Skip to main content

Limited food access for households in some locations due to conflicts and COVID-19

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mali
  • February 2021
Limited food access for households in some locations due to conflicts and COVID-19

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Increased production by approximately 20 percent overall as compared to the five-year average bodes well for satisfactory food availability in Mali throughout the 2020-21 consumption year. Households’ food access will improve through the availability of their own production, seasonal cereal price decreases, and average off-season harvests in progress.

    • Decreased income for 47.3 percent of households due to COVID-19, coupled with the aftermath of insecurity — notably in the country’s central and northern areas — negatively impacts household livelihoods. As a result, their ability to access adequate food is also impacted.

    • Generally average to above-average livestock conditions are favorable for a typical pastoral lean season in the country starting in March 2021. However, disruptions in herd movements due to insecurity will limit livestock access to adequate food in some northern and central areas. In turn, pastoral income will decrease because of the animals’ declining physical conditions and decreased animal production.

    • Poor households in Liptako Gourma and some northern regions currently face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity due to their inability to meet their food needs without relying on atypical coping strategies. Their situation will deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) starting in May due to the continued decline of their livelihoods with residual insecurity worsened by COVID-19.  The same will apply for poor displaced households and victims of the floods in July and August 2020.


    Current situation

    Agropastoral production: Average to above average off-season crop development (market gardening, flood recession crops, and rice with full irrigation management) continues as normal in the typical areas of the country. Average harvests in progress provide average income and food opportunities for households in the area.

    Pastoral conditions are generally average throughout the country due to average-to-good pasture and water availability. The pastoral lean season expected to start in March will be normal overall. However, challenges for herd movement in the insecure areas of Liptako Gourma and in certain areas of the northern regions will limit access to certain pastures, thereby affecting animal food and production. Animals’ physical condition and animal production is generally average overall, providing average income for livestock-raising households and improving their food situation.

    The animal health situation is relatively stable. The typical livestock vaccination campaign for animal-borne diseases continues throughout the country with support from partners such as the FAO and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

    Fish production: Average to above-average catches due to dropping waterway levels continue in the typical fishing areas. Average income from fish sales will improve fishing households’ purchasing power and food situation. However, this activity is disrupted in some areas in the Niger Delta, where decreased catches due to insecurity will reduce fishing income in this major fishing area. Fish farming production will continue and increase fish availability. 

    Market functioning and prices: The seasonal increase in market supply is observed because of new harvests. Food availability remains sufficient in all markets despite security disruptions and COVID-19 restrictions reducing the flows to certain markets, notably in Liptako Gourma and northern Ségou. The replenishment of stocks by merchants is underway ahead of local and institutional demand from the government and partners. Above-average exports to Burkina Faso are noted in response to the country’s increased needs, creating pressure on the Koutiala, Sikasso, and San markets. Basic cereal prices are stable overall in the regional capital markets as of late January. Staple cereal prices are close to the five-year average in Koulikoro, Mopti, and Tombouctou, with a 13 percent decrease in Kayes and slight increases of 8 percent in Sikasso, 6 percent in Ségou and Gao, and 13 percent in Ménaka. These price levels are favorable for average household food access. However, this localized increase limits food access for very poor households. Imported food products remain sufficiently available despite the effects of insecurity and COVID-19. Their prices remain at or slightly above average due to continued, though low, imports and government-granted tax assistance.

    Livestock markets are driven by the return of migratory herds and the stock replenishment needs of livestock farmers, who benefit from good livestock/cereal terms of trade. Livestock prices are stable or increasing compared to the previous month, due to the animals’ good physical condition and average livestock-raising conditions, which do not motivate farmers to sell more of their animals.

    Prices of goats — the most-sold animal by poor households to access food — are about equal to the five-year average in Gao, with increases of 9 percent in Rharous, 10 percent in Ansongo, 15 percent in Bourem, 18 percent in Mopti, 46 percent in Tombouctou, and 26 percent in Ménaka due to the animals’ average physical condition from average pastoral conditions. Goat/cereal terms of trade are stable overall compared to the previous month and are improving compared to the average of the past five years. Goat/millet terms of trade are close to the five-year average on monitored pastoral markets in Gao and Bourem, with increases of 9 percent in Rharous, 11 percent in Ménaka, 18 percent in Mopti, and over 40 percent in Tombouctou and Nara, which favors an average market access for livestock-raising households.

    Population movement: Ongoing security incidents in northern and central Mali continue to cause population displacements as people look for safer areas. The number of displaced persons has been continuously increasing since March 2019, with an estimated 332,957 displaced persons as of late December 2020 (Displacement Tracking Matrix [DTM] December 2020 report), representing a 6.7 percent increase compared to the previous month. At the same time, refugees’ and some displaced persons’ tentative return based on inter-community negotiations and agreements continues with support from the government and humanitarian agencies. The highest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are sheltered in the regions of Mopti (137,845 IDPs), Gao (69,984 IDPs), Tombouctou (48,011 IDPs), Ségou (38,118 IDPs), and Ménaka (22,429 IDPs). These displaced persons have lost their independence; donations from host communities and humanitarian assistance serve as food sources for 54 percent of these households, while 11 percent of them rely on borrowing.

    Security situation: The central and northern areas of the country remain volatile, as do the northern areas of the Ségou and Koulikoro regions. The situation is marked by the continued escalation of military operations, armed attacks, clashes between armed groups, targeted assassinations, and the use of explosive devices. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), 104 security incidents were recorded over the four weeks leading up to February 12, showing a decrease of 26.3 percent compared to the same period for the previous year. This decline is due to inter-community dialogues and increased military offense against negative forces. Despite a decrease in security incidents in some areas, they continue to disrupt the movement of people and goods and regular market operation in the areas bordering Burkina Faso. In addition to population displacements, these security incidents have caused a 15 to 20 percent decrease in cultivated area in the cercles of Bankass, Koro, Douentza, and Bandiagara in 2020. These production losses and economic disruptions reduce the ability of households in these areas to meet their food and non-food needs.

    Impact of COVID-19 on households: The onset of COVID-19 and government-imposed restrictions to fight against this disease have negatively affected the socioeconomic environment, reducing income for 47.4 percent of households, according to the September 2020 National Food Security and Nutrition Survey (ENSAN). According to this survey, communities were most affected by COVID-19 in their trade activities (79 percent of communities), population movements (63.1 percent), migrant remittances (62.9 percent), and physical access to markets (48 percent), thereby reducing employment and income opportunities for poor households. Livestock-raising was also impacted, particularly regarding trade and availability of veterinary inputs, mostly in the regions of Mopti, Tombouctou, and Gao. These regions depend on livestock exports, which have been disrupted by travel restrictions. Crop production was also impacted for 21.5 of households, particularly in terms of reduced access to inputs and labor due to decreased income. This is especially true in cotton-growing areas, where the cotton-growing boycott due to decreased purchase prices significantly reduced households’ income.

    Decreased income and employment opportunities due to COVID-19 negatively impacted approximately 47.3 percent of households’ ability to meet food needs. This impact applied to a severe extent for 8.4 percent of households. The most impacted regions are Bamako (68.5 percent), Gao and Kidal (68.1 percent), and Koulikoro (58.4 percent) due to the importance of migration and trade for households, both of which were severely disrupted. Rural areas appear less impacted by food access challenges than urban areas, where difficulties are reported by 74.8 percent of communities, compared to 47.8 of rural communities.

    Nutritional situation: The nutritional situation is undergoing its seasonal improvement due to households’ satisfactory access to diversified food products with the availability of primary harvests, garden produce, and dairy products. The December 2020 Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transition (SMART) survey reports 7.2 percent global acute malnutrition (GAM) at the national level. This indicates a precarious food situation. The situation is critical in the region of Tombouctou, with 14.9 percent GAM. Nutritional assessment and recovery programs continue throughout the country with partners’ support. As of the fourth week of 2021, the cumulative GAM admissions in 2021 was higher than the same period in 2020 (15,122 in 2021 compared to 14,997 in 2020).

    Food security outcomes: Average to above-average availability of households’ own production from the past season allows most households to access food without great difficulty in production areas. As a result, most households are experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity. Decreased prices of primary food products at average to below-average levels and improvements to the livestock/cereal terms of trade in most pastoral areas except for Gao and Ansongo favor average agropastoral household food access. However, in the conflict zones in the central and northern parts of the country, certain households (especially those who are displaced) face difficulties accessing food and depend on humanitarian and family/friend assistance due to their diminished purchasing power. Loss of assets and the disruption of economic activities have caused a significant decline in livelihoods for atypically displaced households. They are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. Layoffs, decreased international trade and migrant remittances, and fewer labor opportunities due to COVID-19 have caused precarious income for poor households, especially those in urban areas. This directly creates food access challenges. As a result, these households are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. Food consumption is undergoing its typical improvement due to average availability of new cereal, legume, and garden produce harvests as well as animal products (milk, cheese, and meat). The poor or borderline food consumption score of 18.3 percent country-wide, according to the September 2020 ENSAN, should experience its typical improvement to approach the 2015 to 2019 average for the month of February, which is around 13.5 percent. Food diversity is at its peak for most households during this period due to their average diversified food access. The hunger index is at an average level for the period, which is 8 percent moderate to severe hunger.


    The most likely scenario for February to September 2021 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Rainfall/River flooding: Based on seasonal forecasts from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), rains will start in June in the southern agricultural areas of the country and in July for those in the central and northern areas. Cumulative rainfall will be average to above average during the rainy season. This will allow for average to above-average water source replenishment.
    • Agricultural production: Normal onset of rains and continued government and partner support with agricultural inputs (seeds and fertilizer), equipment distribution, and hydro-agricultural development will allow for average to above-average harvests in the country for off-season crops in progress and starting in October 2021 for main season crops. However, insecurity will continue to affect agricultural activities in conflict-affected areas, and losses from floods from July to September will cause localized production decreases, especially in the northern and central parts of the country.
    • Livestock movements and animal production: Normal return of herds to overwintering areas will be observed starting in June. However, disruptions to normal herd movements will continue to be observed in conflict areas, particularly in the regions of Mopti and Ménaka and the cercle of Ansongo (Gao region) due to continued security incidents negatively impacting animal production. The seasonal decrease in animal production will be observed from March until June, when the improvement of livestock-raising conditions will stimulate animal production, which will reach its peak in August/September.
    • Fish production: Catch outlooks for the current fishing season, which runs through March/April, are average to above average. The lifting of restrictions and communal fishing which will take place from March to April will help increase catches and benefit fishing households before the flooding in June/July, which marks the end of the fishing season.
    • Migration and population movements: Normal departure of able-bodied people to the country’s urban centers and neighboring countries will continue until March, despite COVID-19 travel restrictions, but to a lesser extent than during a normal year. Returns for agricultural activities will be observed starting in April.
    • Agricultural and non-agricultural labor: Normal non-agricultural labor activities will continue from February to June and will slow down as normal due to agricultural labor opportunities from April to September. However, COVID-19 restrictions will reduce opportunities in certain sectors such as transportation, restaurants, hotels, building construction, and trade, bringing household income below that for an average year, especially in the country’s urban centers. Additionally, in the northern regions and in the Mopti delta areas, continued security incidents disrupting the economic environment will keep labor employment opportunities (such as construction and petty trade) at below-average levels.
    • Cereal prices: Normal stock depletion for small producers and demand for replenishing communal and institutional stocks starting in February/March will cause demand to increase to above average in markets, which will lead to seasonal price increases. The seasonal increase will continue through September, but to a lesser extent compared to a normal year due to good cereal production in the country. The average or below-average price trend for the primary cereal product, millet, will continue through September 2021 in the primary markets.
    • Livestock prices: Starting in April, seasonal price decreases due to the normal decline in the physical condition of livestock during the pastoral lean season will be observed. Despite this decrease, prices will remain average to above average, especially as the price of food provided to livestock during the lean season is expected to be much higher than average. However, market disruptions in some northern regions and in the Liptako Gourma area due to insecurity will lead to below-average livestock prices. Improved livestock-raising conditions starting in July and the demand for Tabaski celebrations will help improve animal prices. Livestock/cereal terms of trade will remain close to average in pastoral areas despite the price increases.
    • Institutional purchases: Institutional purchases to replenish the National Office for Agricultural Products (OPAM) national security stock and humanitarian assistance involving approximately 30,000 metric tons of millet/sorghum, in addition to assistance from the WFP and other humanitarian organizations in 2021 under the National Response Plan, will be average to below average.
    • Security situation: The situation will remain volatile throughout the scenario period. Disrupted movement of people and goods, atypical displacements of people, deaths, and negative impacts on livelihoods will continue to be observed. Additionally, upcoming elections within a sub-optimal context between key players (military personnel in power, political parties, and civil society) during this transition will result in disputes that will likely worsen political instability and could cause major disruptions to the socioeconomic environment.
    • Humanitarian activities: The National Response Plan, which will be finalized in March, estimates food assistance and resiliency support for over one million people. Support through agricultural inputs for the new growing season will continue, particularly for poor households suffering the consequences of COVID-19, most notably in urban centers. The same will apply for displaced households and those returning to their home areas. However, difficulties accessing humanitarian assistance in the primary anomaly areas and the government’s financial difficulties will negatively affect the impact of assistance, especially in the insecure areas of Liptako Gourma.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    Food consumption will experience its seasonal improvement due to average access to and diversity of food products (garden produce, fish, and dairy products), which promotes seasonal improvement of nutritional situations for households, which are facing 7.2 percent global acute malnutrition as of December 2020. Good overall food availability in the country and the expected fluctuations in prices, which will remain average to slightly above average, will reduce the number of households relying on atypical coping strategies. As a result, the Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity currently experienced by most households in the country will continue until the new harvests starting in September 2021.

    Poor households in the insecure northern and central areas, especially in the Liptako Gourma area, are experiencing heavily diminished livelihoods due to their high exposure and are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity during this harvest period, which will continue until May. The early lean season starting in May, tied to a significant decrease in agricultural production in these areas due to insecurity, will cause food access difficulties and lead households with already-diminished livelihoods to increase their atypical coping strategies. The declining nutritional situation will be particularly impacted in the northern and central conflict areas, which show very a high prevalence of difficulties accessing food and basic social services. This will negatively affect household nutrition, especially for displaced persons. According to the FEWS NET Outcome Analysis, a survival deficit of approximately 42 percent for the poorest people in the Ménaka area and a livelihood protection deficit of 39 percent in the cercles of Bankass and Koro will limit poor households’ food access. As a result, without humanitarian assistance, poor households in these areas that are unable to meet their food needs will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity starting in May until September 2021. However, difficulties accessing humanitarian assistance in the area will increase household vulnerabilities.

    Additionally, decreased incomes due to the combined effects of COVID-19 and insecurity will negatively impact poor households’ ability to meet their food and non-food needs. This is especially true for households in urban centers, poor households that are flood victims, and households in insecure areas suffering from declining livelihoods. Additionally, difficulties accessing food due to COVID-19 restrictions will aggravate the nutritional situation for many households. As a result, these households that are unable to meet their food needs without relying on increased labor activities, migration, or decreasing non-food expenses will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity from February to September 2021.

    Events that could change the scenario

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most likely scenario.



    Impact on food security conditions


    Rising COVID-19 cases in Mali, in neighboring countries, and in countries where migrants live

    Tighter restrictions within the country or in neighboring countries due to rising COVID-19 cases will further impact economic activities, which are already suffering the consequences of the pandemic. The resulting decreased income will limit poor households’ ability to meet their food and non-food needs. 

    Political, social, and economic conflicts in the political transition business activities

    Conflicts in the timing of political activities, notably the upcoming elections, could lead to political unrest. This would cause the international community to isolate the country, like it was during the August 2020 coup d’état. These sanctions, coupled with the damage caused by COVID-19, would further aggravate an already-fragile economy and limit the government’s ability to respond to growing social demands. In turn, households would become more vulnerable.   

    National (office areas: Niger, Gao river basin, and Tombouctou)

    Pest damage to crops from February to May

    Significant damage to off-season crops from April to May, caused by grain-eating birds, will reduce rice availability in agricultural areas. In addition to reducing availability, this will also lead to price increases for this product. These price increases will reduce poor households’ access to food as well as farming households’ income.

    Northern Mali

    (zones 2, 3, 4),

    Niger Delta (zone 6) and the Sahelian strip

    (zone 13)

    Significant damage to pastures caused by brush fires from March to May

    Brush fires typically cause significant damage to pastures from February to May. This will lead to atypical deterioration of pastures and result in difficulties feeding livestock. The resulting decline in animals’ physical condition and in animal production, in addition to animal deaths, will negatively affect agropastoral households’ livelihoods.

    Northern Mali

    (zone 2, 3, 4), central Mali,

    Sahelian strip

    (zone 13)

    Delayed start and early end of rains

    The delayed start of the rains will extend the pastoral lean season, negatively impacting pastoral income and market supply due to producers retaining their cereal stocks. The same will apply for the early end of the rains in early September, which will cause increased market prices and limit market access for the poorest households.

    Figures Mali seasonal calendar  Rainy season is from mid-May until October. Land preparation is from April until June. Planting is fr

    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    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.

    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