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Early start of the lean season for poor households in Lake Faguibine and Gourma areas

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mali
  • June 2016
Early start of the lean season for poor households in Lake Faguibine and Gourma areas

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The seasonal forecasts for average to above-average levels of rainfall (ECMWF, NOAA, IRI) and multifaceted assistance from the government and its partners bode well for an overall above-average volume of cereal production. This will help give households average food access, and they therefore should experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity as of October.

    • There will be adequate market supplies between June and September in spite of security incidents disrupting trade flows to certain areas in the northern and central reaches of the country from time to time. Below-average cereal prices and above-average terms of trade for livestock/cereals are helping to give households average food access.

    • Approximately 800,000 people across the country, 70 percent of whom are concentrated in northern areas of the country, will receive food assistance from the government and its partners between June and November 2016. Areas affected by the crisis will also be targeted for farm input assistance, herd building assistance, and support for economic activities, which will limit recourse to negative coping strategies.

    • Poor households in the Lake Faguibine area and the Gourma area of Timbuktu and Gao are having difficulty properly meeting their food and nonfood needs with the general decline in income as a result of the security crisis and the production shortfall in 2015. Their recourse to atypical coping strategies will put them in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity between June and September.



    Current situation


    Overall food availability 

    The timely start of the rains in May in southern farming areas helped jump-start the new growing season in these areas. Ongoing field clean-up and crop planting activities are providing food and income-generating opportunities for poor households dependent on farm labor. Production forecasts by the Ministry of Agriculture for the growing season in progress are up by nine percent from 2015 and 32 percent above the five-year average, driven by the continuing subsidies for farm inputs and expanding irrigation development schemes. The expected average harvests of off-season rice crops in June/July will help improve the market availability of rice. 

    The new pasture growth driven by the reported rainfall activity, particularly in southern areas of the country, and the replenishment of watering holes mark the end of this year’s generally average lean season for livestock, spurring the physical recovery of animal herds and animal production. The livestock vaccination campaign continues with the help of a number of development partners, mainly in the Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions.

    Operation of markets and prices

    There are still average market supplies all across the country in spite of the signs of a seasonal tightening of supplies. However, there are continuing reports of disruptions from security incidents in the Mopti, Timbuktu, and Gao regions, which are negatively affecting trade flows in certain markets.

    Prices for the main cereal crop (millet) are fluctuating but stabilizing in all regional capitals, with the sole exception of maize prices in Sikasso, which are up from last month by six percent, fueled by the growing demand from processing plants. Prices for millet/sorghum are close to or below the five-year average on all markets in regional capitals across the country. Millet prices are under the five-year average by 16 percent in Ségou, 13 percent in Koulikoro, five percent in Timbuktu, and six percent in Gao.

    There are average supplies on livestock market for the month of Ramadan, which is responsible for the growing domestic demand and demand from neighboring countries on the leading source markets across the country. Prices for goats, the main animal sold by poor households, are above the five-year average by 35 percent in Timbuktu, 13 percent in Bourem, 14 percent in Gao, and five percent in Goundam and approximately eight percent below the five-year average in Rharous. Terms of trade for goats/cereals are up by 35 percent in Timbuktu, 29 percent in Bourem, and 21 percent in Gao and down by 20 percent in Goundam and six percent in Rharous compared with the five-year average, which is helping to give pastoral households average market access, except in Goundam and Rharous (Figure I).

    Humanitarian assistance

    The Food Security Commission is in the process of implementing its National Response Plan in conjunction with the WFP, the ICRC, and the Common Framework for Food Assistance targeting 800,000 food-insecure residents of the Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, and northern Mopti regions for the period from April through November 2016, who account for close to 70 percent of the volume of assistance. There are plans for the distribution of fertilizer, seeds, and farm implements for the current growing season, as well as for the distribution of animal feed and small ruminants (2500 head of stock). This assistance will strengthen the resilience and livelihoods of approximately 1,500,000 people in these areas and help give recipient households the means with which to easily enter the new growing season and improve their food access by lowering production costs.

    Security situation

    There are continuing reports of security incidents in northern and central areas of the country, which are negatively affecting travel. Households displaced by ethnic conflicts such as those in Ménaka and Tenenkou (2300 people) are in a vulnerable situation as a result of their losses of assets and the suspension of economic activities. These ongoing incidents are hampering economic recovery in these areas and limiting income-earning opportunities for poor households.

    Food security situation

    Most agropastoral and pastoral households across the country have average food access through average incomes from normal types of labor, in-kind payments in farming areas, and the below-average prices of cereal crops. Above-average terms of trade for livestock/cereals are helping to give pastoral households average market access to meet their food needs. Accordingly, most households are currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    There are visibly lower incomes and damage to livelihoods in the Faguibine lake area of Goundam department and the “transhumant pastoral” Gourma area of Gao and Timbuktu due, in the first case, to low production and, in the second case, to the smaller size of livestock herds. Poor households have limited market access and are unable to meet both their food and non-food needs without resorting to atypical coping strategies involving borrowing, different types of labor, and the consumption of less desirable poorer quality foods. Such strategies are triggering a sharper than usual deterioration in the nutritional situation, driving malnutrition rates above the World Health Organization’s critical threshold of 10 percent. These areas are currently in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity. A number of very poor households in both these areas will be able to meet their basic food needs only with food assistance, without which they will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), but represent less than the required 20 percent of the population for reclassifying the area.

    There is a steady flow of returning DPs and refugees into the Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions. As of the end of April 2016, there were 36,762 DPs in the country, including 27,422 in the north and 9,340 in the south, 29.5 percent less than in February 2016. These households are having difficulty mainstreaming into the local economy and recovering (finding shelter, getting back to work, etc.). They are having a hard time meeting their food and non-food needs and, thus, are in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity.


    The most likely food security scenario for June 2016 through January 2017 is based on the following underlying assumptions with regard to trends in conditions across the country:

    Farming activities

    Rainfall: Available seasonal forecasts from weather forecasting centers (ECMWF, NOAA, IRI) and seasonal forecasts for the Sahel for June 2016 predict normal to above-normal levels of rainfall across the country, though forecasts by the UK MET center show a high probability of below-average rainfall. FEWS NET is assuming there will be near to above-average levels of cumulative rainfall for the period from June through October.

    Crop predators: According to the FAO Emergency Center for Locust Operations (ECLO), there were small numbers of solitary winged locusts present in the central part of Algeria and northern Mali and Niger and sightings of mating adult locusts in southwestern Libya in the month of April. There will most likely be persistent small populations of winged locusts in parts of Adrar des Iforas and possibly in Timétrine and the Tilemsi Valley as well, which would rule out their southern migration beyond these usual infestation areas. However, it dictates the need for close monitoring in gregarization areas of the country to minimize any major impact on household food security and livelihoods. In addition, there will be a normal presence of grain-eating birds, with light to average damage in the usual areas of the western Sahel and in the Sourou Valley and Niger River Valley between Ségou and Gao.

    Crop production: The continued extension of hydro-agricultural development schemes and the subsidy program for farm inputs by the Malian government will help boost expected crop production beginning in September, particularly maize and rice production, which has surged over the last few years. This trend is corroborated by cereal production forecasts by the government, which are up from 2015/16 by nine percent and 32 percent above the five-year average, particularly with the forecast for average to above-average levels of cumulative rainfall and stable plant health conditions.

    Other sources of food and income:

    Animal production: The new pasture growth in June/July marks the end of the lean season for livestock, spurring milk production. Overall, in the wake of this past average lean season for livestock, there should be generally average levels of animal production across the country, except in localized areas of Gourma in Gao and Timbuktu, where the smaller size of animal herds due to the above-average volume of sales and mortality rates between 2012 and 2015 could lower production levels, particularly for poor households. There will be a steady improvement in the availability of milk between June and next January, with production peaking between August and September.

    Transhumance: The usual return migration by animal herds to rainy season grazing lands will begin by June/July with the growth of fresh pasture and the replenishment of animal watering holes. The average availability of crop residues as of October will trigger the usual return migration by animal herds to dry season grazing lands close to year-round watering holes and rivers.

    Population movements: The ongoing ethnic conflicts in the northern and central reaches of the country are triggering population displacements to more secure areas. The population movements driven by these conflicts, particularly in Ménaka and Tenenkou departments, should slow with the government’s ongoing mediation efforts and goodwill.  



    Cereal markets: The reported normal seasonal contraction in market supplies of cereals since May will continue through September with the steady depletion of on-farm food stocks and hoarding strategies of farmers who are looking to capitalize on the good prices commanded by their crops in July and August. There will be sufficient cereal supplies on markets in all parts of the country from large trader inventories to meet the steady growth in consumer demand. The availability of lean season crops (pulses and early maize crops), slowing demand, and the readiness of farmers to unload their inventories will help boost market supplies.

    Cereal prices: The seasonal rise in cereal prices is not as steep as usual due to the large available cereal stocks from 2015/16 harvests across the country and the average to low demand from neighboring countries. Cereal prices as of the end of May were on par with or approximately 10 percent below the five-year average in major markets in regional capitals, both in southern and northern Mali. The average availability of green crops in September, which will  consumer demand on local markets, will help stabilize if not bring down cereal prices between November and January. Based on its simple technical analysis of historical price trends and current market dynamics, FEWS NET is assuming that the price of millet, the main cereal consumed by Malian households, will stay near to slightly below-average between this June and next January in crop-producing areas and on par with the average in high-consumption areas.

    Livestock prices:  The normal decline in livestock prices during the lean season in pastoral areas continues, but is rather modest, with price levels on major livestock markets still more than 15 percent above-average. The improvement in pastoral conditions as of June/July and demand for Ramadan, together with the favorable terms of trade for pastoralists, will help keep prices above-average between June 2016 and January 2017. The average lean season for livestock between March and June and the humanitarian assistance in northern pastoral areas of the country are deterring the culling of animal herds, which could drive down the price of livestock.

    Institutional procurements: In general, the institutional procurements of 10,000 metric tons of rice and 20,000 metric tons of millet/sorghum by the OPAM (the national produce board) to build up the national security reserve and procurements by the WFP and other humanitarian organizations over the course of 2016 as part of the National Response Plan will be smaller than in 2015 due to the fewer numbers of recipients of humanitarian assistance at the country level.

    Other important issues:

    Humanitarian operations: The joint national response plan formulated by the government and the humanitarian community provides for monthly deliveries of food assistance to 800,000 people in the Crisis and Stressed phases of food insecurity between April and November 2016 in the form of half-rations. It also includes the delivery of livelihood assistance to 1,300,000 people through the distribution of 7000 metric tons of animal feed and 2950 head of livestock. Close to 70 percent of these operations will be concentrated in the Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal, and Mopti regions, where they will help limit recourse by poor households to negative coping strategies.

    Security problems: Localized security incidents continue to disrupt the peaceful existence of northern populations, particularly with the ethnic conflicts in Ménaka and Tenenkou departments. There are ongoing efforts by the government to put in place peace accords to restore the peace and help improve living conditions in all parts of the country. However, positioning and expression conflicts by certain groups continue to disrupt the peaceful existence of different populations, which will reflected in spontaneous attacks and road thefts throughout the outlook period, particularly in the Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, and northern Mopti regions.

    Nutritional situation: There are normally troubling rates of global acute malnutrition based on weight-for-height z-scores among the child population between six and 59 months of age between June and September, with a median value of 10.4 percent for the last ten years, which is indicative of a serious nutritional situation (the median for SMART surveys in 2015, 2014, 2011, 2010, and 2008). As usual, there will be a deterioration in the nationwide nutritional situation between June and September, with malnutrition rates close to or approaching the median in spite of the average to above-average food availability across the country. The higher prevalence of diarrheal diseases (14.6 percent), malaria (18.1 percent), and acute respiratory infections during the rainy season between June and October will contribute to the deterioration in conditions, which will be limited by continuing screening and treatment programs for acute malnutrition.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    This year’s normal lean season in agropastoral areas which, as usual, began in June for most of the country’s population, is marked by good cereal availability on markets across the country. Seasonal trends in prices, which are below the five-year average on major markets around the country, are currently helping to give most households average food access from average incomes earned through their usual activities. Average incomes and food supplies from in-kind payments for farm labor between June and August and the usual availability of green crops in September marking the end of the lean season will help give poor households average food access. Accordingly, poor households in these agropastoral areas facing a normal lean season will continue to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between June 2016 and January 2017.

    Poor pastoral households in northern areas of the country facing a longer than usual lean season, particularly in the transhumant pastoral Gourma area, and poor farming households in the Faguibine lake area affected by the poor crop yields in 2015 are having difficulty maintaining  market access with their below-average levels of income and animal production. As a result, these poor households are resorting to atypical coping strategies involving different types of labor, migration, borrowing or depleting their savings, cutbacks in nonfood spending and even the consumption of mainly less expensive foods in order to meet their food needs. Accordingly, they are currently in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity.

    The improvement in pastoral conditions to varying degrees in both these areas in June/July, spurring milk production and boosting pastoral incomes with the physical recovery of livestock, and the distributions of free food assistance by the government and its partners will help improve household food access and limit recourse to negative coping strategies such as fasting and/or selling off productive assets. As of September, poor households will have relatively easy food access with the availability of wild plant foods and green crops, continued below-average cereal prices, and the improvement in terms of trade driven by the usual strong demand from  the celebration of Tabaski and the decline in prices with the large October harvests, and, thus, will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between October and January. A number of very poor households, DPs, and flood victims will be in a worse situation in the absence of humanitarian food assistance and resilience-building programs during the lean season between June and September but represent less than the required 20 percent of the population for reclassifying the entire area.


    Table 1: Possible events in the next six months that could change the outlook


    Possible events

    Impacts on food security conditions


    Late and/or poor start of the rains between June and August

    A delay in the start of the rains is prolonging the lean season for pastoral populations even more than usual, which will weaken the physical condition of livestock and, thus, reduce pastoral incomes. The replanting of crops and late start of the rains will negatively affect crop yields and, thus, farm income (income from farm labor, crop sales, etc.) and food availability.


    Flooding between July and August

    Heavy rains between July and August could cause major damage to crops and tangible property, which will negatively affect household food availability and livelihoods. The resulting shortfall in production will make flood victims food-insecure.


    (areas in the Office du Niger irrigation district, riverine areas of Gao and Timbuktu)

    Damage from crop pests between September and January

    Major damage from grain-eating birds to crops maturing between September and January could limit cereal availability in these areas and drive up prices prematurely, which would curtail the food access of poor households.

    Northern and central Mali

    Escalation in market disruptions from residual security problems  

    An escalation in security incidents would adversely affect incomes, trade, supplies, household livelihoods, and the economic recovery in these areas, heightening the vulnerability of poor households.  

    Northern regions

    Delivery of humanitarian food assistance to food-insecure households

    The scaling-up of assistance programs meeting at least 50 percent of the needs of a majority of poor households will ease their food insecurity which, in turn, will help protect their fragile livelihoods under pressure.

    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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