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Limited food access for poor households in the north and center of the country due to high prices and conflicts

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mali
  • December 2023
Limited food access for poor households in the north and center of the country due to high prices and conflicts

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Key Messages
    • The ongoing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the Liptako Gourma region and in the northern part of the country will persist until May 2024 due to high prices of basic commodities and the degradation of livelihoods linked to insecurity. The situation is much more pronounced in Ménaka, where Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing due to insecurity disrupting most economic activities, cutting off supply chains, and causing the abnormal displacement of over 50 percent of the population in the area.
    • Security incidents have increased by 12 percent compared to last year due to the escalation of ongoing military offensives in the northern regions of the country and the departure of MINUSMA from the country. These incidents are characterised by reprisals against civilian populations by armed groups. The severe deterioration of livelihoods and the continuation of abnormal population displacements, estimated at over 390,000 people in September 2023 across the country, further expose households already affected to food insecurity.
    • Cereal production is generally similar to the five-year average and slightly down by 1.3 percent compared to last season, according to the report from the Rural Development Sector Planning and Statistics Unit (CPS/SDR, November 2023). This generally average availability across the country is conducive to satisfactory access to food rations for the majority of households, except in poorly producing areas throughout the country where the lean season will start early, in April/May instead of the usual June.

    Current Situation

    Security situation: The persistence of security incidents in the center and northern regions of the country and the increase in reprisals against civilians by armed groups following the intensification of military offensives underway in the northern regions of the country, particularly in the three-border strip (Liptako Gourma), have been observed. According to ACLED, 1,425 incidents were recorded across the country from January to November 2023, an increase of 12.3 percent compared to the same period in 2022. In September 2023, OCHA estimated that there were over 391,961 displaced persons across the country, mainly within camps and host households in the central and northern regions, representing just over 50 percent in the Ménaka region and 30 percent in the Kidal region.

    The takeover by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) of former MINUSMA bases, whose mandate officially ended on 11 December, has significantly increased the tensions with the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security, and Development (CSP). The gradual takeover of the CSP bases by FAMa from October onwards, which culminated in the capture of the town of Kidal on 17 November, led to abnormal population displacements of up to 30 percent of the population in the Kidal region, towards more secure areas or even neighbouring countries. These displaced people no longer have access to their usual sources of income and food, and live mainly on humanitarian aid and the solidarity of the host communities. 

    In the Timbuktu region, an upsurge in operations by the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) was observed, with some 118 incidents and 176 associated deaths, representing an increase of 82 percent in incidents and 319 percent in deaths compared with the previous year. Also in the Timbuktu region, following the lifting of the siege a few weeks ago, the JNIM has announced a total blockade of Timbuktu on 11 December 2023, which will significantly disrupt the flow of goods to markets, including food commodities.

    Agro-pastoral production: According to the Rural Development Sector planning and statistics unit in November 2023 (CPS/SDR), overall cereal production is virtually similar to the five-year average (+0.03%) and to that of 2022/23 (-1.3%). However, localised falls in production have been observed, particularly in the western Sahel and in areas of insecurity, due to the poor distribution of rainfall and the reduction in the area farmed as a result of insecurity in the Liptako Gourma and Office du Niger areas. The resulting early depletion of stocks will make small producers more dependent on the market in a difficult economic context. The evolution of off-season vegetable crops continues, with an overall average outlook. However, the low availability of water in ponds and lakes due to low rainfall from July to September will reduce production compared to an average year, especially in the Liptako Gourma areas and the Mopti River belt, where it will be low due to limited access to plots in addition to low water availability. The harvests currently underway and those expected in May will ease the access problems faced by farming households. The same will apply to flood recession crops in the lakes of Timbuktu, Mopti, and the Kayes region, where cultivable areas will be reduced compared to an average year due to the low water levels in ponds and lakes.

    Pastoral conditions: The conditions of pastures are generally average to above-average, except in certain areas in the western Sahel of Kayes and Koulikoro, and in some areas in the northern regions, where pockets of production deficits have been observed due to poor rainfall. The water points are, overall, below the average level due to low rainfall. In insecure areas, the expected rapid degradation of accessible pastures following disruptions in livestock movement will lead to feeding difficulties, reducing animal production and pastoral incomes. Elsewhere, transhumance is proceeding normally, with the usual return of transhumant herds for the harvest residues and permanent watering places. The overall animal health situation is stable, and the vaccination campaign continues with support from partners like the ICRC and the FAO. The body condition of the animals is satisfactory, as is the milk production, which is considered average. This improves the consumption of pastoral households and the average income derived from the sale of milk and dairy products (butter, cheese).

    Fishing: the outlook for the current fishing season is average to below average due to low flooding, which did not enable fish breeding areas to be properly flooded. The current average catches will continue normally on the rivers, except in the river valley from Mopti to Gao, where armed groups are reducing access to certain fishing areas. The decline in catches will reduce the income of fishing households, even if fish prices are above average.

    Markets and prices: despite the seasonal rise, the supply of cereals and pulses remains below average due to the low level of carryover stocks and the rebuilding of stocks by major suppliers. The supply of markets remains sufficient overall across the country, although there are disruptions in flow, and even shortages for certain markets in the regions of Timbuktu, Gao, and Menaka due to the blockade imposed by armed groups. In spite of the relaxation of blockades in the vicinity of the Timbuktu and Menaka regions, markets continue to experience reduced supplies, both in terms of local commodities and manufactured food products. This is attributed to suppliers exercising caution and the repercussions of ECOWAS sanctions on Niger, through which a significant portion of imported goods travels, following difficulties in movement along the Mopti-Gao axis. In addition, from 20 December, the CSP announced the imposition of blockades in the north of the country, particularly on the main roads to the towns of Menaka, Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and Taoudenit. However, the extent, duration and effectiveness of these blockades are not yet known.

    Market demand is seasonally low, but remains higher than average as traders replenish stocks ahead of institutional and private purchases, mainly in the western Sahel. Cereal prices are stable or falling, albeit less sharply than in an average year. Prices are still higher than the average for the last five years due to a fall in supply together with strong demand. Compared with the five-year average, the price of the main staple cereal on the markets of the regional capitals is up 105 percent in Ménaka, 38 percent in Sikasso, 36 percent in Gao, 16 percent in Koulikoro, 21 percent in Ségou, 20 percent in Kidal and 10 percent in Timbuktu. These price levels reduce poor households' access to food in areas of low production that depend on the market for their consumption. It is similar in Mopti (+2 percent) and declining in Mopti (-7 percent) and Sikasso (-15 percent).

    As for livestock markets, there has been the usual increase in supply, but it is still below average in insecure areas, where market malfunctions are leading livestock farmers to turn to safer markets in the south of the country, or even in neighbouring countries. Livestock prices remain above the five-year average for both large and small ruminants, thanks to a satisfactory body condition during this period of pasture availability. The terms of trade for goats/millet (Figure 1), compared with the five-year average, are virtually similar in Timbuktu and Mopti (+2 percent) and are down 32 percent in Ménaka and Bourem, 18 percent in Nara, 30 percent in Rharous and 14 percent in Gao; this is not conducive to adequate access for livestock-raising households to markets.

    Figure 1

    Termes d'échange chèvre/céréales Nov. 2023 (Kg/Tête)

    Terms of trade (kg) from October to November 2023

    Source: FEWS NET

    Nutritional situation: according to the SMART survey conducted in July/August 2023, the overall prevalence of acute malnutrition for the country is 11.1 percent, indicative of Serious according to WHO standards, compared to 10.0 percent in the same period of 2022. This rate is said to be improving at a time when access to food is easing thanks to the harvest. The regions of Ménaka (19.4 percent, including 4.3 percent SAM), Gao (15.3 percent, including 2.3 percent SAM) and Tombouctou (12.5 percent, including 2.3 percent SAM) are the worst affected. In addition to the difficulties in accessing food, malfunctioning and poor access to social and health structures are contributing to the deterioration in the nutritional situation, particularly in insecure areas.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Mali Food Security Outlook for October 2023 to May 2024 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    Security situation: Security incidents will continue in the Kidal region with the return of the FAMa to the region and the organisation of a joint fight against armed groups as part of the new Alliance of Sahel States (AES) comprising Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. An escalation of current incidents in the regions of Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, Bandiagara, and Mopti, as well as the northern areas of Ségou and Koulikoro, by armed groups taking advantage of the departure of MINUSMA before a complete takeover by the FAMa is anticipated. From January onwards, the number of incidents will experience a seasonal increase, reaching a level similar to or slightly higher than that of 2023. This will involve an increase in population displacement and the continuation of blockades around certain areas in the regions of Timbuktu and Gao. Consequently, this will lead to a reduction in supply flows and price increases, limiting the access to food for the poor. As for the conflict in the centre of the country, violence is likely to remain at its current level, close to that of 2023, owing to the active continuation of military offensives in the area, and also to ongoing community negotiations.

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    The overall average availability of harvests, in-kind and cash incomes from harvesting work, improved livestock/cereal exchange terms compared to the lean season, and incomes derived from regular agricultural and non-agricultural labour activities are conducive to households having moderate access to food commodities. As a result, the current Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes for the majority of households in the country will continue until May 2024. However, in the regions of Timbuktu, Gao, and Mopti, poor households benefiting from lower commodity prices and availability of harvests continue to face difficulties in adequately satisfying their food and non-food needs. They then resort to atypical intensification of labour activities, migration, unusual livestock sales, in-kind or cash borrowing, and reduced non-food expenditure. As a result, the current Stressed (IPC Phase 2) will continue until May 2024.

    In the insecure areas of Liptako Gourma, poor households with declining incomes, particularly in the districts of Bankass, Koro, Bandiagara, Douentza, Ansongo and Gourma Rharous, are experiencing a sharp deterioration in their livelihoods, limiting their ability to meet their food and non-food needs adequately. However, the ongoing seasonal improvement, facilitated by the harvests, albeit modest in some areas, and the seasonal decrease in prices, are enhancing households' access to food commodities. As a result, these households are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes thanks to their own harvests, however small, payments in kind for harvesting work, and local solidarity, which reduce the need to resort to crisis strategies and improve their food consumption. A likely deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected from May 2024 due to a significant reduction in their access to food, linked to high prices and intense reliance on the sale of productive assets, borrowing, and reduction in food expenditures in an environment where livelihoods remain severely degraded. As for households in Ménaka and southern Gao, the increased use of emergency crisis strategies for 69.2 percent of households (FAO, DIEM October 2023) through the sale of all livestock, begging and also the significant reduction in the number of meals indicate an unusual deterioration in their food consumption. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will continue until May, when a probable deterioration is expected, particularly for displaced persons, who are estimated at 52.5 percent of the population in the Ménaka region.

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most likely scenario.
    ZoneEvenementImpacte sur les perspecitves de sécurité alimentaire
    North of the country, in particular Menaka, Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu, TaoudenitStrict imposition of the blockade announced by the CSP

    The imposition of a blockade in the north of the country on all types of commodities will significantly reduce the supply of commodities to the markets, especially as the areas in question are dependent on supplies from the south of the country and imports from Mauritania and Algeria. The significant drop in supply, or even shortages, particularly of imported food commodities will exacerbate the difficulties poor households have in accessing food. As a result, the number of people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or even Emergency (IPC Phase 4) will increase in these areas. As the number of displaced persons in Kidal increases, a total blockade could lead to a deterioration of the zone into Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Mali Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: Limited food access for poor households in the north and center of the country due to high prices and conflicts, 2023.

    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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