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Steady improvement in food security conditions in the Sahel

  • Food Security Outlook
  • West Africa
  • August 2012 - January 2013
Steady improvement in food security conditions in the Sahel

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Food Security
  • Most likely food security scenario for July through December 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis- level food insecurity  (IPC Phase 3) across the region last month has since stabilized or improved, particularly in agropastoral areas extending from Mauritania as far as Chad and agricultural areas of the eastern Sahel between east-central Niger and Chad.  

    • The agricultural season in the Sahel and West Africa is progressing normally. Generally, the first harvests are already underway in bimodal areas and localized areas of the Sahel.  Food security is generally improving.  However, food aid needs will continue through September in order to compensate for high prices and low household stocks among the very poor and poor.

    • In spite of the lull in new locust activity in July,  the threat of a desert locusts in farming and pastoral areas continues. With high levels of uncertainty regarding future locust movements, at-risk countries are continuing to canvass and treat zones with potential for locust activity. 

    • Under the most likely scenario for the period between now and December, food security indicators are expected to normalize following a good harvest, though cereal prices will be slightly or moderately high compared with normal seasonal trends. Continuing assistance programs, the rebound in on-farm employment, and the replenishment of cereal stocks should help bring conditions back in line with normal seasonal trends, putting most of the region in IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity) between October and November.        

    Current Food Security

    Seasonal Progress

    The agricultural season is progressing normally, in line with the seasonal outlook. Overall, rainfall activity was good throughout the month of July, creating favorable conditions for the proper growth and development of crops and pastures in all unimodal areas of West Africa from the Guinean zone to the northern limits of the Sahel.  Likelihood for continuation of good rains through at least the end of August is high, meeting crop water requirements throughout this period. However, continued regular rainfall activity, with a good spatial-temporal distribution of rainfall in line with normal seasonal trends, is essential for a good harvest outlook for the region as a whole. In general, a continuation of normal rainfall patterns  should limit the effects of reported floods and lags in localized areas of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad on good harvest projections.

    Locust situation

    The locust situation has been relatively calm compared to the month of June, which was marked by an influx of migrating locusts into the region from outbreak areas in Algeria and Libya. However, conditions in Niger and Mali, as well as in Mauritania and Chad are still conducive to locust activity in the region. Thus, surveillance operations should be pursued and intensified in all areas with conditions conducive to locust breeding activities for the timely mobilization of necessary control efforts to protect crops and pastures.

    Food Security Developments

    The month of August marks the definitive end of the lean season in pastoral and bimodal areas. Food insecurity levels are improving given this year’s pasture production and generally good to above-average harvests of food crops already underway in these areas. The same is true in localized areas of the eastern Sahel and northern Nigeria. Fresh tuber, corn, millet, and groundnut crops are starting to be available on markets and at the household level across the area, bolstering local food supplies. Markets are still the main source of household food, and are supplied with imported rice and coarse grains by traders and a handful of large farmers with cereal stocks in surplus crop-producing areas. In general, market supplies of these food crops are adequate and there are regular cereal transfers from surplus to deficit areas, driven by price variations of anywhere from 10 to 105 francs/kg for all types of cereals.

    In addition, the rapid growth of fresh pasture in many pastoral areas is boosting animal production and related income streams, adding to the benefits of ongoing food assistance efforts in the form of distributions of free food aid, cash transfer programs, subsidized cereal sales, and waivers of customs duties on cereal imports. The positive effects of these various efforts and of improvements in environmental conditions on the food security situation are being reinforced by the expansion in gainful on-farm employment opportunities with the definitive start of the growing season, strengthening the coping capacity of poor households.

    IPC Phase 3: Crisis levels of food insecurity across the region last month have since stabilized or improved, particularly in agropastoral areas extending from Mauritania as far as Chad and farming areas of the eastern Sahel between east-central Niger and Chad. However, conditions in receiving areas for refugees and IDPs have generally remained unchanged. 

    Harvesting activities will gradually intensify and become more widespread by September. Prices, which are already generally stable, will begin to come down, in line with seasonal trends, helping to improve food access for most households. However, though prices will drop, they will still be above seasonal averages, which will not facilitate normal household access to cereals as typical for this time of year. As a result, assistance needs will continue through September to make up for high prices and the low  stocks among very poor and poor households.

    Most likely food security scenario for July through December 2012

    Based on a favorable rainfall outlook the 2012 growing season, current indicators of normal start-of-season conditions as of the end of July, and good progression of crop growth and development to date, the assumptions underlying the most likely food security scenario for July through December of this year are as follows:

    • ACMAD (the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development) is predicting average to above-average rainfall for the 2012 growing season in most parts of the region, with the exception of southern Mauritania, northern Senegal, and parts of northwestern Mali. Any potential El Niño effects should not have any major effect on the 2012 growing season in West Africa. Based on current trends, actual rainfall levels could exceed forecasts, even in areas like southern Mauritania, northwestern Mali, and northern Senegal expecting rainfall deficits.
    • Given the lack of new data regarding the behavior, location, activities, and movements of desert locusts in Mali, the most likely scenario assumes an eventual locust infestation resulting in localized losses of crops and pastures, though not significant from a region-wide perspective. However, in view of the rapid escalation of this potential threat, the potential impact could change quickly. Subsequent updates of this assumption as new data is made available could change the most likely scenario.
    • The growing season for crops and pasture will evolve normally, with above-average outcomes in most countries, even in the case of forecasts for below-average rainfall, due to a generally good distribution of rainfall, even in areas expecting rainfall deficits (such as Mauritania).
    • Cereal prices will remain high all across the region but will eventually fall in line with normal seasonal trends, decreasing as the October harvest gets closer and continuing to drop through the end of the year. This scenario assumes no major disruptions to market systems.
    • Cereal prices across the region will stabilize at their current high levels through the end of the lean season (until sometime in September), gradually declining between October and December, but will remain generally higher than usual.
    • Levels of conflict in Mali will continue to be status quo, with no new large-scale outbreak of fighting. Though the general climate of insecurity continues to hinder a resumption of normal business activity, with the installation of the new government, overall deterioration in the political situation or in civil stability is not expected before the end of December.

    Based on these assumptions, in the most likely food security scenario for July through December of this year, food insecurity indicators are generally expected to normalize following the 2012 harvest, though cereal prices will remain slightly or moderately above seasonal averages. This year’s expected good harvests and resulting income from farming activities should quickly enable very poor and poor households across the region to begin rebuilding their annual food stocks. The only exceptions are agropastoral and pastoral households in northern Mali and refugee populations in Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso who are unable to engage in their usual agropastoral and business activities and, thus, to capitalize on favorable outlook projections. As a result, these populations will require continuing humanitarian assistance at least through the end of the year to prevent any further deterioration in their food security status. Based on these factors, the outlook for all parts of the region should steadily improve as harvests of early crops already available in certain localized areas become increasingly widespread. The current crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) and stressed food security conditions (IPC Phase 2) reported across the region will gradually dissipate, evolving to minimal levels of acute food insecurity as of the end of October or the beginning of November (Figures 1 and 2).

    Geographic areas

    Possible events

    Effects on food security conditions

    West Africa

    New outbreak of fighting in Mali and/or continuing population displacements

    • Larger demand from humanitarian organizations
    • New massive influx of refugees into neighboring countries
    • No major improvement  in food insecurity levels in border areas adjacent to the conflict zone (western Niger, northern Burkina Faso, and eastern Mauritania)
    • Further market disruptions, continuing high prices, or marketing system failure

    Central and eastern basins

    Localized deficits and implementation of government price capping or price control measures

    • Increase in speculation and unorthodox practices by traders and road patrols
    • Higher consumer prices than without government intervention


    Out-of-control locust infestation at the height of the growing season

    • Destruction of crops and pastures
    • No rebuilding of food reserves; little demand for labor
    • Rural-urban migration and significantly higher levels of acute food insecurity than anticipated under the most likely scenario

    Premature end of the rainy season in September of this year

    • Large losses of crops and pastures
    • Possibility of higher prices than anticipated under the most likely scenario due to the smaller harvest
    • Increase in speculative behavior by traders and in institutional procurements to larger than optimal levels 
    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

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

    Figure 2

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

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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