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Assumptions for Quarterly Food Security Analysis

  • Food Security Outlook
  • West Africa
  • January 2015
Assumptions for Quarterly Food Security Analysis

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  • Note
  • Seasonal Performance
  • Cross-Border Conflict and Displacement
  • Regional Impact of the Ebola Outbreak
  • Regional Trade and Price Dynamics

  • Note

    FEWS NET uses scenario development to project food security outcomes. In this methodology, an analyst makes a series of informed assumptions about the future and compares their possible effects. While scenario development cannot predict exact outcomes, this method is used to frame the analysis and help minimize uncertainty. The following report prepared by FEWS NET analysts based on current evidence outlines assumptions at the regional level. Assumptions are also developed at the country level, which are likely to be more detailed. Together, the regional and national assumptions are the foundation for the integrated analysis reported in FEWS NET’s Food Security Outlooks and Outlook Updates. Learn more about FEWS NET and scenario development at:

    FEWS NET’s Food Security Outlook reports for the Sahel and West Africa for January through June 2015 are based on the following regional assumptions established in late December 2014:

    Seasonal Performance

    Cereal production

    Above-average levels of cereal production for 2014/15 in spite of localized deficits. The CILSS/PREGEC regional technical consultation meeting on projected food balance sheets in November 2014 estimated cereal production for 2014/2015 in the Sahel and West Africa at 48,510,000 metric tons. However, this figure does not include production estimates for Mali and Niger. By including Malian crop production estimates available after the PREGEC meeting and 2012 estimates for Niger (a comparable year), FEWS NET estimates projected cereal production for 2014/2015 in West Africa at somewhere around 60,600,000 metric tons, which is seven percent above the figure for 2013/2014 and 10 percent above-average. Maize, rice, and sorghum production are up from both reference periods, while millet production is eight percent below-average. The largest reported declines in cereal production are in areas such as western and south-central Mauritania, north-central Senegal, the Gambia, the far northern reaches of Burkina Faso, localized areas of the Diffa, Tillabéri, and Tahoua regions of Niger, northeastern and central-western Nigeria, localized areas of the Central and Keyes regions of Mali, and the Sahelian and western Chari Baguirmi areas of Chad.

    Agro-climatic situation

    The growing season could get off to a normal start in most parts of the region. The Intertropical Front (ITF) hovered around the equator throughout January 2015, producing limited, light rainfall in bimodal areas of the Gulf of Guinea states during this period. However, by February, the ITF could resume its normal seasonal advance northwards. This will get the rainy season off to a timely start all across the region, with the first rains falling in bimodal areas by the end of February or the beginning of March and somewhat later, in May/June, in areas farther north. Thus, farming activities for the 2015/16 growing season will start up on schedule throughout the region.

    Desert locusts and other crop pest and bird infestations

    Plant health conditions are generally stable and could stay that way throughout the growing cycle for dry-season crops. Locust breeding rates in gregarization areas of Niger and western Mauritania are still low. There could be a locust presence in northern Mali, but this could not be confirmed by canvassing activities due to the civil insecurity in that area. With the drying up of vegetation beginning in October, adult locusts are concentrated in the few remaining areas of green vegetation, where they are forming groups and small swarms but do not pose a major threat to flood-recession crops and pastures during the dry season (October through March).

    Outlook for off-season harvests

    Average harvest prospects for dry-season crops, except in localized areas. Based on current average to good water supplies, there are good harvest prospects for both flood-recession crops (January through March) and dry-season crops (December through April) across the region, except in Mauritania, Senegal, and the Gambia, where current levels of semi-permanent lakes and streams are below-average, suggesting poorer than average prospects for market gardening activities. There should be average levels of food and income from market gardening activities and from flood-recession agricultural activities.

    Labor outlook 

    Average to above-average wage rates for farm labor. There will be a sustained demand for labor for the growing of dry-season crops and a below-average labor supply due to the greater attraction of traditional gold panning activities, rural-urban labor migration, and cross-border seasonal migration at that time of year. The average to above-average wage rates for farm labor will work to the advantage of poor households between now and the end of June, with the expected normal start of the 2015/16 growing season engendering a sustained demand for farm labor for land preparation work and crop planting activities.

    Outlook for pasture production 

    Below-average pasture production in the western Sahel. There are average levels of natural pasture production across much of the region, with numerous pockets of pasture deficits in localized areas of the Gambia, western and northern Senegal, central and western Mauritania, northwestern and eastern Niger, northeastern and eastern Burkina Faso, northeastern Chad, and the western Timbuktu region and Gao and Bourem areas of Mali. The largest deficits are concentrated within a wide band extending from western and central Mauritania to north-central Senegal and in the Lake Chad area.

    Transhumant herd movements and physical condition of livestock 

    Possible disruption of transhumant herd movements in the western Sahel and Lake Chad area. There should be a quasi-normal pattern of transhumant herd movements in the agropastoral belt in the central reaches of the Sahel (between central Niger and western Mali), although premature departures from localized areas were observed in November instead of January as usual, due to below-average biomass production levels. On the other hand, there could be major disruptions in transhumant herd movements in pastoral livelihood zones extending from central and western Mauritania to north-central Senegal and in the Lake Chad area, in the first case, due to the severity of and large area affected by the biomass deficit and, in the second case, due to the combined effects of the biomass deficit and civil insecurity in northeastern Nigeria and the Central African Republic, limiting access to these areas. The physical condition of livestock in these areas could begin to deteriorate by January/February instead of April, which could drive prices down to below-average levels. Mali could be a receiving area for part of Mauritania’s and Senegal’s livestock herds, while transhumant pastoralists in Niger and Chad will be forced to cross through Cameroon to get to retail markets in central and southern Nigeria. The earlier than usual departure of animal herds will reduce local milk availability, which is a source of both food and income for households in affected areas. The limited availability of pasture will increase the dependence of households on animal feed, whose price could be driven up to above-average levels sooner than usual, fueled by a prematurely high demand. 

    Cross-Border Conflict and Displacement

    The Boko Haram conflict in northeastern Nigeria will continue to rage unabated, with growing numbers of incursions into areas of Niger close to the epicenter of the fighting (Borno, Yobé, Adamaoua). Residents of these areas, as well as neighboring areas, will continue to face market disruptions and severely degraded livelihoods, with local households unable to grow crops and generate income in such a climate of extreme insecurity. The number of refugees and displaced persons will steadily grow as the conflict continues. The central government is concerned over the upcoming presidential elections and falling price of oil, which could make it difficult for it to de-escalate the conflict. The growing numbers of refugees and IDPs will put increasing pressure on host populations in receiving areas, particularly in neighboring areas of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

    The ongoing disarmament process in the Central African Republic (CAR) is helping to calm the social climate, though there is still periodic, localized fighting. The current respite from fighting in the CAR is expected to continue and help agricultural production and marketing activities gradually recover during the outlook period, though they will remain at less-than-optimal levels due to limited livelihoods and reduced income-generating capacity of many households. The closure of the country’s border with Chad will continue to restrict the flow of trade. The departure of foreign populations in general and Chadians in particular will hold down local demand at below-average levels while, at the same time, creating an above-average demand in receiving areas for returnees, driving prices in these areas above-average.

    The new round of attacks reported in northern Mali in recent weeks could disrupt the economic recovery jump-started by the area’s recapture by the coalition of national military, Operation Serval, and MINUSMA troops. Malian refugees in Burkina Faso and Mauritania will remain in those countries, where they will continue to be partially reliant on humanitarian assistance.

    Regional Impact of the Ebola Outbreak

    Stable or falling numbers of new cases of Ebola. Health conditions in West Africa are marred by the Ebola outbreak. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 21,689 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of the disease in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone as of January 18, 2015. However, weekly case numbers in all three countries should stabilize or fall over the outlook period.

    Production shortfalls in Liberia and localized areas of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The main harvest, particularly of rice, is still underway in the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak. In general, Guinea and Sierra Leone are expecting near-average crop production levels, except in areas especially hard hit by the outbreak during the growing season (i.e. Nzérékoré in Guinea and Kailahun in Sierra Leone), which could have below-average harvests. In addition, the tighter supply of labor in Liberia, where there has been less group work than usual for this time of year, could put crop production in that country 10 percent below-average. In addition, this could result in a slight to moderate reduction in crop yields for this upcoming year. These poor labor prospects are also limiting investments in cash crops, which are an important source of household income.

    Market disruptions and border closures continue to affect household livelihoods. Ebola fears continue to disrupt the normal conduct of business on markets in all three countries, though certain previously closed markets have reopened. This has contributed to a major economic slowdown in all three countries, resulting in below-average incomes for many agricultural households, who are having a harder than usual time selling their crops due to 1) market disruptions, 2) border closures, and 3) a slowing of demand, driven by weak purchasing power. Border closures and Ebola fears also continue to limit income-generating activities for non-agricultural households, such as those that participate in petty trade.

    Regional Trade and Price Dynamics

    Carry-over stocks for 2014/15 

    Average to above-average carry-over cereal stocks in the central and eastern basins. The good levels of crop production for 2013/2014 and large volume of commercial imports in that same year helped create average to above-average carry-over cereal stocks (household stocks and trader inventories), particularly in the central and eastern basins. These stocks could help improve local supplies and contain the expected rise in prices, giving poor households better food access as household demand on local markets grows starting in March. However, the levels of carry-over cereal stocks in the western basin are below average due to last season’s low crop yields and the poor 2014/2015 cereal harvest outlook in that basin. Carry-over stocks in northeastern Nigeria are also below average as a result of the Boko Haram conflict, which has been hampering farming activities since the onset of the conflict and steadily reducing production volumes in this zone.  

    Institutional procurements

    Normal national stock-building needs. Based on the normal draw-down of food reserves in 2014 and the overall average volume of crop production, this year’s needs for the annual rebuilding of national food security stocks should be normal. However, stock-building activities in Mali, where stocks are the farthest below-average, could heighten demand in that country.

    Cereal markets and trade

    Normal aggregate cereal demand for human consumption in all three basins, except in the western Sahel and receiving areas for refugees and IDPs. As usual, household food stocks in most countries will begin to be depleted as of March, which will make households more dependent on market purchase in the second half of the outlook period and heighten seasonal household demand on local markets. However, households in areas with a below-average 2014/15 crop production (Mauritania, the Gambia, and Senegal) and households in conflict-torn areas and receiving areas for refugees and/or IDPs (Niger and Chad) will become dependent on market purchases sooner than usual. This will create an above-average household demand on area markets but will not put much pressure on supply.

    Normal trade flows, except in the western part of the region and the Lake Chad area. In general, there are no current or expected future restrictions on trade between countries, except along the borders of Ebola-affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) which remain closed, and in and around northeastern Nigeria, which will also affect trade in southeastern Niger, western and southern Chad, and other parts of Nigeria receiving cowpea and livestock supplies. There is also a smaller than average flow of trade between Chad and the Central African Republic due to the official closure of the border between the two countries. Meanwhile, there will be a larger than usual flow of trade between Mali and western basin countries (Senegal and Mauritania) with the shortfall in coarse cereal production in that basin.

    Stable or falling food prices, except in localized areas. Prices on West African cereal markets are currently stable or in decline with the marketing of trader inventories and the shipment to market of fresh cereal crops. Together with imports from the international market, this will help stabilize market supplies in most countries through March 2015. Cereal prices in the central basin and on certain markets in the eastern basin will be close to last year’s levels. However, production shortfalls will drive coarse cereal prices in the western basin up from last year. Prices in all three basins could be above-average, with the exception of maize prices in the central basin.

    Cash crop markets and trade

    Above-average sesame prices and average cowpea prices. Sesame prices are above-average and up from previous years, fueled by a heightened (mostly foreign) demand (from Asia). This has helped many households generate income and hold onto their cereal crops. Cowpea prices will stay at or below last year’s levels through January. However, prices for both crops could be driven up by a mounting institutional demand or demand from traders, particularly from the coastal states in February/March.

    Livestock markets and trade

    Current favorable terms of trade for pastoralists could decline a month sooner than usual in some areas. In most zones, a sustained demand from the coastal states and average livestock body conditions will keep prices above-average. Thus, even with the high price of cereals, in general, terms of trades will stay in favor of pastoralists. However, the physical condition of animals in major livestock-raising areas of Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Mali that experienced localized pasture deficits could start to deteriorate as of March 2015 (a month sooner than usual), triggering localized drops in prices to below-average levels. This would result in unfavorable terms of trade for pastoralists, particularly in the eastern basin, where cereal prices are expected to be above-average at that time of year. On the other hand, there will continue to be an above-average demand for livestock in Ebola-affected countries, where the marketing and consumption of bush meat are still banned. In these areas, demand for livestock will continue to outstrip supply due to the fear of pastoralists and traders of contracting the Ebola virus. This could also heighten demand and drive up prices for poultry and fish.

    Breakdown of market and tade conditions by basin

    Eastern basin (Niger, Nigeria, Benin, and Chad)

    There will continue to be a normal flow of cereals between these countries. However, the escalation of the Boko Haram conflict will disrupt trade between Niger and northeastern Nigeria. This could affect market supplies, particularly in areas of Diffa getting their supplies from northern Nigeria.

    In most cases, there will be normal market supplies, except in conflict-torn areas of Nigeria and the CAR where production is down from previous years. Crop availability will be bolstered by a normal supply of tubers and off-season crops, particularly between January and March. As of March, supplies will be largely ensured by traders with the depletion of seasonal household stocks.

    There will be a normal growth in household demand in deficit areas beginning as of January. There will also be a normal mounting demand from traders as of January for the rebuilding of their inventories and for poultry farms and plants, particularly in Nigeria. In addition, there will be an unusually strong household demand in northeastern Nigeria and the CAR with the below-average levels of crop production in those areas, which has heightened the market dependence of local households.

    Prices of staple food and cash crops in this basin will likely follow the trends described below:

    • Millet prices could start to rise as of January 2015 but will stay close to the five-year average. The seven percent below-average yields from millet crops in this basin could be offset by its possible replacement by maize, sorghum, and even imported rice. However, a growing household demand, fueled by the depletion of household food stocks, could put prices in localized areas slightly above-average as of April.
    • Sorghum prices could be up from previous months by January 2015 with the seasonal rise in industrial demand in Nigeria. They will stay close to the five-year average throughout the outlook period.
    • Maize prices could stay close to average through March 2015 with the limited household demand in the Sahel and the good maize stock levels. However, as usual, they will begin to climb as of April.
    • The usual seasonal rise in cowpea prices will begin as of February, with many farmers having mastered the triple-bagging method of preserving cowpea crops, which is enabling them to control the amount of crops sold on the market.  Prices of this commodity on many markets will stay above-average.
    Central basin (Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Mali)

    There will be above-average cereal supplies in this basin due to harvests that were 15 percent above-average and large, above-average, carry-over trader inventories.

    There will be a below-average aggregate household and institutional demand with the generally good levels of crop production throughout the basin and with very little expectation of any spatial-temporal arbitrage this year.

    There will be a normal flow of cereals from the coastal states, mainly Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, to Burkina Faso and Mali with the average to above-average 2014/2015 harvests in those countries. However, with the production shortfalls in Senegal and Mauritania, there could be a significantly larger than average flow of cereals from the central basin to these areas, particularly as of February/March 2015.

    Prices of staple food and cash crops in this basin will likely follow the trends described below:

    • Millet prices could rise slightly between now and June 2015, but will stay below the five-year average.
    • Sorghum prices will follow the same pattern as millet prices, though demand pressure from Senegal and Mauritania could put them close-to-average.
    • There could be a normal seasonal rise in maize prices between January and June 2015, but they will stay below the five-year average.
    • Cowpea prices will stay above-average, fueled by a strong urban demand from the central and western basins and by needs in both basins, which will continue to outstrip supply capacity.
    Western basin (Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Senegal, and Sierra Leone)

    The projected 10 percent below-average volume of cereal production in this basin is expected to tighten market supplies. Demand on area markets will begin to mount as of January with the low levels of carry-over stocks and the production shortfall for the 2014/15 growing season, resulting in an unusually heightened market dependence for area households. There will also be increased pressure on tuber crops, such as cassava, from poor households in Ebola-affected areas, which will use this crop as a replacement for rice to compensate for shortfalls in rice production (in worst affected areas) and limited purchasing power.

    There will likely be an above-average flow of cereals from the central to the western basin to meet demand from areas with coarse cereal deficits and, in particular, areas of Senegal and Mauritania with shortages of maize and sorghum. In addition, there could be larger imports of rice and wheat from world markets to ease the pressure on demand for these crops on markets across Mauritania and Senegal. On the other hand, internal trade flows of imported products to rural markets will continue to be limited in Ebola-affected areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone due to border closures by neighboring countries and traders’ fears about traveling to areas worst affected by Ebola.

    Prices of staple foods in this basin will likely follow the trends described below:

    • In general, millet, sorghum, and maize prices could stabilize between now and the end of February before starting to climb between March and June. They will stay above-average, with demand outstripping supply after this year’s poor harvests. However, the rise in prices will be contained by expected low-cost supplies from the central basin.
    • Prices for imported rice and wheat in Senegal and Mauritania could stabilize, assuming there is no pressure on world market prices for these foodstuffs. Elsewhere, market disruptions could keep prices in Ebola-affected areas close to or above-average, depending on the specific area, particularly in Sierra Leone and Liberia. 
    Figures Figure 1. Projected wholesale millet prices on the Kano market in Nigeria, in N/100 kg

    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Projected maize prices in Bobo-Dioulasso between January and June 2015, in CFAF/kg

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Projected millet prices in Kaolack between January and June 2015, in CFAF/kg

    Figure 3

    Figure 3

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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