Skip to main content

Households in areas with poor crop production resorting to atypical coping strategies

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mali
  • April - September 2014
Households in areas with poor crop production resorting to atypical coping strategies

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Poor crop production and a drop in incomes are prompting poor households in the north and on the Dogon Plateau to resort earlier than normal to coping strategies, such as intensifying wage labor work, increasing borrowing, and cutting nonfood expenditures, to meet their minimal food needs. Consequently, these households are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2).
    • The early start to the pastoral lean season in northern pastoral areas has led to a more significant than usual reduction in the production of animal products, such as milk, butter, and meat. This has negatively affected household food consumption for pastoral households.
    • The Stressed levels of food insecurity affecting poor agropastoral households in northern riverine areas, the millet and transhumant livestock rearing livelihood zone, and the Dogon Plateau will escalate with the approach of the agricultural lean season. Starting in June/July, households will fall into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as their food consumption deteriorates and they sell assets to access food through market purchases.

    National Overview
    Current situation

    Cereal production

    The revised 2014 cereal production estimates for Mali indicate that production was approximately four percent below-average and 14 percent below 2013’s levels (Rural Development Sector Planning and Statistics Unit, March 2014). However, Mali’s food balance sheet still shows a gross surplus of over 800,000 metric tons, reflecting good domestic cereal availability despite known pockets of poor production in northern Kayes and Koulikoro, Mopti, the Dogon Plateau area of Bandiagara, and localized riverine areas of Timbuktu and Gao. The generally average harvests of off-season maize in Kayes and of market garden crops across the country are improving food availability and the purchasing power of agricultural households through average income levels from the sale of these crops. Harvests of wheat, anise, and cumin in the Timbuktu area are also providing average incomes and food supplies for local farmers.

    Pasture deficit

    The reported pasture deficit in pastoral areas of Timbuktu, Gao, and the Western Sahel is triggering unusual herd movements to the Tessit and Boura areas and bourgou grassland areas of Gao, increasing the risk of a deterioration of pastoral conditions in affected areas. Households have also ended their milking activities earlier than usual in March to avoid further weakening animals, which in turn has reduced household milk consumption levels. The thinning and, in some cases, decimation of livestock herds by excessive livestock sales for lack of other income-generating opportunities during the 2012-2013 crisis has also lead to a loss of income for poor households and has adversely affected their market access.

    Price trends and market access

    Seasonal food prices are stable or up slightly, enabling households to maintain their market access, particularly for those in southern agricultural areas with average incomes. The price of millet, the main cereal consumed by households, has edged up from last month by seven and four percent, respectively, in Sikasso and Ségou and is stable in other local capitals. However, it is above the five-year average by 14 percent in Koulikoro, 13 percent in Gao, and nine percent in Ségou. In general, rice prices are stable and near-average, except in Ségou and Mopti, where they are 11 and seven percent below-average, respectively, due to good rice production in these areas.

    Humanitarian assistance

    Ongoing humanitarian food assistance programs (supplying cereals, pulses, and oil) are serving more than 50 percent of the vulnerable population in the north and the Bandiagara area and are an important source of food for these households. Cash transfer programs and distributions of farm inputs and breeding animals are also helping to rebuild the livelihoods of recipient households. These programs, whose operations are planned and funded through July of this year, are easing hardships for poor households in these areas.

    Current food insecurity

    In southern agricultural areas that experienced average levels of crop production, households are currently engaged in their usual activities and are maintaining their food access. Thus, they are currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    However, the earlier than usual start of the lean season in March-April due to the premature depletion of food stocks in northern Kayes and Koulikoro, the Dogon Plateau area, Timbuktu, and Gao is prompting poor households to resort to atypical coping strategies to meet their food needs. More specifically, households are resorting to more intensive than usual recourse to wage labor, the gathering and sale of forest products, borrowing, migration, and livestock sales and are reducing their food consumption levels to minimally adequate levels to avoid waste. Various types of humanitarian assistance provided by ongoing programs are enabling households to limit their recourse to extremely damaging strategies although cuts to nonfood expenditures are being reported. Consequently, households in these areas are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity.


    The most likely food security scenario for April through September 2014 was established based on the following underlying national assumptions:

    General assumptions:

    • Start of the rainy season: The normal start of the rainy season in June in the Sahelian belt and in May in the Sudanian zone will kick off the new growing season. It will also spur new pasture growth, fill animal watering holes, and improve livestock body conditions, marking the end of the lean season in pastoral areas. Forecasts for the Sahel are predicting normal to above-normal cumulative rainfall totals. The resulting improvement in animal production levels and labor opportunities in agricultural areas will provide more households with food and income.
    • Desert locusts: Small locust outbreaks were reported last year in the usual areas of the north. Any increases in locust activity have been minor and limited to northwestern and northern Mauritania and the Ténéré and southeastern Aïr mountain areas of Niger, where treatment programs have been carried out. Thus, no major upsurges in desert locust activity are expected anywhere in the region between now and September.
    • Crop production: Expected harvests of off-season rice crops in June in irrigation schemes in both the north and the south will improve food availability and will slow price increases for these crops. In general, rice production will be average, though low water levels along different arms of the river and the resulting lower cropping rates will reduce output in northern rice-growing areas. Average supplies of lean season foods (pulses, wild fruits, and nuts) and average early green harvests beginning in late August-September will mark the end of the agricultural lean season.
    • Animal production: As usual, there will be a steady decline in milk production, which will be especially sharp this year in pasture-short areas of Timbuktu and Gao. The resulting reduction in milk consumption will adversely affect the dietary quality of affected households between April and May. However, new pasture growth in June-July will end the lean season in pastoral areas and improve household milk supplies.
    • Livestock prices: There will be a normal decline in livestock prices during the pastoral lean season between April and June. Price drops on certain markets in Gao and Timbuktu will be especially steep, where there are reports of above-average livestock sales. However, the return of regular buyers to northern areas will keep price levels near-average in May and June. Between June and September, the improvement in livestock body conditions with good pastoral conditions and growing demand associated with Ramadan in July will help livestock prices rebound and be at above-average levels.
    • Cereal prices: Markets will operate normally. Seasonal increases in cereal prices will put them five to ten percent above-average, which will continue to give poor households average food access between April and July. The larger than usual levels of ongoing institutional procurements (31,000 MT) by the National Agricultural Products Board (OPAM) and humanitarian organizations will create above-average cereal demand. However, the existence of on-farm food stocks, distributions of food rations by humanitarian organizations in high-consumption areas, and a reduction in demand from neighboring countries will ease any inflationary pressure that could occur from this demand. These factors and normal seasonal price increases will keep cereal prices 10 to 20 percent above the five-year average between July and September.
    • Fishing: Lower water levels and average breeding conditions will improve catches between April and June, providing fishing communities with food and income. More specifically, income levels from these activities will be average, which will help improve fishing households’ market access in livelihood zones 3 (fluvial rice and transhumant livestock rearing livelihood zone) and 6 (Niger delta/lakes and livestock rearing livelihood zone) between April and May.
    • Migration and population movements: Normal rural to urban labor migration flows will continue at low levels through June. The longer than usual migration period, particularly for households from the riverine areas of Gao and Timbuktu, Bandiagara, and the Western Sahel, where this year’s crop production was poor, will result in above-average levels of food and cash from returning migrant workers in May-June. This additional income will improve household purchasing power between June and September. In addition, there will be a steady stream of returning IDPs and refugees to northern areas with the observed economic recovery in those areas.

    Assumptions for northern Mali:

    • Security situation: The deployment of additional security forces and the return of government workers are helping to improve security conditions in the Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, and northern Mopti areas. However, periodic security problems will continue to weaken the socioeconomic climate, particularly in the far north where there have been sightings of returning jihadists. The steadily improving security situation is helping to sustain the economic recovery despite localized reports of unrest. Support from the government and its development partners and humanitarian operations will also help to improve the economic climate, although economic activities will continue to be at below-normal levels.
    • Humanitarian programs: Emergency food and nonfood assistance programs by the government and humanitarian organizations (the World Food Program and International Committee of the Red Cross) for vulnerable households will continue as part of the government’s national response plan. In addition to the distribution of free food rations, poor households in northern areas will be served by livelihood-building and recovery programs (providing seeds, animal feed, farm implements, livestock, cash payments, etc.) through July. Assistance programs for returning IDPs and refugees in host cities will also be extended.
    • Economic activities/income: There will be a steady improvement in economic activity, jump-started by the return of displaced populations and government workers and, in particular, by large-scale rehabilitation, construction, and economic assistance projects (for income-generating activities and merchants). Though improving, there are still fewer than usual job opportunities and incomes will remain below-normal due to the after-effects of the crisis. Land preparation activities beginning in April and crop planting activities between June and August in rural areas will provide poor agricultural households with opportunities to generate average levels of food and income from this source.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    In agropastoral areas of southern Mali, the normal pursuit of typical livelihoods activities serving as sources of food and income should prevent any major anomalies in household food access between April and July. The normal return of migrant workers in May-June will provide average supplies of food and cash resources and will help households cover their expenses during the lean season. This will also be bolstered by income from local on-farm employment. In addition, ongoing harvests of maize in the Kayes region and off-season rice in irrigated rice-farming schemes will help ensure good food availability. As a result, households will continue to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.  

    Poor households in the Western Sahel, the Dogon Plateau area of Bandiagara, and northern Mali have been experiencing an earlier than normal lean season since March-April on account of poor crop production and the resulting shortfall in income from crop sales (pulses, cereals, and market garden crops). As a result, they are currently resorting to atypical coping strategies. However, ongoing humanitarian assistance programs that have been serving over 50 percent of food-insecure households since February, along with migrant remittances, are helping to limit these households’ recourse to negative coping strategies, such as the sale of productive assets and skipping of meals, and will help prevent a further deterioration of food security outcomes beyond Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels between now and June-July.

    Between July and September, poor households in agropastoral areas of Gao, Timbuktu, and Bandiagara will intensify their usage of coping strategies to above-average levels in order to ease hardships stemming from the drop in pastoral and agricultural incomes, due to the drought and/or fewer labor opportunities available as a result of the security crisis, and poor food availability. Such strategies will include large cutbacks in nonfood spending, the culling of livestock herds, switching to less expensive foods, gathering and selling forest products, and above-average levels of borrowing. Depending on the area, households will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during this time period. The availability of lean season foods (pulses, earthpeas, and wild plants) and early green cereal harvests in August-September will ease food insecurity of agropastoral households until the beginning of the main harvest season in October-November.

    The rebound in milk production and livestock body conditions with the improvement of pastoral conditions will end the lean season in pastoral areas by June-July. Pastoral households will continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase2) food insecurity between July and September although the availability of milk and improving terms of trade should prevent outcomes from escalating into Crisis (IPC Phase 3), even without reliance on humanitarian assistance.  

    Areas of Concern

    Livelihood zone 5 (Dogon Plateau: millet, shallots, wild foods, and tourism)

    Current situation

    Poor cereal production and low water levels in dams and reservoirs used for market gardening activities have reduced food availability and income from crop sales (pulses and market garden crops). More specifically, production levels are more than 30 to 70 percent below-average. Despite good producer prices for shallots, which are approximately 40 percent higher than usual, income from crop sales are still below-average on account of the large crop production shortfall. Their earlier than usual market dependence, by January instead of March as in a normal year, is prompting households to scale up income-generating activities to temper the effects of these production shortfalls. The unusually large expansion in activities such as the gathering of tamarind fruits and wood, quarrying, and unskilled construction work is generating needed income to help households maintain their market access. There is also a steady flow of rural to urban labor migration.

    As usual, local markets are still well stocked with millet from cereal-producing areas of Bankass and Koro and with rice and fish from the Mopti area. Cereal prices are unchanged from last month and are approximately 12 percent below the five-year average as a result of low demand caused by ongoing food distributions.

    Stable food prices at levels close to or below-average, along with ongoing distributions of food rations and income from the uncharacteristic expansion of typical income-generating activities, are enabling very poor and poor households to maintain their food access by foregoing other nonfood expenditures, without resorting to extremely damaging strategies such as cutting their food intake and selling their productive assets. However, there has been a slight shift in household consumption habits, particularly among poor households, which are beginning to favor less expensive foods as a way to economize in preparation for the difficult growing season ahead of them in June-July. Consequently, these households are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


    The most likely food security scenario for April through September 2014 in this livelihood zone was established based on the following area-specific assumptions in addition to the national assumptions outlined earlier:

    • Return of migrant workers: Migrant workers will begin returning in order to prepare their fields for the upcoming growing season starting in May-June. The above-average food and cash resources supplied by these returning workers or by migrant remittances will improve household purchasing power. Their presence will also afford them an opportunity to earn wage income from local on-farm employment between June and August.
    • Transhumance: Transhumant herds will head for rainy season grazing lands with the first rains, which are expected to fall sometime in June. The tightening of market supplies with livestock herds heading back north and the growing demand associated with the observance of Ramadan will drive up livestock prices, which will remain above-average for the entire outlook period. The usual low supply of milk and dairy products during the pastoral lean season (April to June) will improve with the new pasture growth in June.
    • Borrowing: Their larger than usual financial needs as a result of their poor crop production and lower farm incomes will make poor households unusually reliant on food and cash loans to meet their food needs. This will be especially true in June-July, when they are few job opportunities other than farm work.
    • Lean season: The large shortfall in crop production and farm income will cause the lean season to begin a full month earlier than usual (in May instead of June-July as in a normal year). However, the uncharacteristically intensive and earlier than usual recourse to coping strategies by poor households will help ease food insecurity until the first green harvests in September.
    • Humanitarian assistance: The government’s national response plan provides for the distribution of free food rations to over 25 percent of the population of this area. These distributions, which started up in February, will continue through July and will improve food availability for poor households.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The earlier than usual market dependence of local households for their food supplies, starting in January instead of March as in a normal year, due to shortfalls in crop production and farm income, is causing poor households to uncharacteristically resort to the usage of coping strategies. Their unusually intensive pursuit of local employment, their earlier than usual recourse to above-average levels of borrowing, their sharp reduction in the consumption of meat and fish, and their choice of plain dishes (ex. porridge) are all contributing to the deterioration in household food consumption. However, ongoing distributions of food rations to poor households will help limit their recourse to extremely damaging coping strategies and maintain food insecurity at Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels between now and June.

    Household food consumption will begin to deteriorate as of June, with a reduction in the size and quality of meals. To cope, poor households will boost their consumption of leaves, wild fruits, and nuts to increase their food intake. In addition, they will seek more on-farm employment in order to meet their food needs, to the detriment of their own household crop production. In addition, the above-average incomes of returning migrant workers will be reduced by larger than usual loan payments to traders and relatives. Between June and September, poor households will face a complete livelihood protection deficit and will have difficulty adequately meeting food needs, and will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    In September, the availability of lean season foods (earthpeas and cowpeas) and wild plant foods in September will ease household food insecurity and will mark the end of the lean season. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity will give way to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security conditions prior to the main harvest when households will be able to generate income from crop sales.

    Livelihood zones 3 (Fluvial rice and transhumant livestock rearing) and 4 (millet and transhumant livestock rearing) in northern Mali

    Current situation

    Crop production from the November harvests in localized riverine areas of Gao and Timbuktu was more than 30 percent below-average due to poor rainfall conditions and low river water levels. As a result, households in low-production areas of Timbuktu, Rharous, Niafunké, Bourem, and Gao became market dependant to meet their food needs two months earlier than usual.

    However, recent harvests in March of market garden crops (onions, shallots, and pulses) were average with the help of farm input assistance and distributions of small farm implements by the FAO and the Red Cross. The sale of these crops provided agricultural households with average income to help meet their needs.

    A good, steady flow of trade from normal source markets in Mopti, Ségou and Sikasso areas is maintaining fairly good food supplies on local markets. The volume of trade with Algeria, which fluctuates according to security conditions, is up from previous months, though still below-average. Millet prices are unchanged from last month on major markets in these areas and are above the five-year average by approximately 10 to 15 percent on the Timbuktu and Gao markets. Prices for wheat flour imported from Algeria, which is widely available, are average to below-average in Gao, while prices for powdered milk imports on the Timbuktu and Gao markets are 15 to 20 percent above-average.

    Goat to millet terms of trade are down from last month by approximately eight percent in Timbuktu and Ansongo and by 10 to 11 percent in Rharous and Gao. This is in line with the normal decline in the market value of livestock at this time of year during the pastoral lean season when there is a shortage of pasture and persistently high cereal prices. However, a sustained demand from major buyers and the tightening of supplies with the departure of animal herds for seasonal grazing areas are keeping livestock prices more than 20 percent above-average. However, these high prices are not benefiting poor households whose herds were mostly sold off during the two-year crisis.

    The economic recovery, sustained by the momentum generated by the return of IDPs and refugees, is providing poor households with employment opportunities as laborers and domestics and in petty commerce and trade. However, despite generally average wage rates, incomes from these activities are still below-average as there are relatively few available job opportunities.

    Humanitarian food (ex. cereals, pulses, oil) and nonfood (ex. personal hygiene kits) assistance programs for vulnerable populations continue. For example, over 30 percent of households in the Gao and Timbuktu areas will benefit from monthly food ration distributions by WFP through the end of July. Efforts to screen for and treat malnutrition are also being actively pursued at social service and health facilities through the distribution of nutrient supplements (Plumpy, protective rations).


    The most likely food security scenario for April through September 2014 in these livelihood zones was established based on the following area-specific assumptions in addition to the national assumptions outlined earlier:

    • Migrant remittances: As usual between April and July, there will be cash remittances from migrant workers to local households to cover the cost of food and start-up costs for the new growing season. These remittances will be slightly larger than average on account of the currently difficult circumstances caused by this year’s poor crop production.
    • Employment opportunities: The reported economic recovery in both livelihood zones points to an improvement in employment levels compared with previous months, particularly in urban areas. However, total incomes will still be below-average on account of the below-normal availability of job opportunities. Labor needs for land preparation work between April and June and for the planting of crops in June-July on the plains and in irrigated rice-growing areas will afford poor households with opportunities for the generation of average levels of food and income.
    • Markets: Markets will be adequately stocked with regular supplies of staple foods and imports from Algeria despite lingering security problems in these areas. However, as usual, the normal inaccessibility of certain rural markets between June and August during the rainy season will help fuel food price increases. As a result, cereal prices will be approximately 15 to 20 percent above-average. Livestock prices will decline more than usual, although small ruminant prices will stay close to the five-year average and cattle prices will remain above-average.
    • Lean season: The lean season began one to two months earlier than usual (in February-March) due to the premature dependence of local households on market purchases and the below-average household income levels in these areas.  Their lower incomes are prompting households to uncharacteristically resort to coping strategies such as cutting their nonfood expenditures and food intake and boosting their consumption of wild plant foods, with increasingly damaging effects as the lean season runs its course through the ending in September.
    • Population movements: There will be a steady stream of returning IDPs and refugees, with beneficial effects on the local economy, bolstered by humanitarian programs designed to assist with their reintegration.
    • Borrowing: Poor households will resort to above-average levels of borrowing as a source of food and income to meet their needs.
    • Humanitarian assistance: Ongoing distributions of free food rations to over 30 percent of the population in both livelihood zones and resilience-building efforts such as the distribution of seeds and farm input assistance to 20,000 households and livestock feed assistance and vaccination programs by the ICRC and WFP will continue through July. These measures will help rebuild and strengthen the livelihoods of local households to make them more resilient to shocks. However, the strengthening of screening and treatment programs for malnutrition will help temper the expected deterioration in nutritional conditions between July and September.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Very poor and poor households whose livelihoods are weakened by a shortage or lack of livestock, the premature depletion of food stocks, and below-average employment opportunities are facing a longer than usual lean season. As a result, they will be forced to forego nonfood spending, resort to above-average levels of borrowing, and reduce their food consumption. Although ongoing humanitarian food assistance programs will prevent a further deterioration in household food consumption between April and June, poor households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Resulting livelihood protection deficits will be aggravated by needs for farm inputs and implements as the lean season runs its course. Harvests of off-season crops in June-July and an average stream of food and income from on-farm employment will improve food availability for poor households. However, their below-average incomes and growing needs for farm inputs, plus the high price of food at levels 15 to 20 percent above-average, will force households to increase their borrowing and reduce their food intake, if not skip meals altogether, which will be damaging to their health and work capacity. Between July and September, poor households will be unable to adequately meet their food without depleting their livelihoods and foregoing spending on items such as seeds, farm implements, and health care. The ensuing deterioration in food consumption will also heighten malnutrition levels. As a result, poor households will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during this period.

    Northern pastoral areas of Timbuktu and Gao

    Last year’s poor rainfall levels and the resulting earlier than usual deterioration in pastoral conditions are causing households to have difficulty finding sufficient forage and water for their animals. Consequently, pastoral households have experienced declining animal production (milk and butter) levels, which are in turn reducing their food consumption and incomes from the sale of these products. Mass herd movements in search of better pastures and watering holes are further weakening animal herds, heightening mortality risks. In addition, craft-making businesses operated by many poor households are operating at significantly below-normal levels due to marketing chain disruptions for these products, causing affected households to be unable to generate enough income to meet their needs. Consequently, poor households’ below-average incomes from livestock herds, which have also been reduced or, in some cases, decimated due to the recent security crisis, and from craft-making activities and below-average employment opportunities are preventing households from adequately meeting their food needs without food assistance. Faced with a deterioration in their food consumption, poor households in these areas will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1: Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario

    Geographic area

    Possible event

    Impact on food security outcomes

    Livelihood zones 3, 5, 8, and 9

    Good supplies of farm inputs (fertilizer, seeds, and fuel) from the government and humanitarian agencies in April-May

    Farm input assistance in April-May in areas that experienced poor crop production would help ensure that normal levels of land are planted and ensure average crop production volumes, particularly in rice-growing areas where poor households’ low incomes this year are limiting their access to seeds for planting activities. Maintenance of these cropping lands would also enable normal levels of food and income from labor work between June and August.

    Northern Mali   (livelihood zones 1, 2, and 3) and Sahelian belt (livelihood zone 8)

    Severe damage to pasturelands from brush fires in April-May

    Severe fire damage in April-May would reduce pasture availability and food supplies for livestock, which could lead to above-average rates of mortality from physiological stress. These livestock losses would aggravate livelihood protection deficits and limit the purchasing power of agropastoral households.


    Severe damage from crop pests (birds and grasshoppers) between July/August and October

    A failure to control problems with birds and grasshoppers could jeopardize crop production, particularly in the Western Sahel and riverine areas. The resulting large production shortfall would reduce household food stocks levels and drive prices higher than usual.


    Low rainfall levels between June and September

    The late start of the rains would prolong the lean season in pastoral areas, with pastoral and agropastoral households suffering larger than usual losses. It would also result in a sharp decline in crop and animal production and heighten food insecurity all across the country due to increasing cereal prices, particularly in at-risk areas.

    Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, Western Sahel, and Dogon Plateau areas

    Strengthening of local humanitarian assistance programs

    The scaling up of humanitarian food and nonfood assistance programs during the outlook period would help stabilize if not improve the livelihoods of poor households in northern food-insecure areas on the Dogon Plateau and in the Western Sahel.


    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2


    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top