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Rising prices limit food access for poor households

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mali
  • February 2018
Rising prices limit food access for poor households

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In general, the availability of home-grown crops, though limited in certain areas, and in-kind payments, are giving households in farming areas average access to cereal supplies, which is reducing their market dependence. However, rising cereal prices, expected to stay above-average in high-consumption areas, and the erosion in terms of trade for female goats/cereals are hampering efforts by poor households to maintain adequate market access.

    • The expected earlier than usual start of the lean season in the lakes region of Goundam, the Niger River Delta, parts of the Western Sahel, and the Gourma area of Gao and Timbuktu, is causing poor households to atypically resort to wage labor, migration, and reduction in nonfood spending to meet their food needs. As a result, these households will be in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity from March through September.

    • The 32 percent above-average volume of crop production is helping to promote adequate food availability on markets and at the household level in spite of the scattered pockets of production deficits across the country. As a result, most households in the country are currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    • The earlier than usual deterioration in grazing conditions in localized pastoral areas across the North and the Western Sahel will trigger unusual herd movements to better grazing areas. The resulting sharper than average decline in production, and deterioration in the physical condition of livestock, will negatively affect income levels for pastoral households and, by extension, their market access.



    Current situation

    Overall food availability 

    According to government statistics from November 2017 (CPS/SDR), in general, cereal production outstripped the five-year average by approximately 32 percent, which is helping to ensure average food availability and adequate market supplies in all parts of the country.

    The growing season for off-season cereal crops and market garden produce is underway in the usual areas. Production forecasts are below-average due to the well-below-average flood stage of the river and low levels of other water sources, resulting in the planting of smaller than average areas in crops. Harvests of market garden crops and crop planting activities in irrigation schemes are providing food and income-earning opportunities for farming households.

    Pastoral conditions

    Pasture availability is marked by pockets of localized pasture deficits, particularly in the Ansongo, Gourma Rharous and Goundam, Nioro, Yélimané, and Diéma areas. In general, livestock are in satisfactory physical condition, which is helping to promote average levels of milk production in all parts of the country. The usual herd movements by transhumant livestock down to farming areas to feed on crop residues, in the river valley and close to year-round watering holes, are underway and proceeding normally. This year, there were reports of earlier than usual herd movements due to the premature drying up of certain seasonal lakes and ponds in the Gao region and Western Sahelian areas of the Kayes region, creating large concentrations of animals in receiving areas. Animal health conditions are generally stable and the livestock vaccination season beginning in November continues, with the help of certain humanitarian partners.

    Fish production

    There are regular fish catches on rivers and streams across the country with the sharp drop in water levels. These catches are generally average in size. However, the limited rise in water levels during the high-water period, failing to create good breeding conditions for fish population, suggests below-average production prospects. Fishing households are currently heading for their usual fishing grounds.

    Market cereal supplies and trade

    The current post-harvest period is marked by adequate cereal supplies on markets in all parts of the country. Cereal supplies, based mainly on locally grown crops, are growing, in line with normal trends for this time of year, but are generally smaller than average in northern regions of the country and the Western Sahel due to production shortfalls and transportation problems. There is an average flow of trade to the Kidal market, which normally gets its supplies from Algeria, which remains vulnerable to disruptions from security incidents negatively affecting the free movement of traders from time to time.

     Livestock markets

    As usual, supplies of animals on major livestock markets are reportedly growing with the return of transhumant livestock herds and the normal need of pastoralists to stock up on food supplies. The larger than average supplies on markets in the Western Sahel (Nioro, Diéma, and Nara) and Gao are attributable to the desire of pastoralists to thin their herds in anticipation of this year’s expected harsh lean season for pastoral populations. Livestock prices on markets in southern farming areas are average to above-average but are below-average on markets in the Western Sahel and in Gao and Timbuktu due to the troubling pastoral conditions in these areas and the slowing demand for livestock, which is reducing pastoral incomes. Prices for female goats, the animal most often sold by poor households, are under the five-year average by six percent in Gao and 22 percent in Rharous and 20 percent above-average in Timbuktu and Mopti.

    Food access 

    An examination of trends in the prices of major staple foods shows prices to be generally stable, though with some rises in prices on certain markets since last month. Prices for the main cereal consumed by households in regional capitals are five percent below the five-year average in Koulikoro and above the five-year average on all other markets (by anywhere from 12 percent in Gao to 34 percent in Mopti). Market prices in northern areas and the Western Sahel, which are anomaly areas, are above-average (by seven percent in Goundam and Rharous, 27 percent in Ansongo, and approximately 50 percent in Diéma). The availability of home-grown crops, though limited, supplies of wild plant foods (fonio and cram-cram grasses), and current cereal prices, though above-average, are giving households food access. There are ongoing government-subsidized sales of millet by the OPAM (the National Produce Board) in the Timbuktu and Gao regions at 18,000 CFAF/100 kg compared with the market price of 25,000 CFAF.

    Terms of trade for goats/millet have improved since last month, which is helping to give poor pastoral households with livestock capital better market access. However, though stronger than they were last month, terms of trade for goats/millet are still below-average by 16 percent in Gao, 27 percent in Rharous, and five percent in Goundam and near-average in Mopti and Timbuktu (Figure 1).

    Food consumption

    Food consumption has improved since September, with cereal harvests, though limited in certain areas, harvests of pulses and market garden crops, and supplies of animal products (milk, meat, and cheese) with the return of transhumant livestock herds generally providing average food access. The share of households with poor food consumption scores at the country level, at 17.2 percent in September 2017 according to the ENSAN (the national food security and nutrition survey), is expected to show its usual improvement, which will put it close to the figure for February 2017, namely 8.3 percent. Most households have maximum dietary diversity at this time of year with the improvement in their access to a varied diet.

    Population movements

    The usual labor migration to farming areas and urban areas of the country and other neighboring countries in search of extra income continues, particularly in areas with poor harvests. In addition, the continuing security incidents engendered by ethnic fighting and clashes between the army and armed militia groups are triggering population displacements, mainly in the Gao, Ménaka, and Timbuktu regions and areas along the border with Burkina Faso. As of January 2018, there were approximately 642 registered refugees from Burkina Faso in the Gossi area housed in three refugee camps. The refugees are steadily returning to their homes, reducing the size of the country’s refugee population.

    Security situation

    A review of the security situation shows security incidents continuing to negatively affect the socioeconomic recovery process in northern and central areas of the country. As a result, there are poorer than average employment and income-earning opportunities for poor households. These security incidents are also disrupting the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to poor struggling households, which is heightening their vulnerability to food insecurity and limiting the rebuilding of their livelihoods severely strained by their attempts to resolve their problems.


    The most likely food security scenario for February through September 2018 is based on the following underlying assumptions with regard to trends in nationwide conditions.

    Crop and pasture production

    • Rainfall: The latest IRI and NMME agro-climatic forecasts from January 2018 show no major anomalies in seasonal outlooks through August 2018. There should be normal to above-normal levels of cumulative rainfall for the month of August. According to FEWS NET, the rainy season should get off to a timely start in June in the country’s Sudanian and Sahelian zones and in July in northern areas of the country.
    • Rise in the level of rivers: Current water levels on rivers and streams are visibly lower than they were at the same time last year and below the multi-year average. Water levels should begin to start rising again by June-July 2018 with the onset of the rains and continue to rise through September-October. The expected average to above-average rainfall activity will put water levels close to average for the 2018 crop year. 
    • Crop production: The combined effects of the expected average rainfall, the continuing government subsidy program for farm inputs (seeds and fertilizer), ongoing distributions of farm implements, and hydroagricultural development schemes should help boost crop production, translating into a generally above-average volume of national crop production. Production levels will suffer from the negative effects of the poor 2017 crop year and climatic hazards (floods and pockets of drought) in affected areas.
    • Off-season crops: The growing season for off-season crops is actively underway, particularly for market garden crops. There are below-average production prospects for off-season wheat and rice crops scheduled to be harvested in April-May and July-August, respectively, due to the smaller area planted in these crops with the low water levels on rivers and streams and the impossibility of irrigating certain tracts of land.
    • Lean season for agropastoral populations: With the generally average to good food availability and with crop production and price levels slightly above the five-year average, there will be an average lean season for most agropastoral populations across the country. However, the lean season for poor rice-growing households in the Niger River Delta area of Mopti, the lake area, the Western Sahel, and certain parts of riverine areas of Timbuktu and Gao will begin one to two months early due to the premature depletion of household food stocks in these areas by February instead of in March-April after the poor harvest for the last growing season and with the sharper than average seasonal rises in prices. The average availability of early green crops in September will improve household food access, bringing the lean season to an end.
    • Herd movements and animal production: Normal return migration by transhumant herds to farming areas to feed on crop residues and to dry season pastures close to year-round watering holes (well, rivers, and lakes and ponds) is underway and will continue into May-June. The premature drying up of certain seasonal lakes and ponds and shortages of pasture triggered earlier than usual herd movements down into the Gourma area of Timbuktu and Gao and Western Sahelian areas of Kayes and Koulikoro. The recovery in pastoral conditions (pastures and watering holes) in June/July with the onset of the rains will cause livestock herds to head back to their usual rainy season holding areas. Current pastoral conditions bode well for generally average levels of animal production (milk, meat, and butter), except in the Gourma area of the Gao and Timbuktu regions and the Western Sahel, where shortfalls in pasture production and the premature drying up of seasonal lakes and ponds will negatively affect the physical condition of livestock and animal production between March and June. There will be below-average levels of milk production due to the harsh lean season, which should start back up by June-July.
    • Fish production: The limited flooding of spawning grounds during the rainy season translated into below-average rates of breeding by fish populations. The smaller than average catches for the fishing season beginning in December will continue as water levels on rivers and streams continue to fall between now and July-August. The lifting of bans on collective fishing activities will improve the availability of fish in April to meet the needs of fishing households for food and income. In general, there will be smaller than average catches and earnings from fishing activities.

    Other livelihood activities

    • Migration and population movements: The normal flow of labor migration from farming areas to urban areas of the country and neighboring countries beginning in October will continue as usual through the month of March. Gold mining sites, officially opening in October, are the main destinations for many migrants in the Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso regions. The cash and in-kind earnings sent home between February and May and/or brought home by returning workers beginning in May-June will help ease hardships for these households during the lean season in farming areas between June and September. The earlier than usual massive flow of labor migration from areas with little crop production should help produce a larger than average volume of migration income due to the longer than usual stays and larger numbers of migrants.
    • On-farm and nonfarm labor: There will be the usual pursuit of normal nonfarm activities and small trades between February and May and farming-related activities between April and September across the country. The average levels of income generated by these activities will enable poor households dependent on these activities to maintain their purchasing power. However, the fewer employment opportunities for laborers (in construction, the small trades sector, etc.) in northern areas of the country and river delta areas of Mopti with little crop production due to the security situation in these areas will drive income levels down below-average.

    Markets and prices

    • Cereal prices: The upward trend in prices since January will continue throughout the 2018 consumption year, fueled by a somewhat higher than average demand in normal high-consumption areas in the northern part of the country and the Western Sahel faced with shortfalls in crop production, as well as in neighboring countries (Mauritania and Niger). The combination of this demand, demand for the rebuilding of national food security stocks, and demand from partner humanitarian organizations will help sustain this upward trend in prices through September 2018. Staple cereal prices will generally be at levels above the five-year average. The subsidized sales and distributions of free food assistance by the government and humanitarian organizations beginning in June will curb the rise in prices on retail markets.
    • Livestock prices: Prices for livestock in the southern part of the country should stay above-average, fueled by a sustained average level of demand, while prices in pastoral areas of the North and the Western Sahel will continue to steadily fall with the poor grazing and watering conditions for livestock in these areas. The seasonal drop in prices beginning in April, driven by the normal deterioration in pastoral conditions, will extend through the month of June, but will be somewhat sharper in pastoral areas of the Gao, Timbuktu, Kayes, and Mopti regions, where the poor pastoral conditions will precipitate the start of the lean season for pastoral households and weaken demand. The recovery in pastoral conditions with the beginning of the rains in June/July will bring prices back up with the usual contraction in supplies as livestock herds head back up north and the growing demand for livestock engendered by the observance of Ramadan in June and the celebration of Tabaski in August.

    Other key factors

    • Institutional procurements: The approximate 20,000 MT of institutional procurements of millet and sorghum to replenish the national food security stocks maintained by the OPAM and the procurements by the WFP and other humanitarian organizations over the course of 2018 for purposes of the National Response Plan will be in line with or above the average due to the larger numbers of recipients of assistance across the country.
    • Security situation: The security situation will remain marred by isolated incidents, which will continue to disrupt the free movement of people and goods, particularly in the Timbuktu and Gao regions and the northern reaches of the Mopti and Ségou regions. However, the organization of joint patrols involving all the warring parties is a sign of the easing of tensions, which should significantly improve the security situation and minimize its effects on socioeconomic conditions in affected areas.
    • Humanitarian operations: The national response plan being prepared by the government provides for food assistance (cereal supplies supplemented by donations of oil and peas by the WFP for three months, during the lean season) and resilience-building assistance for approximately 795,000 people. There are ongoing and/or scheduled deliveries of farm input assistance for the upcoming growing season and of assistance for pastoralists in areas with pasture deficits in the form of (subsidized and/or free) supplies of animal feed and veterinary services. There will be continuing assistance for the reintegration of returnees and repatriates throughout the entire outlook period. These resilience-building programs will limit the recourse of recipient populations to negative coping strategies.
    • Nutritional situation: Acute malnutrition rates across the country, which are regularly above the WHO threshold denoting a serious situation, are lowest between October and March (the post-harvest period). The reduction in food availability for poor households as of March-April, triggering changes in household diets, particularly during the lean season between June and September, and the surge in diarrheal diseases with the erosion in health and sanitation conditions (the use of surface water, disease, etc.) during the rainy season will further contribute to the deterioration in the nutritional situation through the month of September which, as usual, will reach its peak between July and August, with rising numbers of admissions to nutritional rehabilitation programs and a GAM rate close to the median for the lean season across the country and the figure for 2017, namely 10.7 percent [9.8-11.6], but staying above the emergency threshold in areas with poor crop production.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    The generally average availability of crops across the country and near to slightly above-average food prices are helping to give most households average food access. Food and income-earning opportunities from work in the harvest and average levels of income from normal farm labor and nonfarm activities are enabling most households to maintain their food access without much difficulty. As a result, most households across the country will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between February and September 2018.

    The large shortfall in cereal production in lake areas of Goundam and parts of the Niger River Delta area of Mopti, the river valley at Timbuktu, Gao, and the Western Sahel will deplete food stocks earlier than usual, or by February instead of March-April, contributing to the sharper than usual deterioration in household food consumption during the lean season, driving the share of households with poor food consumption scores above the figure of 17.2 percent reported by the national food security and nutrition survey (ENSAN) of September 2017. The combined effects of the premature depletion of food stocks and rise in cereal prices to above-average levels will cause poor households in these areas to resort to atypical coping strategies involving wage labor, borrowing, and cutbacks in nonfood spending. The SMART survey of July 2017 characterized the global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate for the country as a whole as « serious, » with an escalation in malnutrition levels in the regions of Timbuktu (from 14.3 percent in 2016 to 15.7 percent in 2017) and Gao (from 14.8 to 15.2 percent). This general trend will continue, fueled by localized problems with food access and poor health and sanitation conditions. As a result, poor households in these areas will be in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity between March and September 2018. The same applies to poor pastoral households in the Gourma area of Gao and Timbuktu facing an earlier than usual deterioration in terms of trade for livestock/cereals during the lean season in pastoral areas, which will begin sooner than usual. Very poor, completely destitute households in these areas, whose numbers do not meet the 20 percent threshold requirement for reclassifying an entire area, will find themselves in a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) situation without large-scale deliveries of food assistance.

    Figures Figure 1. Trends in terms of trade for millet/goats (kg/animal)

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Trends in terms of trade for millet/goats (kg/animal)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Rainfall forecast for May through July 2018

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Rainfall forecast for May through July 2018

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Rainfall forecast for June through August 2018

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. Rainfall forecast for June through August 2018

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET


    Figure 4


    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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