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Average household food access helps improve food security

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mali
  • October 2015 - March 2016
Average household food access helps improve food security

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • The expanding harvests of rainfed and off-season market gardening crops between October 2015 and March 2016 will strengthen household food access by replenishing food stocks and generating income from crop sales and farm labor. These harvests will help promote adequate food availability across the country during the 2015/2016 consumption year.

    • Better-than-average plant biomass production and good water levels at watering holes are contributing to generally average to good pastoral conditions for livestock. These favorable conditions and above-average livestock prices are enabling good milk availability and favorable livestock-to-cereal terms of trade for households. Thus, most agropastoral households will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between October and March.

    • However in flood-affected areas, there are localized pockets of below-average crop production, which could prematurely deplete household food stocks. Due to these crop production shortfalls and flood-related losses to livelihoods, an estimated 15,000 poor flood-affected households in Kita, Macina, Nara, Tominian, San, Mopti, Nioro, Gao, Ménaka, and Douentza departments will face a deterioration of their food security outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels starting in March 2016.

    • Similarly, poor pastoral households in the Gao and Timbuktu regions whose livestock herds have shrunken and, in some cases, been decimated over the past three years will face an escalation in their food insecurity to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels starting in April 2016 due to a reduction in their income levels and a harsher than usual pastoral lean season.

    National Overview
    Current situation

    Growing season

    The average to above-average cumulative rainfall levels in most crop-producing areas of the country (Figure 1) helped promote good plant growth and development despite the reported delay in the planting of crops at the beginning of the season. The ongoing harvests of maize, fonio, short-cycle millet, watermelons, and groundnuts are providing households with food and average income levels and mark the end of the agricultural lean season.

    Pastoral conditions

    Good pastoral conditions are generally providing an adequate food supply for livestock. More specifically, current levels of plant biomass production are better than average and are up from 2014’s levels (Figure 2). In addition, good water levels at watering holes bode well for an improvement in animal watering conditions (Figure 3). Consequently, livestock are, in general, in average to good physical condition with stable health conditions, resulting in average to above-average livestock production. Exceptions, however, are the Gourma area of Timbuktu and Gao, as well as the Western Sahel, where the harsher than usual pastoral lean season between April and June 2015 negatively affected birth rates and the physical recovery of livestock.

    Market behavior and prices

    In general, cereal availability is average and is steadily improving across the country compared with the previous months, particularly with the ongoing harvests of maize and fonio. However, there are reports of occasional disruptions (ex. reduced attendance) on certain markets in the Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions due to the civil security issues in these areas.

    In October, the seasonal normal decline in food prices is becoming more and more noticeable on markets in crop production areas as farmers sell off on-farm inventories. For example, prices for millet, the main cereal crop consumed by Malian households, are stable or down from last month on markets in regional capitals across the country. However, they remain above the five-year average in Timbuktu (+7 percent) and Gao (+9 percent), similar to average in Mopti, and below the five-year average in Sikasso (-10 percent), Kayes (-6 percent), Ségou (-6 percent), and Koulikoro (-5 percent).

    Current supplies of animals on livestock markets are below average due to the good crop production prospects for the current growing season and with deliveries of humanitarian food assistance in northern pastoral areas deterring the usual culling of livestock herds. In addition, many households in northern areas of the country have fewer animals left to sell with the size of their herds reduced by their excessive animal sales during the past three years due to food security difficulties and the higher than usual animal mortality rates during this past lean season.

    There is a sustained demand for livestock, both within the country and from neighboring countries, which is helping to keep prices high, though prices for small ruminants have come down to some extent since the end of the Tabaski holiday season. For example, the price of goats, the animal most often sold by poor agropastoral households, is above the five-year average by 24 percent in Timbuktu, 12 percent in Niafunké, and four percent in Gao.


    There have been reports of major material damage and the loss of human lives from the heavy rainfall that occurred between July and September in certain villages in the Ségou, Mopti, Gao, Timbuktu, Koulikoro, and Kayes regions. These losses of homes, assets, and granaries have negatively impacted livelihoods in these areas. Homelessness and exposure, along with crop production shortfalls, are also putting these populations at a higher risk of food insecurity. To cope, they are scaling up borrowing, income-generating activities, and labor migration in order to earn as much money as possible to replace their lost assets.

    Humanitarian assistance

    The monthly General Food Distributions by the government and its partners (WFP and ICRC) under the National Food Security Response Plan provided more than 730,000 recipients in northern areas of the country and the Mopti region with full food rations between June and September 2015 (Source: Food Security Cluster), which helped to ease the severity of the long lean season and limit recourse to negative coping strategies. In addition, the large deliveries of farm input assistance (seeds, fertilizer, fuel, and animal feed) to 650,000 recipients in these same areas helped enable many farmers to grow crops this year. There were also distributions of food and nonfood assistance to poor flood-stricken households in the immediate aftermath of the floods, as well as to returning IDPs and refugees.

    Security situation

    The signature of a cease fire agreement by the various warring groups in northern Mali at the end of September should, hopefully, quell the security problems in northern areas of the country. However, the security situation is still marked by the perpetration of armed attacks against civilian populations, particularly foreigners, which is impeding the normal progress of the economic recovery long-sought by local populations. Parts of the Mopti and Ségou regions are in a similar situation, where such attacks are intermittently disrupting the movement of people and goods.

    Population movements

    Similar to a normal year, there is a steadily increasing flow of migrants to major crop-producing areas of the country seeking to earn extra income through labor work. The food and income generated by these activities are helping to improve the livelihoods for affected households. Despite the improving economic and security situation, there are still a number of IDPs from northern areas in other parts of the country in the wake of the atypical population movements triggered by the security crisis in northern Mali. Some of these IDPs have been assimilated into the local economy of their host communities, which reduces the likelihood that they will return to their home communities. As of the end of September, there were still as many as 61,920 displaced persons and 136,772 refugees in Mali, according to a report by the Commission on Population Movements.

    National food security and nutritional survey

    A national food security and nutritional survey (ENSAN) of 8,449 households across the country was conducted in September 2015. An analysis of the resulting key food security indicators (food consumption scores, household dietary diversity scores, the reduced household coping strategy index, and the household hunger index) suggests the presence of high levels of food insecurity in certain parts of the country at the time of the survey, at the end of the agropastoral lean season. In addition, the national global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence based on a survey of 12,877 children between the ages of six and 59 months was estimated at 4.6 percent, compared with 7.3 percent according to the previous ENSAN in February 2015 and an estimated 3.3 percent [2.4 – 4.2 percent] according to the SMART survey in May 2015 (in all cases, based on mid upper arm circumference measurements). This last May 2015 SMART survey also measured the national GAM prevalence based on a weight-for-height z-score of <-2, which it found to be 12.4 percent [10.6-14.3 percent]. However, there was an improvement in food security conditions between the time of that survey and October 2015, with average food availability bolstered by new harvests of millet, wild fonio, and pulses and higher levels of milk production in pastoral areas, giving households better food access.


    The most likely food security scenario for October 2015 through March 2016 is based on the following underlying national assumptions:

    Crop and animal production

    • Locust situation: According to several sources (PALUCP, the FAO, and USAID/OFDA), the desert locust situation is generally stable for the time being despite the reported presence of locust larvae in the Adrars area of Kidal in September. This year’s likely average to slightly above-average locust breeding rates as a result of the favorable climatic conditions are not expected to produce any worse than usual damage to crops or pastures.
    • Bird situation: Bird populations will pose a serious threat to rice farmers along the Niger River in the Gao and Timbuktu, regions, the Office du Niger irrigation district in Ségou, and the Western Sahel between November and February. The usual southern migration by bird populations beginning in December with the normal drying up of seasonal lakes and ponds will mean crop losses in rice-growing areas. However, this year’s large availability of wild grasses which will draw birds away from crops should limit the damage to rice and millet/sorghum crops to average levels.
    • Crop production: The good progress of crop growth and development despite the late planting of crops in southern farming areas bodes well for generally average to above-average levels of crop production. This forecast is in line with preliminary estimates presented by the Malian government to the September 2015 PREGEC meeting which put cereal production at approximately six percent above last year’s levels and 20 percent above the five-year average. However, the flooding in August and September and resulting losses of cropland in some areas will mean localized crop production shortfalls. These pockets of production deficits will be confined to Kita, Macina, San, Tominian, Mopti, Douentza, Nara, and Nioro departments.
    • Off-season crops: There are average to good production prospects for off-season crops, which will be harvested in March, due to the good water levels along rivers and streams, particularly in flood recession farming areas of Timbuktu and Gao and irrigation schemes on the Niger River. Prospects for market garden production between October and March are equally good due to the high water levels on seasonal lakes and ponds and large volume of assistance in the form of inputs and equipment furnished by the government and the humanitarian community for the 2014/15 season.
    • Farm labor: There will be average to above-average employment opportunities for farm labor due to the expected good crop production levels. This will result in average to above-average levels of cash and in-kind wage income between October and March depending on the size of the harvest.
    • Herd movements and animal production: The surplus pasture production and good levels of watering holes will help sustain average to good food availability for livestock between October and March in all parts of the country and should not trigger any atypical herd movements like those reported in 2014. Normal herd movements by transhumant livestock to dry season pastures to graze on crop residues in agricultural areas and to floodplain pastures (bourgoutières) in riverine and lake areas will begin in November-December. However, security issues in the Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu, and Mopti regions could cause small disruptions in herd movements in these areas. Livestock production will be average during the scenario period across the country.

    Other livelihood activities

    • Migration and population movements: There will be a normal flow of labor migration between September and April to urban areas from major crop-producing areas and to high-crop production areas by workers from deficit producing areas. Normal conditions in urban areas and good crop yields in destination areas for migrant farm workers will generate an average to above-average volumes of migrant remittances in the form of both food and income. There will also be a slow but steady flow of returning refugees and IDPs wishing to return to their homes during the outlook period.
    • Fishing: In general, the near-average water levels on rivers and streams will produce normal levels of fish catches. The large consumer demand in the Timbuktu and Gao regions, fueled by the presence of humanitarian workers and traders exporting fish to Niger, and in the southern part of the country will provide fishing households with average total incomes between December and March.

    Markets and prices

    • Cereal prices: There will be a normal growth in cereal supplies in October with the continued unloading of on-farm inventories in crop-producing areas in the face of the good crop production forecasts. The usual drop in demand with the availability of newly harvested crops, together with increased market supply levels, will trigger a normal decline in cereal prices on markets around the country between October and March. The expected below-average demand for the replenishment of institutional stocks (from the OPAM, WFP, etc.) in or around the month of March should also not have a major effect on prices, which are expected to be below last year’s levels and close to the five-year average.
    • Livestock prices: There will be a steady rise in livestock prices between October and December, fueled by high demand during Tabaski and the year-end holidays, good pastoral conditions, and the tightening of animal supplies with the good crop production prospects. However, compared to current levels, growing market supplies in December/January with the sale of animals by pastoralists to meet their food needs and the drop in demand after the holiday season will bring down prices, though they will still remain above-average. Goat-to-millet terms of trade will also stay more than 20 percent above-average during the outlook period.

    Other key food security drivers

    • Security situation: There should be an improvement in the security situation with the signature of a cease fire agreement by the various warring groups. However, there will continue to be localized disturbances throughout the outlook period, particularly in the Kidal, Timbuktu, and Gao regions, which will hamper the movement of people and goods in these areas.
    • Humanitarian operations: The number of normally small-scale emergency humanitarian operations in target areas between October and March will be extremely limited. With the improvement in socioeconomic conditions, assistance programs will be more focused on resilience-building for poor households.
    • Nutritional situation: The troubling nutritional situation, with the national global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence, based on weight-for-height z-score measurements, at 12.4 percent (IC: 10.6-14.3 percent) in May 2015 according to the SMART survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and its partners, will improve between October and March, in line with normal seasonal trends. Average food availability and the active pursuit of malnutrition screening and treatment programs will help strengthen the nutritional situation during this period, compared with levels at the beginning of the agropastoral lean season and the height of the pastoral lean season in May 2015.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The availability of new crops from ongoing harvests marking the end of the agropastoral lean season across the country and the currently average and, in some cases, below-average cereal prices are providing most households with average food access. The expanding harvests of rainfed and off-season market garden crops between October and March will further strengthen the food access of agropastoral households by replenishing their food stocks and generating income from crop sales and farm labor. The same applies to pastoral households, which will benefit from favorable livestock-to-cereal terms of trade. Thus, most agropastoral households will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between October 2015 and March 2016.

    However, as of March, poor households affected by the August/September flooding, discussed in more detail in the “areas of concern” section below, will have difficulty adequately meeting their food and livelihood recovery needs with the premature depletion of stocks from their own crop production and their needs for extra income to rebuild their livelihoods. Poor pastoral households in the Timbuktu and Gao regions will also be in the same situation starting in April, when their reduced incomes from livestock production will negatively affect their market access.

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.


    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2015

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2015

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Estimated cumulative rainfall anomalies (ARC2) for the period from July 1st through September 30, 2015 as a percent

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Estimated cumulative rainfall anomalies (ARC2) for the period from July 1st through September 30, 2015 as a percentage of the average

    Source: NOAA

    Figure 2. NDVI anomalies for October 1 – 10, 2015

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. NDVI anomalies for October 1 – 10, 2015

    Source: USGS

    Figure 3. Levels of monitored water sources

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Levels of monitored water sources

    Source: USGS

    Figure 4. Reduced household coping strategy index (rCSI)

    Figure 6

    Figure 4. Reduced household coping strategy index (rCSI)

    Source: ENSAN – Mali, September 2015

    Figure 5. Sightings of desert locusts in West Africa in September 2015

    Figure 7

    Figure 5. Sightings of desert locusts in West Africa in September 2015

    Source: FAO

    Figure 1


    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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