected for irrigated and flood-recession crops in Mauritania.
    • Cowpea harvests will be average due to poor conditions in north-central Senegal, the basin’s major cowpea-producing area.
    • Groundnut harvests will also be below-average due to the poor rainfall conditions in major groundnut-producing areas of Senegal and Gambia.

    For the coastal states:

    • Cereal harvests in the coastal states will be average. This region normally receives large quantities of rainfall compared with the Sahelian countries. Thus, even with the below-average total rainfall that fell over the zone during the 2013 rainy season, precipitation should be sufficient to support relatively normal crop growth. Moreover, any small production shortfalls will be offset by crops from the second growing season, which are normally harvested starting in January. 

    Regional Trade and Price Dynamics

    2013/14 carry-over stocks

    Due to last year’s good harvests, cereal carry-over stocks for both households and traders should be above-average in all countries, except for Niger and Nigeria where they will be average. Traders also have above-average carry-over stocks for cowpeas, due to weak sales of last year’s crops during the 2013 lean season as prices fell below the purchase price that traders paid to acquire the cowpeas last year (the average purchase price was 25,000 CFA francs/sack in October–December 2012, compared with an average selling price of 21,000 CFA francs in July-September 2013). As a result, many traders, particularly in Niger and Nigeria where trader stocks are the highest, have chosen to hold onto their inventories rather than sell them at a loss.

    Institutional procurements

    Due to an above-average number of households who will likely face food deficits in 2014 as a result of localized crop production shortfalls, reliance on institutional food security stocks will be higher than normal. This will, in turn, create above-average institutional procurement needs, particularly in Niger and Chad. In the case of Chad, due to below-average harvests in the country’s Sahelian zone, institutional procurement capacity will be below-average and fall short of meeting needs. As a result, the country will rely more on institutional purchases from regional (Cameroon) or international markets.

    Institutional procurements will be made in at least two phases, between October 2013 and February 2014 (a typical time for procurements) and between March and May 2014 (an atypical time for procurements). In general, the procurements planned for October 2013 to March 2014 have already been scheduled by each country and should be in line with normal seasonal trends, based on projections indicating an average to good growing season across the region. However in November, CILSS and its partners will be releasing quantitative production data that is expected to show that, even with an average harvest for the region as a whole, there will be a large number of areas across the Sahel that experienced localized production deficits. This will cause above-average assistance needs during the lean season and will cause a larger than normal dependency on national security stocks. Thus, following a reevaluation of needs in December/January after the publication of the final crop production results, new institutional procurements will scheduled and will cause atypically strong institutional demand between March and April 2014.   

    Cereal markets and trade

    Trade flows between the coastal states and the Sahel will be normal, with the exception of trade to and from northeastern Nigeria which will affect supply of cowpeas and livestock to southeastern Niger, western Chad, and other parts of Nigeria. There will also be below-average trade flows between Chad and the Central African Republic and between northern Mali and Algeria, but a normalization of trade between Mali and its other neighboring countries (Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania). Unusual trade patterns are unlikely between October and December but could come into play starting in January in the event of large trader procurements outside of the normal October to December procurement period.

    Supplies on rural and urban markets should improve over the next few months as harvesting activities continue between October and December. Cereal demand for human consumption will be normal in all trade basins, which will put less pressure on supply through the end of December 2013 with the existence of 2012/13 carry-over stocks and the availability of off-season crops. However starting in January 2014, an above-average number of households will depleted their food stocks, generating larger than normal cereal demand. These numbers will further increase starting in April 2014 as additional households run out of off-season crops, the last of which are normally harvested in April of each year.

    Prices will likely decline, both at markets where they had previously been stable or rising, as well as at markets where they have been falling since August, bottoming out in October-November when the harvest season is in full swing.

    • Millet prices will decline in all trade basins between October and December, approaching the seasonal average in the central basin but staying above-average in the eastern and western basins. These price trends are driven by the fact that relatively good supply from the October to December harvests outpaces demand, which is normal for this time of the year. However starting in January 2014, announcements of localized production deficits and institutional procurements will drive millet prices in all trade basins to above-average levels. The expected business opportunities for traders created by these announcements will prompt them to increase their market purchases to build their stocks, causing demand to outstrip increasingly tight supply at the end of the harvest season.
    • Sorghum prices will follow the same trends as millet prices between October and December, although they will remain above the seasonal averages in all trade basins.
    • Maize prices will also come down between October and December, staying above-average in the eastern and western basins and approaching average levels in the central basin. Between January and March, prices will likely be stable with the end of the main marketing season in the Sudanian zone.
    • Cowpea prices are already coming down but are still above seasonal averages in all trade basins. They could stabilize at their current levels or decline slightly between now and the end of November in reaction to sluggish demand from traders (who are still holding their 2013 inventories). Prices will then likely rebound to above seasonal averages at the end of the marketing season and due to the announcement of trader procurements, causing demand to outpace supply.

    Business on livestock markets should remain brisk with growing demand  from both within the Sahel, as well as from the coastal countries, driven by preparations for Tabaski (October) and Christmas, continued exports to Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, and the resumption of exports to Nigeria with the securing of new western trade routes that were established in response to security threats that rendered regular trade routes less secure. As a result, prices for small ruminants will remain above-average between October and December, before then declining slightly in January in line with seasonal trends.


    Cross-Border Conflicts and Displacement
    • With the election of a new president, security conditions in Mali should continue to improve despite the potential for residual security problems affecting the free movement of persons and goods in the far northern reaches of the country. The numbers of refugees and IDPs created by the Malian conflict, both in Mali itself and in neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania, should steadily decline over the course of the outlook period and be cut in half.
    • There will be no major breakthroughs by efforts to resolve the conflict in northern Nigeria, which will continue to affect trade between northeastern Nigeria and eastern Niger, northern Cameroon, and Chad. It will also continue to disrupt the livelihoods of local households and crop production in northeastern Nigeria. The numbers of refugees and IDPs in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger as a result of the Boko Haram conflict will visibly increase between now and March 2014, because of both a lack of any attempt to negotiate with the insurgents and an ongoing politico-institutional crisis facing the federal government with the approaching 2015 elections. In addition, armed skirmishes in Niger between that country’s army and Boko Haram are currently on the rise.
    • There will be no change with regard to the situation in Libya, with residual security problems engendered by the continued presence of armed groups preventing the normalization of trade, which is currently informal due to the continued official closure of the country’s southern border. 

    Other Regional Issues

    Remittances and income

    In general, the stable economic situation in countries that receive migrant workers should help maintain a regular flow of migrants and remittance income. However, remittance income in eastern Niger (Diffa) and Chad will be below-average as household members switched to new destinations (due to the conflict in Nigeria) and have difficulties integrating into the local economies of these new areas. Residual security problems will also result in below-average income levels from craft-making activities and from the tourism industry, particularly in northern Niger and northern Mali.​

    Internal migration will be near-normal in most countries with the exception of Nigeria, due to the religious and ethnic fighting in that country. However, there will be a larger than normal increase in migration from areas that experienced low crop production this year to urban centers in Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Mali. There will also be a movement of workers towards gold washing sites in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Incomes from migrant workers are expected to be near-normal.

    On the whole, there will be a normal flow of intra-regional migration within the central basin and below-average migration levels from Niger to Nigeria and from Niger, Mali, and Chad to North Africa. On the other hand, there will be above-average migration flows to the West African coastal states (Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire), creating above-average remittance income flows to households in Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Tillabéry, Dosso, and Tahoua regions of Niger. This is due to a particularly larger numbers of migrants and reports of better economic performance in these coastal countries since the resolution of the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire.

    Average pastoral conditions should facilitate normal seasonal migratory movements by pastoralists and their livestock between October and December in most parts of the region. However, transhumant movements will be earlier than normal in Chad due to a shortage of pasture in livestock-receiving areas and a large concentration of livestock in the Wadi-Fira area. In addition, there will be unusual migratory movements and major disruptions in seasonal livestock migration in eastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, and southern Chad starting in January 2014 due to conflicts in Nigeria and the Central African Republic. Prior to January 2014, transhumant herds in these areas are expected to remain put, with animals continuing to take advantage of good pasture and watering conditions in Niger, Chad, and northeastern Nigeria and with the ongoing harvests in southern farming areas.

    Nutritional situation

    In line with seasonal trends, the nutritional situation in the Sahel will be marked by a decline in admissions to treatment centers for acute malnutrition between October and December, followed by a rebound in admissions numbers between January and March. The decline in admissions between October and December will be driven by the availability of various crops (both cereals and market gardening) from on-farm production and by an expected drop in market cereal prices. In addition, efforts by governments and their partners to improve the treatment of malaria and intensify corresponding epidemiological surveillance activities and efforts to mitigate the effects of flooding problems on affected populations should help limit the impact of these aggravating factors on the state of human nutrition. However, the nutritional situation for households in production deficit areas that experienced poor harvests this year will remain precarious, particularly in the Sahelian zone of Chad, northern Nigeria, northern Mali, and eastern and western Niger.

    Assistance needs

    In general, assistance needs will be low in the Sahel between October and December and average between January and March. However, large areas of central Niger, northern Nigeria, and Chad could have above-average nutritional assistance needs by February of next year with the depletion of household food stocks, rising food prices, and a growing number of cases of seasonal diseases in children under the age of five in these areas.

    Figures Figure 1. Position of the Intertropical Front (ITF) between September 21st and September 30, 2013, compared with the previous

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Position of the Intertropical Front (ITF) between September 21st and September 30, 2013, compared with the previous dekad and the long-term average

    Source: USGS

    Figure 2. Perceived risk of desert locust infestations

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Perceived risk of desert locust infestations

    Source: FAO – Locust Watch

    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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