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Difficult food security situation in the north

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mali
  • May 2012
Difficult food security situation in the north

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Rural households in agropastoral livelihood zone 3 (Fluvial rice and transhumant livestock rearing), the Timbuktu area of agropastoral livelihood zone 6 (Niger delta/lakes – rice and livestock rearing), and livelihood zone 4 (millet and transhumant livestock rearing) are experiencing the most severe levels of acute food insecurity, which has reached crisis proportions (Phase 3 of IPC version 2.0) in these parts of the country, with no improvement expected between now and the end of the outlook period in September (see Figure 3).

    • There are a number of factors which could further heighten current food insecurity levels in northern Mali to IPC Phase 4 (Emergency), including a major new outbreak of fighting, the continuing disruption of humanitarian aid, mediocre seasonal rainfall, continued market disruptions, and/or new rounds of mass population displacements. In IPC Phase 4 (Emergency), at least one in five households is facing large food consumption gaps resulting in very high levels of acute malnutrition or excess mortality or extreme losses of livelihoods leading to large, short-term food consumption gaps.

    • Continued government subsidizes for farm inputs will have little effect in northern areas of the country where the growing season beginning at the end of June may be threatened by the occupation of these areas by rebel forces.  The lack of farm labor and on-farm investment in the north could mean a sizeable 70 percent shortfall in crop production, reducing household food reserves and the availability of rice and millet-sorghum on local markets by the beginning of October.

    Updated food security outlook through September 2012

    Nationwide situation

    The political situation shows no change from the status quo, with no new major outbreak of fighting reported in the north.  However, local unrest, particularly in the Douentza region, has triggered a new round of internal displacements affecting close to 30,000 people since the middle of April, the majority of whom are concentrated in the vicinity of Mopti.  According to UNOCHA, a large majority of Mali’s 150,000 IDPs are living in host communities. Given limited access by humanitarian agencies, targeting difficulties, and pre-existing food insecurity in all IDP receiving areas, their long-term presence could affect host communities and worsen food security outcomes.

    Northern Mali (Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal)

    The upcoming rice-growing season beginning in late June or early July in areas occupied by rebel forces is threatened. There are reports coming out of these areas of the destruction of farm inputs and equipment (motor-driven pumps and seeds), and large numbers of laborers and overseers have left the area. The Timbuktu and Gao regions normally produce only six to nine percent of nationwide output.  However, local rice harvests typically account for 10-18 percent of the sources of food for very poor and poor households, employment in rice-farming operations accounts for approximately 20 percent of their sources of income, and sales of these crops account for another 15 to 25 percent.  A continuation of the status quo into July could reduce output to a mere 30 percent of normal production levels, which would have the greatest impact on the population of livelihood zone 3 (Fluvial rice and transhumant livestock rearing).   

    The most important impact of the conflict in the north is the effect on local markets. Very poor and poor households in the northern part of the country who rely on market purchase to meet 45 to 65 percent of their annual food needs are extremely vulnerable to market disruptions, particularly in livelihood zone 2 (nomadic and transhumant pastoralism) and agropastoral livelihood zones (livelihood zones 3, 4, and 6). Households in livelihood zones 2, 3, and 4 in the Gao and Kidal regions and sedentary populations in the Timbuktu area of the river valley are most affected, where food reserves and productive assets were raided by the rebels. Livelihood zone 1 (Nomadism and trans-Saharan trade) is least affected, where there has been no disruption in trade with Algeria and there are more or less adequate supplies of wheat semolina, pasta, and rice from that country. IDPs and poor households in agropastoral areas of Gao and riverside areas are most at risk of being severely impacted by the conflict due to their remoteness from major markets and their exposure to acts of banditry. Food reserves in the Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions looted by the rebels early in April of this year cannot hold out much longer, and the only ongoing distributions of food aid in the north are currently made by humanitarian caravans. The disruption of markets and business activities (reducing opportunities for livestock sales by middle-income and better-off households and on-farm employment for members of very poor and poor households) is curtailing the food access of very poor and poor households in the northern part of the country (Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu), keeping them in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis).

    This food crisis is also affecting the northern reaches of the Douentza region (Mopti) occupied by the rebels, where markets are barely operating, business is at a standstill, and there are mass population movements to the city of Mopti, where the IDPs are living with host families and in camps.  Those remaining put have very limited food access, particularly considering low levels of household reserves after the poor 2011/2012 growing season.

    With the erosion of purchasing power (due to the poor 2011/12 harvest), the limited availability of inputs, and the high risk of civil strife, on-farm investment and demand for labor are expected to be at only 30-50 percent of their usual level. As a result, even with normal rainfall conditions and normal water levels on rivers in these areas, food security outcomes are not likely to show any major improvement between now and September of this year. Further emergency assistance is essential to save human lives and protect local livelihoods. Assuming that the current unrest continues without any major new outbreak of fighting, and given the delivery of limited humanitarian aid, the level food insecurity should not reach Phase 4 (Emergency) of IPC version 2.0. However, certain factors could significantly affect this analysis, including a new outbreak of fighting, poor rainfall conditions (between June and September), a major disruption in humanitarian aid delivery, or a pest infestation.

    Southern Mali

    Market supplies of grain (millet, sorghum, and rice) in the Kayes, Koulikoro, Ségou, and Sikasso regions are fairly good, with sufficient physical availability to meet demand. Seasonal price increases continued into April and were steeper than usual this year (with millet and sorghum prices rising by approximately 14 to 15 percent compared with typical price increases of three to five percent). Millet prices increased the most, by 15.6 percent in Koulikoro and 15.4 percent in Sikasso. Sorghum prices also increased sharply, namely by 14 percent in Mopti and 14.4 percent in Koulikoro. Rice prices edged upwards from last month, with the Mopti market posting the largest price increase, at 8.3 percent. Millet and sorghum prices are well above prices at the same time last year and nearly twice the five-year average, particularly on markets in crop-producing areas. Normally, community-level reserves are rebuilt at harvest time, when grain is supposedly less expensive.  This year, however, since prices never came down during the October 2011 harvest, management committees hesitated to stock up on grain at overly high prices, fearing that they would be unable to resell it later. As a result, community-level reserves designed to shore up supplies during the lean season are extremely low due to the high price of grain at harvest time. This is forcing households to buy high-priced grain on the local market. Without the implementation of large-scale relief programs, the current upward trend in prices will continue into the lean season. This will most affect consumers with weak purchasing power in rural and urban areas alike.

    The month of May marks the beginning of land preparation activities (field preparation and fertilizer transport) for the new growing season in farming areas of the Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, and Ségou regions and emergent wetland areas of the Mopti region, particularly in rainfed farming areas for millet, sorghum, corn, and cotton. The government has announced that it is continuing last year’s subsidies for farm inputs in spite of the current crisis. However, it is highly likely that there will be delays in the provision of these inputs, except in areas served by the Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement du Coton (CMDT) [the Malian Cotton Development Authority] covering the Sikasso and Ségou regions, and the Office de la Haute Vallée du Niger (OHVN) [the Upper Niger Valley Authority] covering the Koulikoro region (livelihood zone 10), where sales of inputs are already underway. The light rainfall activity reported mainly in the Sikasso region helped to accelerate land preparation activities in that area. The growing season for off-season rice crops is progressing normally in large-scale irrigation schemes (the Office du Niger, Plaine de San-Ouest, Office de Développement Rural de Sélingué, and Office de Développement Intégré de Baguinéda irrigation districts). Wage rates and the availability of seasonal labor for on-farm employment are at normal levels.  The outlook for the June harvest is promising, which should strengthen food availability, though its impact at the country-wide level is limited (accounting for less than five percent of nationwide production). Ongoing food aid and nonfood aid programs in these areas should help ease hardships between April and June. However, in spite of these valuable programs, food prices are steadily rising and conditions could deteriorate from IPC Phase 2 (stress) to Phase 3 (crisis) between July and September without the extension of large-scale relief programs in the Nara border area (Koulikoro), Ségou (Nampala), and the Central Niger Delta (Djenné, San, Mopti, Ténenkou, and Youwarou). Very poor and poor households in certain districts of Tominian (Ségou), Yorosso, and Bougouni (Sikasso) reporting large production shortfalls this year could be in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) between July and September.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Livelihood zone map

    Figure 2

    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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