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Food security conditions in northern Mali remain problematic

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mali
  • June 2012
Food security conditions in northern Mali remain problematic

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • A slight reprise of economic activity and the return of displaced populations in certain parts of the north (Kidal) point to marginal, localized improvements.  However, poor humanitarian access continues to delay deliveries of aid to the north, and rural and farming households in livelihood zones   3, 4, and 6 are expected to remain in IPC Phase 3: Crisis (crisis) between now and the end of the outlook period (September). Additional emergency operations are required to protect lives and livelihoods.

    • The lack of/poor access to farm inputs and labor and the general climate of insecurity in the north are creating increasing uncertainty regarding the successful rollout and outcome of the growing season, particularly in rice-growing areas of Timbuktu/Gao. On-farm employment normally helps poor households maintain their food access at this time of year, with annual family food reserves replenished after the harvest in October.  

    • Current market prices for grain, well above the five-year average, continue to erode the purchasing power of very poor and poor households. The month-long observance of Ramadan beginning in July is a high-food-consumption period marked by a growth in demand, which could drive millet prices even higher.

    • The earlier than usual rainfall has created conducive conditions for locust breeding. Sightings of locust swarms in Algeria, Libya, Niger, and northern Mali are raising concerns over the possible impact of a desert locust infestation on crop production, particularly if control efforts are hampered by insecurity.

    Updated food security outlook through September 2012

    National Context

    The political situation remains generally status quo, with no new major outbreaks of conflict aside from tensions between rebel groups in Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao since the middle of June. This localized tension between different rebel groups points to the possibility of a new flare-up of active fighting. Nevertheless, the flow of IDPs has slowed with increasing reference to spontaneous returns in the Kidal region. According to UNOCHA, more than 158,000 IDPs, including over 25,000 in the Mopti area, are still in need of assistance to ensure their food access. Surveys to assess their numbers and the magnitude of their needs are ongoing. More than 47,000 displaced persons in the southern part of the country having lost their livelihoods, along with certain host families, are facing poor food access.  Assistance, while largely inadequate, is both ongoing and scheduled for these displaced populations in areas with extremely poor food security.

    As part of its agricultural recovery program, the government elaborated an ambitious plan for the 2012-2013 growing season figuring annual grain production at approximately 9.5 million metric tons, compared with a norm of 5 million metric tons in an average year, counting on farm input subsidies and the onset of the rainy season in May/June to boost output. According to ACMAD (the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development), there is a high probability of below-normal to normal levels of rainfall in the western and southern parts of the country. The localized, earlier than usual rainfall in the southern part of the country signals the start of the growing season for rice, corn, and cotton in livelihood zones 10 and 11. The threat of a likely desert locust infestation reported by the FAO could have disastrous effects on the growing season. There is a medium to high risk of this threat actually materializing in parts of the north, including the Tamesna Plains, Adrar des Iforas, and Timétrine area, where swarms of gregarious adult locusts were already sighted in May/June. As reported by UN OCHA, due to the locust threat, a number of partners met with the National Locust Prevention and Control Center to discuss how best to protect at-risk areas of northern and southern Mali. This risk is heightened by security issues, the shortage of vehicles for the Protection Service, and the lack of capabilities, resources, and organization for the mounting of a locust control campaign.

    Northern Mali (Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions)

    There are slightly more frequent humanitarian caravans delivering aid to residents of occupied areas, including a recent escorted shipment of 700 metric tons of food supplies to at-risk areas in the north. According to UN OCHA, as of June 21st, over 43,000 recipients had benefited from distributions of emergency food aid. However, such aid is limited compared with the enormous needs of these populations, and the distribution process is somewhat skewed due to the presence of the occupying forces. As a result, very poor and poor households in livelihood zones 2 and 4 in the Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions are still grappling with a food access crisis (Figure 1) and are expected to remain in this food insecurity phase (IPC Phase 3) at least until September. This food crisis is also affecting residents of the Douentza area (Mopti).

    Certain partners such as FAO and NGOs are already providing or have announced plans to provide assistance for the 2012-2013 growing season in the north (Timbuktu and Gao). One such partner has already distributed fifty or so motor-driven pumps to irrigation districts in the Timbuktu region and hired private service providers to train local farmers.  However, without government aid, these isolated assistance efforts by different partners cannot provide needed inputs on a large enough scale, particularly for irrigated rice production, which requires a hefty investment, mainly in fuel supplies, which were also seized by rebels.  A continuation of the status quo into July/August could put rice production at a mere 30 percent of the norm. This would hit residents of livelihood zones 3 (Fluvial rice and transhumant livestock rearing) and 6 (Niger delta/lake areas) in the Timbuktu and Gao regions especially hard, particularly very poor and poor households dependent on income from farm labor, which is expected to be cut by approximately 50 percent.  Thus, even with normal rainfall and water levels on rivers in these areas, this year’s food security outcomes are unlikely to show any significant improvement between June and September due to the loss of income from on-farm employment, which helps poor households maintain their food access at this time of year in the face of poor market performance.  Very poor and poor households are expected to remain in IPC Phase 3 (crisis) between now and September, particularly in agropastoral areas. Additional emergency operations are essential for the protection of livelihoods as well as human lives.

    Trading on grain and livestock markets in the rebel-occupied Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions is still slow. As a result, very poor and poor households which normally rely on market-buying for most of their food supplies at this time of year are unable to build up large reserves. Local employment, the main source of income for very poor and poor households (40 to 60 percent) has been sharply reduced by the disruption in all types of economic activity. In addition, livestock in northern pastoral areas, which are the mainstay of the local economy, are in the midst of a harsh lean season, with reports of cases of physiological distress, in some instances, leading to death. Together with the rebellion, this is triggering larger than usual seasonal cuts in livestock prices, the main source of income (80 to 85 percent) for middle-income and better-off households in these areas. Compounding the problem is the erosion in purchasing power due to the deterioration in terms of trade for livestock-grain with the soaring price of grain.

    Southern Mali

    Land preparation work is still underway in southern farming areas. There are reports of the wet and dry planting of crops in the south and of the planting of seedbeds in the Office du Niger irrigation district. The 2012-2013 growing season is getting off to a slightly late start, with the rains not beginning quite as early as last year. The Ministry of Agriculture’s ambitious plan for this growing season is projecting a 9.6 million metric ton grain harvest, compared with last year’s figure of 5.7 million metric tons and 6.4 million MT in 2010, with sharp increases in rice and corn production through the development of new irrigated areas (16,000 hectares with fully automatic irrigation systems and partial water control) and the promotion of high-yield hybrid corn seeds. The production target for the recovery program in the cotton sector is set at close to 500,000 metric tons of cottonseed, compared with the 433 metric ton figure for the 2011/2012 season. There are a number of factors working in favor of recovery efforts in this sector, such as a stable farmgate price of 255 XOF/kg for the second consecutive year and the timely payment of cotton growers.  However, the close to five percent larger than usual subsidies for farm inputs announced by the government are facing a funding gap, with only 20-60 percent of funding needs met to date, which could affect coarse grains in particular (millet and sorghum) and increase the likelihood of a failure to meet corresponding production targets.   

    The month of June normally marks the end of the lean season in pastoral areas, where new plant cover is beginning to sprout and will become increasingly wide-spread by July. This year, with the large natural pasture deficit in 2011-2012 and the slightly late start of the 2012 rainy season, the animal population is struggling to make it through a harsh lean season, particularly in the Western Sahel and the central Niger Delta (in the Mopti and Timbuktu areas), where there are reports of cases of physiological distress, in some instances, leading to death.  However, animal grazing and watering conditions in large parts of the south have improved with the May and June rains. Still, in general, the level of new vegetative growth is lagging behind figures for the same time last year.

    Very poor and poor households in livelihood zones 4, 6, 8, and 9 in the Kayes, Koulikoro, Ségou, and Mopti regions reporting large pasture and/or crop production deficits in 2011 have been facing poor food access (stress: see Figure 2) since April of this year due to limited local employment opportunities and the high price of grain. Ongoing or scheduled food and nonfood aid programs, the return of laborers with adequate means, and local employment opportunities created by the start of the 2012-2013 growing season should help ease problems for very poor and poor households between June and September and prevent food insecurity levels from escalating from IPC Phase 2 (stress) to Phase 3 (crisis).

    Grain supplies on markets in the southern part of the country are much tighter than usual. However, there are no reports of any shortages. Coarse grain availability on these markets will be even more limited in the coming months due to the low levels of on-farm and village-level reserves. On the other hand, duty-free imports of rice, which have been extended through August 8th, and off-season rice production could help ensure adequate supplies of this crop.  Millet and sorghum prices are expected to continue to rise, while rice prices should stabilize, at least in the case of lower-grade imported rice (consisting of 25 percent broken rice).  Average prices on southern livestock markets are stable or falling, in line with normal seasonal trends. However, terms of trade for goats-millet are deteriorating in all parts of the country, including rebel-occupied areas, and, in general, currently stand at more than 50 percent below the five-year average.  

    The household food security situation in the southern reaches of the Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Ségou, and Mopti regions, where deliveries of food aid are planned for a few localized areas with production deficits, will remain in IPC Phase 2 (stress) into September of this year. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Observed locust activity  (May 23-June 27)

    Figure 2

    Observed locust activity (May 23-June 27)


    Livelihood zone map

    Figure 3

    Livelihood zone map

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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