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Ongoing harvests improve the food security situation

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mali
  • October 2017
Ongoing harvests improve the food security situation

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Cereal production forecasts are approximately 35 percent above the five-year average in spite of the localized pockets of production shortfalls due to insufficient rainfall and/or damage by crop predators. In general, this should help create better-than-average cereal availability between October 2017 and May 2018.

    • The generally above-average levels of plant biomass production and average levels of watering holes suggest average grazing and watering conditions for livestock across the country. However, the pasture deficits in the northern Faguibine lake area and parts of the Western Sahel and Gourma area of Timbuktu will negatively affect food supplies for livestock and livestock production.

    • Household food access is steadily improving with the ongoing harvests and seasonal decline in cereal prices to near or slightly above-average levels. Likewise, pastoral households are profiting from near-average terms of trade for livestock /cereals with the higher prices of livestock.

    • Most poor households across the country will continue to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity through May 2018. However, the premature depletion of their food stocks and rising cereal prices will put poor households in lake areas of Goundam and parts of the Western Sahel and Gourma area of Gao and Timbuktu in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity between April and May 2018.


    Current situation

    Progress of the growing season

    In general, the growing season across the country is making average to good progress in spite of localized pockets of drought, mainly in the Western Sahel and parts of the Mopti, Gao, and Timbuktu regions. According to the Rural Development Planning and Statistics Unit (Cellule de Planification et des Statistiques du Développement Rural, September 2017), production forecasts are approximately 35 percent above-average, which suggests average cereal availability across the country for the 2017 food year. The lean season for farming populations is nearly over, with ongoing harvests of maize, fonio, short-cycle millet, watermelons, and pulses (peanuts and cowpeas) generating an average stream of food and income for households in farming areas of the country.

    Pastoral conditions

    In general, there are average to good pastoral conditions across the country. There are normal to above-normal overall levels of plant biomass production compared with the historical (2001-2010) average in spite of the localized production deficits in northern areas of Kayes, Yélimané, Nioro, Nara, Goundam, and Gourma Rharous and southern Ansongo. The average availability of pasture and watering holes is creating average grazing and watering conditions for livestock. Livestock are in average physical condition and there are average levels of milk production. Animal herds are in rainy season pastures and will soon be heading south to feed on crop residues and to year-round watering holes (rivers, lakes and ponds, etc.) Animal health conditions are stable and there is an ongoing vaccination campaign supported by a number of humanitarian partners.

    Fish production

    The high water levels on rivers, limiting catches, are responsible for the usual decline in fish production at this time of year. However, catches are generally in line with the average. The average to above-average levels of income generation from the sale of fish products are improving the purchasing power of fishing households.

    Operation of markets and cereal prices 

    In general, there is average cereal availability in all parts of the country, with no change or a slight improvement from previous months, particularly in the case of maize, fonio, and pulses, whose harvests have already started up. There are occasional reports of disruptions in the flow of trade along certain routes in the Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, and northern Mopti regions due to the civil security problems in these areas.

    There are increasing signs of the seasonal decline in prices beginning in October on markets in crop-producing areas with the incoming shipments of crops from ongoing harvests, though still small, and the lull in demand from traders waiting for prices to fall. As of the end of September, prices for millet, the main cereal crop purchased for human consumption on markets in regional capitals, were unchanged or up slightly from the previous month. Millet prices at the end of September were above the five-year average by 30 percent in Mopti, 25 percent in Kayes, 18 percent in Timbuktu, 14 percent in Gao, and six percent in Sikasso and Koulikoro and near-average in Ségou.

    Livestock markets

    Market supplies of livestock are down from last month after the Feast of Tabaski, though still in line with the average for this time of year. In general, there is an average demand for livestock in spite of the slowdown in exports to Niger, which has helped drive prices below average. Average prices for livestock are level with or above figures for last month and the five-year average. Prices for female goats, the animal most frequently sold by poor households, are above the five-year average by 13 percent in Timbuktu, five percent in Gao, and eight percent in Mopti. These higher prices compared with previous months have improved terms of trade for goats/millet, which is benefiting pastoralists. Terms of trade for goats/millet are still under the five-year average on the Gao market (by 7 percent) and the Mopti market (by 10 percent) and are five percent above-average in Timbuktu.

    Humanitarian assistance 

    Joint efforts by the Food Security Commission (Commissariat à la Sécurité Alimentaire), the WFP, the ICRC, and ECHO to implement the National Response Plan extended through the beginning of October, providing free food assistance to approximately 820,000 food-insecure recipients between May and September 2017, with 41 percent of program beneficiaries concentrated in the Timbuktu, Gao, Ménaka, Taoudenit, Kidal, and northern Mopti regions of the country. According to the findings by the National Food Security and Nutrition Survey (ENSAN) conducted in September 2017, 23 percent of households across the country received food assistance, with higher numbers of recipients in the Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal regions in which an average of 40 percent of households were served by assistance programs. The food supplies and farm inputs furnished by these programs improved the food access of poor households and helped protect the fragile livelihoods of corresponding recipients.

    Food consumption

    The percentage of households with borderline poor food consumption scores in September was 41.6 percent coming out of the lean season, which was a harsh one for poor households in the Mopti (61 percent), Timbuktu (59 percent), and Gao (51.8 percent) regions. According to the September 2017 ENSAN, 93 percent of households had acceptable dietary diversity scores with the improvement in household food access. Based on the survey data, only 8.7 percent of households were experiencing moderate or severe hunger, though rates of hunger in Gao and Timbuktu were much higher, at 46.3 and 25 percent, respectively.

    Population movements

    There are increasing signs of the usual departure of workers for major crop-growing areas and urban areas of the country or neighboring countries in search of extra income, particularly in areas with poor crop production prospects. In addition, ethnic clashes triggered population displacements in July and August, mainly in the Kidal and Gao regions. According to the report by the Commission on Population Movements for September 2017, there were approximately 55,880 displaced persons across the country, 800 more than in the previous month, due to the ethnic fighting in the Gao region. The UNOCHA is reporting a steady stream of refugees returning to their homes. As of September 30, 2017, these returns had reduced the size of the refugee population from 143,195 to 142,386.


    The heavy rains between July and September in certain parts of the Timbuktu, Gao, Ségou, Ménaka, Kayes, and Kidal regions reportedly caused severe physical damage and took (three) human lives. The resulting losses of homes (1245), capital goods, and storehouses negatively affected household livelihoods in these areas. The flood victims, estimated at more than 11,000 people by the UNOCHA, are in need of shelter and food and nonfood assistance. Their needs for additional funds with which to rebuild their livelihoods exceed the means of poor households. These households are currently scaling up their income-generating activities and recourse to borrowing and migration to raise as much money as possible to replace their lost assets.

    Security situation

    There has been some improvement in the security situation on the ethnic front with the signature of a cease-fire agreement by the two main ethnic groups. However, there are continuing reports of terrorist attacks and acts of banditry in the Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, and northern Mopti regions, which are interfering with the ongoing economic recovery in spite of the major recovery efforts mounted by the government and its development partners. This is negatively affecting livelihoods and trade flows in these areas.


    The most likely food security scenario for October 2017 through May 2018 is based on the following underlying assumptions with regard to trends in nationwide conditions.

    Crop and pasture production

    • Crop predators: There will be light to average damage to major crops in the maturity/harvesting stage from caterpillars, aphids, and grain-eating birds in the usual trouble spots (areas along the Niger River from Ségou to the Gao region and in the Western Sahel) between October and January. The treatments applied and vigilance of area farmers, supported by specialized agencies, should help limit damage to market garden crops between October and March.
    • River flooding: Current high-water levels on rivers and streams are lower than at the same time last year and below the multi-year average. There are poor flooding prospects in lake areas, with lake waters starting to rise more than two weeks later than average and reportedly starting to fall earlier than usual, by the beginning of October, which will put flood levels under figures for last year and below-average.
    • Crop production: The overall high cropping rates across the country surpassing the average by more than 20 percent, along with the average to above-average rainfall and lull in crop pest activity, suggest generally average to above-average levels of national crop production in October 2017. According to the Rural Development Sector Planning and Statistics Unit, production forecasts are approximately 35 percent above the five-year average. However, the insufficient rainfall and prematurely ending rainfall activity in parts of the Western Sahel and the Ségou, Koulikoro, and Kayes regions, combined with the localized crop damage from caterpillars in the Sikasso region and from aphids (honeydew secretions) in the Lake Télé and Faguibine areas of Goundam will create localized production shortfalls in these areas.
    • Off-season crops: The average levels of reservoirs (seasonal lakes and ponds and floodplain lakes) in lake areas of Timbuktu, Kayes, Mopti, and Ségou due to low flooding levels suggest average to below-average production prospects for off-season crops, beginning in October in the case of market garden crops and in March in the case of maize and rice crops grown in irrigation schemes. There are below-average harvest prospects for flood recession crops in the Timbuktu and Mopti regions. In general, there will be below-average levels of off-season crop production in spite of the distributions of seed assistance and farm implements, particularly in the Timbuktu and Gao regions, and the attraction of these crops.
    • Herd movements and livestock production: Transhumant herds will begin their usual return migration to farming areas to feed on crop residues in October and to dry season pastures as of February. The average to above-average availability of pasture and watering holes in livestock holding areas should not cause any major disruptions to normal herd movements. However, disruptions from the security problems in the Niger Delta area and the earlier than usual descent of Mauritanian herds into the Western Sahel between October and May could create overgrazing issues. In general, pastoral conditions in normal dry season holding areas between February and March (farming areas and areas around bourgou grasslands in riverine and lake areas) should make for average levels of animal production (milk, meat, and butter).
    • Farm labor: In general, there are average employment prospects for farm labor with the expected average to above-average levels of crop production. Thus, there will also be average to above-average cash and in-kind wages based on harvest volume between October and March. Beginning in April, there will be job opportunities for members of poor households in field clean-up work and the transporting of fertilizer in preparation for the new growing season. The average stream of income and in-kind payments from these activities will improve their food access.

    Other livelihood activities

    • Migration and population movements: The normal labor migration beginning in September to urban areas, major farming areas of the country for work in the harvest, and neighboring countries will continue through March. The main destinations for many migrants from the Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso regions will be the gold mining sites officially opening in October. The cash and in-kind assistance sent home by these migrant workers between October and May or brought home with them in April-May will improve their households’ market access. There should not be any major change in the current situation with respect to population displacements driven by residual security problems.
    • Fishing: Current forecasts are predicting average fish catches in all parts of the country with high-water levels on rivers and streams producing average levels of flooding in fish breeding areas. The small catches in October due to the extremely high water levels will pick up in November with the opening of the fishing season. There will be a further improvement in catches with the steady drop in water levels through April-May and the lifting of bans on collective fishing activities in seasonal lakes and ponds will help increase the availability of fish, which will generate average levels of income and improve the quality of the diets of fishing households across the country.
    • Non-farm labor: There will be a normal pursuit of the usual types of off-farm activities and small trades between October and May in all parts of the country. The average levels of income generated by these activities will help improve the purchasing power of poor households reliant on these activities.

    Markets and prices

    • Cereal prices: There will be a seasonal decline in cereal prices as of October, driven by the average to above-average harvests, which will reduce consumer demand and beef up market supplies. Prices will continue to move downwards through February, at which point they will stabilize or even inch upwards with the purchases by traders and procurements for the rebuilding of institutional (OPAM, WFP, etc.) and village-level (cereal banks and cooperatives) food stocks. There will be a steady rise in cereal prices through May at a normal pace, contained by the average to above-average levels of crop production across the country, especially in major crop-producing areas. They will stay under or close to the five-year average between October 2017 and May 2018 in crop-producing areas and be at or above the average in high-consumption and low-production areas.
    • Livestock prices: The normal return of livestock herds in October will boost market supplies of livestock, reducing the inflationary effects of the celebration of the Feast of Tabaski. In general, the currently above-average levels of livestock prices on major livestock markets will be sustained by a continued high demand from the coastal states and for the year-end holiday season. As of April, the normal deterioration in pastoral conditions and the physical condition of livestock will trigger the usual seasonal decline in prices, which will still be above-average. Terms of trade for goats/millet will be more than 10 percent above-average for the entire outlook period from October 2017 through May 2018.

    Other key factors

    • Security situation: The signature of a cease-fire agreement by the different armed groups and the government’s gradual return to the Kidal region will help reduce security incidents in that area. However, there will be continuing localized disturbances by terrorist groups in the Kidal, Timbuktu, Gao, and northern Mopti and Ségou regions during the outlook period, which will negatively affect the movement of people and goods in these areas.
    • Humanitarian operations: There will be continued deliveries of farm input assistance for off-season crops and assistance for the reintegration of returnees and repatriates throughout the outlook period. These resilience-building programs will limit the recourse of recipient populations to negative coping strategies.
    • Nutritional situation: According to the SMART survey of July 2017 (during the lean season), the global acute malnutrition rate based on weight-for-height measurements was 11.0 percent, compared with 10.9 percent (CI 10.6-14.3 percent) in July 2016, indicating a serious situation according to WHO standards. The availability of fresh crops, proper dietary diversity, and the decline in food prices giving households average food access will result in the usual improvement in the nutritional situation between October and March. As of March-April, the growing household dependence on local markets, mainly in low-production areas, and the normal deterioration in sanitary conditions with the shortage of water will contribute to the usual degradation in the nutritional situation through the month of May. Malnutrition rates should stay close to average throughout the outlook period with the satisfactory overall food security situation across the country and the active pursuit of screening and treatment programs for malnutrition. The crude death rate is 0.36 [0.32-0.41], which is below the WHO’s warning threshold (of 1 death per 10,000 people/day).

    Most likely food security outcomes

    The growing availability of fresh crops and average if not below-average cereal prices are helping to give most households average food access. The intensification of harvesting activities for rainfed and off-season market garden crops between October and March and the decline in prices to levels close to or below-average will further strengthen the food access of agropastoral households. There will be a further improvement in the rate of borderline poor food consumption, at 41.6 percent, and the moderate to severe hunger index of 8.7 percent based on the National Food Security and Nutrition Survey (ENSAN) conducted in September 2017, which will put them close-to-average between October 2017 and February 2018. The replenishment of their food stocks and farm income from the sale of crops and farm labor will improve the purchasing power of agropastoral households, which will be about-average. Likewise, pastoral households will benefit from the favorable terms of trade for livestock/cereals, which will enable them to meet their food and nutritional needs. Accordingly, most agropastoral and pastoral households will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between October 2017 and May 2018.

    However, the premature depletion of food stocks with the large shortfall in crop production will make residents of the Télé and Faguibine lake areas of Goundam and parts of Diéma, Nara, Nioro, Djenné, and Tenenkou dependent on market purchases to meet their food needs sooner than usual. Poor households in these areas will resort to scaling up their borrowing, wage labor, and cutbacks in nonfood spending (on farm inputs, health care, education, hygiene, etc.) to meet their food needs. There will be a larger than average deterioration in food consumption and the nutritional situation. Accordingly, poor households unable to meet their food needs without resorting to atypical coping strategies will be in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity between April and May. Poor pastoral households in the Timbuktu and Gao regions will find themselves in the same situation as of March with the decline in pastoral incomes and unfavorable terms of trade negatively affecting their purchasing power.

    Poor flood-stricken households will need to rebuild their livelihoods, which will require financial resources beyond their means. Poor households, for the most part market-dependent by February-March, will have difficulty meeting their food and livelihood recovery needs without outside assistance. These households, experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between October and February owing to their supplies of home-grown crops, though smaller than average, their in-kind wages from work in the harvest, and community assistance, will need to atypically scale up their recourse to wage labor and borrowing in order to meet their needs. The earlier than usual deterioration in their food consumption and, in some cases, their nutritional situation due to their spending cuts will put them in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity between March and May.

    Figures Figure 2.  Rainfall anomalies for the period from June through September 2017

    Figure 1

    Figure 2. Rainfall anomalies for the period from June through September 2017

    Source: NOAA

    Figure 3. NDVI anomalies for the period from July through September 2017

    Figure 2

    Figure 3. NDVI anomalies for the period from July through September 2017

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

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

    Figure 3

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

    Source: 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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