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Outlook to March 2012

  • Food Security Outlook
  • West Africa
  • October 2011 - March 2012
Outlook to March 2012

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  • Key Messages
  • Most likely food security scenario for October 2011 through March 2012
  • Table 1. Events liable to change the most likely scenario in the next six months
  • Key Messages
    • As confirmed by the joint CILSS/FEWS NET/FAO/WFP/Government harvest assessments at the country level, grain harvests across the region are generally average and harvests of cash and tuber crops are generally well above-average.

    • Reported gross grain production deficits in the Sahel should generally not be a source of concern, due to the carry-over inventories from the 2010 season, scheduled commercial imports, and output from ongoing off-season and flood-recession farming activities. On the whole, the grain balance sheets for all regional countries should break even or show a net surplus.

    • There is a pasture deficit in the Sahel (Figure 2).  So far, the only true areas of concern are in Mauritania and on floodplain pastures in the Inner Niger River Delta area of Mali. Livestock in all other countries have begun their normal seasonal migration to southern farming areas. They should have the benefit of normal grazing conditions through next March, but as of April (which is the beginning of the lean season for pastoralists), livestock feeding conditions all across the Sahel will be very difficult.

    • Thus far, the only signs of acute food insecurity anywhere in the region are in southeastern Mauritania (Figure 1). However, with extremely large disparities in output this year, and expected prices rises beginning mainly as of January of this coming year, there will be an earlier than usual need for food aid, particularly in previously identified potential problem areas of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania. Sahelian areas will also require nutritional assistance as of February/March of next year to prevent a premature deterioration in conditions as early as April and a crisis during next year’s lean season.

    Most likely food security scenario for October 2011 through March 2012

    According to this year’s seasonal calendars and timelines of critical food security events, harvesting activities did not get underway until October/November. Harvests are still in progress, with the growing season extending into the month of October in many areas. This, in turn, delayed the drying and mass marketing of fresh crops, particularly of maize and cowpea. These mass marketing activities normally drive prices down sharply which, thus far, has not happened. At the same time, there is a growing institutional demand and demand from traders for stock-building purposes. 

    Thus, the main contributing factors to the current food security situation in West Africa and the Sahel are as follows:

    • The spatial-temporal distribution of grain availability is poor, due to locally poor harvests as confirmed by the joint CILSS/FEWS NET/FAO/WFP/Government harvest assessments. However, resulting per capita gross production and per capita consumption needs should break even in Niger and Chad, with Mali and Burkina Faso expected to post a surplus, and, as usual, Senegal and Mauritania posting a deficit. Thus, the reported gross grain production deficits in the Sahel should generally not be a cause for concern given the carry-over inventories from the 2010 season, scheduled commercial imports, and output from ongoing off-season and flood-recession farming activities. The grain balance sheet for the region as a whole should show an overall net surplus and, for the Sahel, should break even or show a surplus. Final balance sheet data should be available by the end of November.
    • Market conditions: Current market conditions are somewhat unusual though not problematic, due mostly to the late and slow start of this year’s harvests, which is preventing market supplies from outstripping demand and reversing the upward trend in prices. As a result, prices for locally grown grain crops in all market basins are well above both figures for last year and seasonal averages. Thus, current rises in market prices are not entirely due to poor harvests but more so to the delay in harvesting activities and the behavior of traders looking to rebuild their inventories. However, there is a good chance that this upward trend in prices will continue into 2012.  As demand from this year’s increased number of food-deficit households adds to institutional demand and trader demand beginning in January, more pressure will be put on supplies and prices will be driven up. Nevertheless, there is little risk of an across-the-board surge in prices.
    • The case of maize is somewhat different from that of other coarse grains. Region-wide maize production does not suffice to meet all needs for this grain (for human consumption and poultry farming activities). Area markets, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, are reporting sharp rises in prices due, in part, to the effects of high world market prices. Furthermore, not all maize crops from this year’s harvests across the region have as yet been shipped to market, and carry-over inventories are lower than for other crops due to the threat of parasitic infestations, which make it difficult to store maize crops for longer than a year at a time.
    • Current food security situation: Ongoing harvests, even in areas with poor harvests, should help ensure food security. Most parts of the region are currently in IPC Phase 1 (no or minimal acute food insecurity), and are expected to remain so through December of this year.  

    Given these underlying conditions, the assumptions underlying the most-likely scenario for the period October 2011 to March 2012 are as follows:

    • According to the joint harvest assessments, all parts of the region should have generally average harvests of rainfed grain crops for the 2011 growing season. However, the five-year average is unusually high after three bumper crop years (2005/06, 2006/07, and 2010/11) with harvests running as much as 50 percent above-average. Resulting per capita gross production and per capita consumption needs should break even in Niger and Chad, with Mali and Burkina Faso posting a surplus, and Senegal and Mauritania posting a deficit as usual.
    • The reported gross grain production deficits in the Sahel should generally not be a cause for concern, due to the carry-over inventories from the 2010 season, scheduled commercial imports, and output from ongoing off-season and flood-recession farming activities. There should be sufficient availability to meet annual region-wide needs and there should not be any danger of a shortage this year as long as markets run smoothly.
    • In general, harvests of cash crops (cowpeas, groundnuts, and cotton) and tubers are more than 30 percent larger than average, which should bring in more household income than usual.
    • There is an overall pasture production shortfall compared with the average total biomass pasture production and annual needs for livestock, but which should not become critical until March of 2012.
    • The recovery of the Ivorian market, on which business has once again become extremely brisk, should prevent a dramatic plunge in the price of livestock between now and March of 2012. However, while staying at or above seasonal averages, there will be some deterioration in terms of trade between now and next March.  This is due to the expected rise in grain prices and localized declines in livestock prices both in Mauritania and in parts of Niger and Chad facing severe pasture deficits.
    • Good December 2011/January 2012 harvests of short season maize and cowpea crops in the Gulf of Guinea countries should help free up inventories from the main growing season for the provisioning of deficit Sahelian areas.
    • The large carry-over inventories from the record 2010/11 harvests across the region (a net grain surplus of over five million metric tons) should help cover any deficits stemming from the erratic performance of the 2011 growing season for rainfed crops.
    • Thanks to better water control and sizeable amounts of assistance from area governments and donors, harvests of rice and off-season crops should be above-average. There should also be an above-average demand for farm labor for off-season farming activities. 
    • There should not be any rapidly growing needs for imports from the international market liable to cause local market disruptions.
    • The current relaxation of pressure on the international export market for rice is expected to continue with plentiful supplies and falling prices, which should help facilitate normal rice imports, particularly in the western and central basins. There should not be any movement in current prices.
    • As a result, total food availability should be average to above-average, should generally suffice to meet needs, and should be well apportioned among different areas, thanks to the smooth operation of markets, which should not experience any major disruptions.
    • Institutional procurements will be well planned and should not trigger any negative behavior on the part of market traders liable to create shortages or spikes in prices.
    • In January, normal household food aid and livelihood protection programs will start up in areas identified as vulnerable to food insecurity in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.
    • There should not be any major changes in current exchange rates (for the euro, dollar, CFA franc, naira, new Ghanaian cedi, Gambian dalasi, Guinean franc, Liberian dollar, Sierra Leonean leone, or Mauritanian ouguiya) to the degree of disrupting normal patterns of trade and trends in food prices in this area. 
    • On the whole, other income-generating activities across the region should go on as usual, with the exception of labor migration to Libya. However, this loss of remittance income could be offset to a large extent by the sharp increase in migration income from reconstruction work in Cote d’Ivoire.

    The specific food security outlooks for each basin within the region are recapped below:

    In the eastern basin, food availability should meet all needs as long as markets continue to operate normally, as they are expected to do. Possible surpluses of maize, cowpea, and sorghum crops could be used to provision the other basins. There should not be any major changes in other income-generating activities, which will help to bolster household food security. Even without the resumption of migration to Libya, migrant remittances to Niger should generally not be affected, due to the shift in the pattern of migration to Central Africa and, in particular, to Côte d’Ivoire, where the reconstruction process has created a boom. On the other hand, households in Chad will feel this loss of remittance income, whose impact will be especially noticeable as of January 2012, when households in receiving areas will be more market dependent. In any event, this area should experience no or minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) between now and the end of December 2011. As of January 2012, there could be localized signs of stress (IPC Phase 2) in major problem areas of western Niger and Chad (figures 3 and 4), due mainly to rising prices, the premature depletion of household food reserves, and the limited flow of migration income from Libya into Chad.

    In the central basin, there could be a general, basin-wide shortage of maize, and shortages of millet in northern Mali and Burkina Faso. However, with the expected surplus of sorghum crops, the net grain balance sheet should break even. Conditions on livestock markets and for income-generating activities will be above-average given the business recovery in Cote d’Ivoire. There will be minimal food insecurity through the end of December 2011. As of January, what will initially be localized signs of stress will gradually spread throughout northern Burkina Faso and throughout northwestern and western Mali along the Mauritanian border.

    In the western basin, the structural deficit which generally plagues this area is significantly larger this year, particularly in Mauritania and, to a lesser extent, in the other countries. However, grain availability from local rice, maize, millet, and sorghum harvests, supplemented by scheduled imports, should meet needs through March 2012. In general, income from other regular household activities should ensure normal food access, though poor households in Mauritania will be drawing less income than usual from farm labor and sales of livestock after the poor performance of the agropastoral season. Thus, all parts of the basin will experience minimal food insecurity, with the exception of Mauritania, where there will be signs of stress in transhumant pastoral and agropastoral areas beginning as early as December and continuing through March 2012. 

    Table 1. Events liable to change the most likely scenario in the next six months
    Geographic areaPotential eventsEffects on food security conditions
    West AfricaRise in the international marketprice of rice as of April 2012
    • Poor urban households and poor households in the western basin will have difficulty maintaining food access;
    • Crowding out of rice by locally grown grain;
    • Rise in the price of local grain crops.
    Gulf of Guinea Poor December/January harvests of short season maize
    • Hoarding by southern farmers;
    • Growing demand from traders from the southern Gulf of Guinea countries on markets in northern areas;
    • Steeper rise in maize prices on all markets
    Central and eastern market basinsEnactment of government price control measures and/or restrictions on trade between December of this year and the 2012 harvest season
    • Large price spreads between surplus areas and deficit countries, ironically, with higher retail prices and lower farm-gate prices than without government intervention.  For example, this was the case in Chad November 2010 to March 2011, due to a lack of interest on the part of traders in provisioning markets in deficit areas.
    SahelPoor planning of institutional procurements in terms of their advertisement and scheduling after the end of March of 2012
    • Fueling of price hikes at the source, on markets in surplus areas;
    • Pass-through of price increases and spiraling prices on retail markets;
    • Failure to effectively rebuild national food security reserves, whose current levels are not good;
    • Food shortage and surge in prices during the lean season.
    SahelMigration by most animal herds to Sudanian areas of the Gulf of Guinea countries as of November/December 2011
    • Tighter market supplies of animal products;
    • Rise in the price of milk and meat in urban areas;
    • Shortages of milk in rural areas;
    • Rise in malnutrition rates.
    SahelLarger than usual outbreaks of meningitis and measles (between January and April/May), as well as cholera
    • Rise in malnutrition and mortality rates for children under the age of five.


    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Current food security outcomes, October 2011

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Current food security outcomes, October 2011

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Map of West African agro-ecological zones and market basins

    Figure 3

    Figure 2. Map of West African agro-ecological zones and market basins

    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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