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Above-average harvests, with high prices persisting

  • Food Security Outlook
  • West Africa
  • November 2012 - April 2013
Above-average harvests, with high prices persisting

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  • Key Messages
  • Region-wide Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Key Messages
    • Total cereal production by Sahelian and West African countries for the 2012/2013 growing season is estimated at 57,318,000 metric tons. Even without data for Burkina Faso, this puts production up by 13 percent from last year and 18 percent from the five-year average. 

    • However, prices remain high and, in many cases, are both above-average and up from 2011, particularly for millet. This could undermine the food security of poor agropastoral households beginning in June and pastoral households by  March (the beginning of the lean season in pastoral areas), for which millet is an essential dietary staple.

    • The region-wide improvement in food availability is bolstering food security, currently classified in IPC Phase 1:  Minimal food insecurity. The increasingly large availability of off-season crops in the Sahel and crops from the second growing season in bimodal coastal areas should keep food insecurity at minimal levels through March of next year. However, at least 20 percent of the population of flood-stricken areas and certain household groups in poor market-dependent agropastoral and pastoral areas in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) will require well-targeted assistance programs to build their resilience and prevent any further deterioration in their food security situation.

    • With the end of the rainy season in the Sahel, there is no longer any major threat to crops from the 2012 growing season from desert locusts. However, the reported swarms of locusts in Niger, Chad, Mali, and Mauritania will require continuing monitoring and treatment to prevent a locust infestation of North Africa and to protect the 2013/14 season.

    Region-wide Overview
    Current situation

    The 2012/13 growing season is over for rainfed crops in the Sahel and West Africa. The short growing season in bimodal areas of the coastal states (Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire) is moving along on schedule, where a second good harvest is expected sometime in December. Flood-recession crops are maturing normally and off-season crops are in the planting stage. Harvests of these crops are expected to begin by January and will continue through March of next year.

    With current conditions in the Sahel less conducive to desert locust activity, the locust threat has diminished. However, there is still a considerable locust threat to North Africa, as well as to the Sahel and West Africa in 2013. In fact, if not destroyed, the locust swarms sighted in Niger, Chad, Mauritania, and probably Mali as well could head north and return next year, at the very height of the growing season in the Sahel. Thus, ongoing locust control efforts should be reinforced and extended to disrupt and disable  breeding and migration cycles.

    The Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) released preliminary crop production figures for the Sahel and West Africa on November 21st of this year based on data from farm surveys at the country level. CILSS is estimating total cereal production by Sahelian and West African countries for the 2012/2013 growing season at 57,318,000 metric tons, including 13,688,000 MT of rice, 17,920,000 MT of corn, 11,096,000 MT of millet, 14,341,000 MT of sorghum, and 273,000 MT of other cereals. Even without data for Burkina Faso, which has not yet been authenticated, this puts production up 13 percent from last year and 18 percent from the five-year average. Cassava and yam production are estimated at 76,292,000 MT and 53,025,000 MT, respectively, a two percent increase for yams and a three percent shortfall for cassava compared with figures for the 2011/2012 season. Even Burkina Faso, whose production data has not yet been released, is expecting output to be well above-average.

    Thus, the widespread harvests and large shipments to market of rainfed crops in October clearly improved food security conditions across the region from a food availability standpoint. Markets are well-stocked and there is an unobstructed flow of cross-border trade in different crops, which is helping to steadily increase shipments of crops from surplus to deficit areas.

    Ongoing economic activities relating mainly to the harvesting and marketing of crops, the preparation of fields for the planting of off-season crops, and the repair of flood-damaged homes and infrastructure are creating good income-earning opportunities for poor households.

    Cereal prices

    The most likely food security scenario constructed by FEWS NET in August assumed that prices across the region would stay high but, in line with normal seasonal trends, would begin to decrease just before the harvest in October and continue to drop through the end of December. This scenario was contingent on average or above-average rainfall and harvests in the Sahel and the absence of any major disruptions in the marketing system. The rainy season has since ended, production estimates exceed expectations, and marketing conditions are normal. However, even with the good harvest and the reported downward trend in prices since the middle of September, prices for cereal and other crops are still high. Though the situation is different in the case of different crops, in general, it is extremely beneficial to farming households. The specific situation with regard to each major crop with important household food security implications is outlined below:


    Millet is the staple food cereal for residents of pastoral and agropastoral areas, particularly in Niger, Chad, and northern Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali. This year’s millet harvest has been very good in all these areas with the sole exception of localized areas of western Niger in the Tillabéri region. Region-wide output is estimated at 11,096,000 metric tons, nearly seven percent more than usual. Since October, household reserves, trader inventories, and even institutional reserves severely drained over the period from January through September of this year are being gradually rebuilt from the good harvest. As of the end of October of this year, millet prices on most reference markets across the region were still not showing any strong signs of coming down and, in some cases, have been inching upwards. In general, monthly drops in prices since August have been sharper on markets in crop-producing areas than on retail markets. However, no significant pattern emerges in a comparison of current price levels on these proximate markets and retail markets along the value chain for this crop with 2011 prices or the five-year average. October prices for millet in the Eastern Basin were 29 to 53 percent higher than in 2011 and 40 to 60 percent above-average. Prices in the Central Basin were 55 to 91 percent higher than in 2011 and 65 to 94 percent above-average. The Western Basin had the lowest prices, two to 21 percent above 2011 figures and 17 to 34 percent above-average. The deviation of current prices from the average could be attributable to high demand, depending on the area in question, and to price speculation by traders.

    Thus, in spite of the good 2012 harvest, current millet supplies are not plentiful enough to meet demand and bring down prices. The case of millet is unique in that there is only a single harvest season (between October and December of each year), which is the main selling period for farmers. By January, there are typically fewer farmers present on markets and supplies gradually dwindle until they no longer outstrip demand.


    This is the main millet substitute in pastoral and agropastoral areas and the main cereal consumed in certain Sudanian farming areas of Chad, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania. This year’s harvest of rainfed sorghum crops has also been very good, putting region-wide sorghum production at an estimated 14,341,000 metric tons. The outlook for flood-recession and off-season sorghum crops is equally good. Harvests have been underway since October and will continue through next March which, unlike the case of millet, allows for the possibility of a sustained supply of crops from farmers and sizeable drops in sorghum prices between now and March of next year. As of the end of October of this year, sorghum prices were slowly but steadily coming down in line with the reduction in demand. However, prices are still 15 to 44 percent above the five-year seasonal average. According to normal seasonal trends, prices are likely to continue to fall as crops from the Sudanian zone are shipped to market. Thus, by January, sorghum prices could be back in line with the seasonal average.


    Corn production for 2012 is estimated at 17,920,000 metric tons, without counting harvests in Burkina Faso. There are ample corn supplies in crop-producing areas and on markets in collection centers, exceeding demand and bringing prices down sharply both on these markets and on retail markets in cereal-short areas. Thus, prices on most markets in crop-producing areas are down from last month by anywhere from four to 25 percent or, more precisely, by 16 percent in Bobo Dioulasso (Burkina Faso), nine percent in Tamale (Ghana), four percent in Dawanu (Nigeria), and 25 percent in Sikasso (Mali). Prices on the Dawanu and Bol markets are lower than at the same time last year and below the five-year average, while October prices for corn in the Central Basin (Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana) were still anywhere from one to 37 percent above the five-year average. According to normal seasonal trends, with the cotton harvest gaining momentum in Sudanian areas, this should increase corn supplies from farmers looking to finance the cost of labor to bring in their cotton crops, which should bring down prices. Corn prices in the Western Basin are on par with figures for 2011 and 17.5 percent above-average. Prices in the Eastern Basin are only about 11 or 12 percent above-average. These differences in price ranges from one trade basin to another could be attributable to demand dynamics at this time of year in different locations and the specific role of each market in the region.


    This crop is an important source of food and, in particular, of income for poor farming households. As in the case of the other crops, this year’s cowpea harvest in the Sahel has been very good. Cowpea prices on most markets across the region were at record levels earlier this year. The harvest brought prices down sharply on markets in crop-producing areas (by 52 percent in Tounfafi and 25 percent in Maradi, Niger, from record August prices). However, even with these drops in prices, October prices for cowpea crops were still 50 to 72 percent higher than at the same time last year and 51 to 128 percent above the five-year average. This sharp rise in the cost of cowpea crops could be an offshoot of their record price levels during this year’s lean season, but may also be a result of improvements in storage conditions in Niger, the region’s leading exporter. This year’s good marketing conditions for cowpea crops promise  good income for farmers, which will prevent their being forced to sell off their cereal crops to repay this year’s debts. This could partly explain the slow downward movement in millet prices and, in another sense, would explain the build-up of household cereal reserves in general and millet reserves in particular. In fact, the main goal of Sahelian farm families is to achieve a state of food security by growing cereal. If able to earn enough income from the sale of cash crops like cowpeas and groundnuts, they will stockpile their cereal crops as a way of ensuring their food security.


    Rice production, estimated at 13,688,000 metric tons (compared with the average of 9,762,200 MT), was heavily impacted by flooding problems in certain localized areas. This will negatively affect the food security of local flood-affected households, but will have little effect on food security at the region-wide level, as the Sahel and West Africa have a structural rice deficit and rely on imports to meet needs. There are well-developed marketing networks for this purpose, which easily adapt to fill any gaps. In general, there was no movement in rice prices on major West African reference markets between September and October of this year. Prices in CFA franc countries generally range from eight percent under to 10 percent above five-year seasonal averages, while current rice prices in non-CFA-franc countries (Nigeria, Ghana, and Mauritania) are 25 to 55 percent above five-year seasonal averages. This same situation could continue into 2013 with the current favorable conditions on the international market, shaped by growing inventories in major exporting countries ensuring a sustained market supply, which should prevent any sharp fluctuations in prices over the next few months.


    There is a pasture production surplus in pastoral areas this year, bolstered by plentiful supplies of crop residues in farming and agropastoral areas. Livestock are currently enjoying good grazing conditions, which could last through and even beyond the end of March of next year. Thus, assuming next year’s rainy season begins on schedule, the length of the lean season in pastoral areas should be no longer than usual.  Market prices for livestock are still higher than last year and above the five-year average. High demand in urban areas with the upcoming year-end holidays and the good grazing conditions for livestock should sustain or boost their market value. Terms of trade for livestock/cereal will steadily improve from the standpoint of pastoralists, but any such improvement could be undermined by rises in cereal prices in general and millet prices in particular between January and March of next year.


    Assuming markets function properly and there is no new outbreak of fighting in Mali, there should be very few areas of concern in West Africa between now and March of next year, limited mainly to flood- stricken areas of northern Nigeria and Mali and certain low-performing agropastoral areas of Mali and western Niger. Market configuration will be the determining factor in the region-wide food security situation, which will require more of a north-south analysis of trade flows and price levels. The most likely food security scenario in this area for the period from October 2012 through March 2013 is based on the following specific assumptions:

    • There will be good cereal availability on markets in all trade basins throughout the year and, more specifically, between October 2012 and March 2013. However, as of January, the cereal access of poor market-dependent households could be undermined by the high cost of crops with normal seasonal trends in prices pegged to the already high levels of prices between October and December of this year.
    • The good 2012 harvest will provide large enough reserves to meet the needs of farming households for at least three months and of agropastoral households for two months. This could give households an extra one to three months worth of food reserves.
    • Market prices will stay above last year’s figures and the five-year average throughout the marketing period from November 2012 through January 2013, particularly in the case of millet prices.
    • In line with normal seasonal trends, prices (for sorghum, corn, and rice) will be comparatively stable as of February/March of next year as a result of widespread harvests of market garden crops, which will improve dietary diversity and weaken market demand. The stabilization of millet prices will depend, in part, on the magnitude of institutional procurements for the rebuilding of national food security reserves during this period.
    • Prices for corn and sorghum will continue to come down and may even drop below last year’s prices and the five-year average on certain markets between November and December of this year, driven down by the low local demand for these crops with the good millet harvest in the Sahelian zone and the good corn harvest in the Sudanian zone. However, as of January of next year, with the cereal reserves of poor households beginning to dwindle, there will be a growing market demand for both sorghum and corn, whose prices could return to higher levels.
    • There will be a normal unobstructed flow of regional trade.
    • There will be no new developments in the ongoing conflict in Mali before March of next year and no change in the status quo in northern Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, or Libya.
    • There will be a normal level of economic activity and flow of migrant remittances and a high demand for available labor (for market gardening activities and short-term seasonal migrant labor) through next March.
    • Seasonal rises in livestock prices will continue through next March, producing favorable terms of trade for pastoralists between now and March of next year in spite of the high price of cereal.

    Thus, in general, the current region-wide food security situation is marked by minimal levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 1), with localized or small groups of flood-stricken households in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) or, in some cases, even IPC Phase 3 (crisis). These highly dispersed groups scattered all across the region generally represent less than 20 percent of the total local population, and, thus, do not affect the overall food security classification of each area based on the IPC Acute Food Insecurity Phase Scale. 

    Areas of Concern

    Pastoral areas

    The main sources of income for poor households are sales of livestock and animal products, wage payments for their labor, and migrant remittances. Poor households in these areas depend on market purchase for cereal crops and on milk and dairy products as their main sources of food. Food security conditions in these areas are currently good given good pasture availability, promoting strong levels of agropastoral production and helping to raise the price of livestock. Terms of trade for livestock-cereal are improving and are in favor of pastoralists, particularly with the steady downward movement in cereal prices since the middle of September and the sharp rise in demand for livestock for the celebration of Tabaski. The quantity and quality of food consumption by most households should be more than adequate thanks to the availability of a variety of different foodstuffs ranging from cereals to milk and other dairy products. The stable prices of livestock, the availability of jobs, and the relatively stable prices of cereal crops should continue to protect the livelihoods of pastoral households. As a result, in general, most households are currently in IPC Phase 1 (Minimal levels of acute food insecurity). Even with current price trends, good pasture availability and high demand for livestock in urban areas, which should help bolster their prices, could sustain this level of food security through March of next year.

    Agropastoral areas

    The main sources of income for poor households in agropastoral livelihood zones are local employment and short-term seasonal labor migration. Their main sources of food are the market-buying of cereal, on-farm production, and gifts.  Household reserves from this year’s harvests could meet the consumption needs of poor households for at least three months. As of January, many such households will resort to purchasing their food supplies on the market with migration income, wage income from farm labor, and income other economic activities in marketplaces and urban areas. With upcoming harvests of off-season crops, most households should be able to sustain if not improve their food consumption between now and next March from both a quantitative and a qualitative standpoint due to the availability of a variety of different  foodstuffs ranging from cereals to pulses and including tubers, milk, and other dairy products. Their small livestock herds and harvests will strengthen the purchasing power of agropastoral households which, in general, could keep them in IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity) through the end of March. However, certain localized groups of households in flood-stricken areas or areas with poor harvests will be unable to protect their livelihoods or strengthen their resilience. Their small harvests and the limited proceeds from the sale of livestock as a source of income could have these households facing a livelihood protection deficit by March of next year, at which point their only substantial source of income will be short-term seasonal labor migration.  However, since these households will represent less than 20 percent of the local population, their circumstances will not affect the food security classification of these areas according to version 2 of the IPC Acute Food Insecurity Phase Scale.

    Farming areas

    Current levels of household food reserves and household income from the sale of cash crops are very good, except in flood-stricken rice-growing areas of Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad. Steady improvements in food availability since September of this year have improved food consumption by most households. The market-dependence of poor households has steadily decreased since September and is currently at its lowest level of the year. However, flooding problems have affected household livelihoods, particularly in floodplain farming areas. These livelihoods could be restored, in part, by ongoing market gardening activities. Affected households may be able to save their livelihoods if the assumption with regard to cereal prices proves true. Current food security conditions in these areas classified in IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity) could be sustained through March of next year. However, they are also areas of endemic malnutrition in which acute malnutrition rates could rise sharply between December and next March during the cool season in the Sahel. This could be a source of concern in these areas, but will not affect their overall food security classification according to the IPC Acute Food Insecurity Phase Scale.

    Geographic area

    Possible event

    Impacts on food security conditions

    Pastoral areas

    Larger increases in cereal prices than in livestock prices

    • Deterioration in terms of trade to the detriment of pastoralists
    • Indebtedness of pastoralist households
    • Poorer cereal access

    Pastoral areas

    Widespread brush fires

    • Unusual herd movements
    • Growing disputes
    • Loss of weight by fattened animals, reducing their market value
    • Loss of income for pastoralists


    Heavy speculation on cereal markets and rise in prices

    • Across-the-board hikes in cereal prices
    • Regression in terms of trade for livestock/cereal and wage income/cereal
    • Failure to build food security reserves back up to their optimal levels
    • Earlier and sharper than usual increase in food insecurity in pastoral and agropastoral areas
    • Increase in malnutrition in all areas

    West Africa

    Launch of an offensive in northern Mali, inflaming the security situation in the Sahel and northern Nigeria

    • Mass population displacements in northern Mali
    • Heightened security threats on area roads
    • Disruption in trade
    • High market prices
    • Shortages on certain markets in pastoral areas
    Figures Standard Seasonal Calendar

    Figure 1

    Standard Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012.

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Trends in corn prices, 2009-2012

    Figure 3

    Trends in corn prices, 2009-2012

    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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