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Combined impacts of insecurity and COVID-19 on food security in Mali

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mali
  • October 2020
Combined impacts of insecurity and COVID-19 on food security in Mali

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Harvests in Mali are generally average to good, and up by about 20 percent as compared to the five-year average. This favors satisfactory food availability in Mali throughout the 2020-21 food year. Availability of home-grown food, along with largely average grain prices, put the majority of households into a state of Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    • Livestock-raising conditions in Mali are good overall. This points to normal off-season pasturing for livestock beginning in April throughout the country, with the exception of unsafe areas where access to pasturing will be disrupted. Average livestock production is expected, and animals are expected to be in average physical condition, which favors average income that will improve the purchasing power of livestock-raising households.

    • Household access to grain is average overall, due to average to high availability of home-grown foods, although this is lower in some areas, and also gifts/charity, and in-kind payments. Grain prices will be average or slightly above average, and the improvement of goat/grain trades at average or slightly above average levels will promote adequate market access for livestock-raising households.

    • Poor households in Liptako Gourma and in unsafe areas, that cannot meet their food needs without using coping strategies on an atypical basis are finding themselves in Stressed food insecurity situations (IPC Phase 2), and need assistance beginning in April to avoid an even worse situation. The same is true for poor, displaced households and flood victims that have not reached the population threshold to change the zone's classification. They will be in Stressed food insecurity (IPC Phase 2) from October to May 2021.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Agropastoral production: Harvests deemed average to good overall, by 85.9 percent of households (Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM), August 2020), and that are ongoing throughout Mali, will improve food availability for households and markets. Material and cash compensation from harvest labor activities offer average opportunities for food and income for poor households. However, localized production drops have been observed, specifically in the Liptako Gourma area, in the Banass, Koro, Bandiagara, and Douentza areas due to the insecurity that has limited the amount of farming and also due to the flood-related losses throughout Mali. Projected grain production is similar to last year (1 percent) and 20 percent higher than the five-year average (Statistics and Planning Unit/Rural Development Sector (CPS/SDR)). The off-season vegetable and grain-growing campaign is underway, and the outlook is positive due to good availability of water in streams, dams, and retention ponds.

    Cotton production has dropped by approximately 75 percent due to COVID-19, which has pushed purchase prices to unappealing levels. This will reduce cotton producers' income and will force the closure of many cotton processing plants. However, reduced export revenue due to the drop in cotton production could be offset by the approximately 30 percent increase in the price of gold, which is Mali's primary export product. However, a drop in government revenue will negatively affect the government's ability to respond appropriately to social needs.

    Livestock-raising conditions are deemed good overall, due to normal to high grazing production, better than in the last 21 years (Action Against Hunger, September 2020). Animals' physical condition and the level of livestock production are both average to good overall, and will improve food availability and income for livestock-raising households. Herds are in their overwintering areas. The return of migratory herds is expected beginning in November, for the end of the harvest, and in the river valley, to take advantage of bourgou flood grasses. The animal health situation is relatively calm, despite a few isolated flareups of contagious bovine nodular dermatitis. The vaccination campaign that has been launched will continue throughout the country.

    Flood damage: The major rains from July to September caused varying amounts of damage, depending on the area. Equipment, houses, crops, and livestock were all harmed, particularly in the regions of Ménaka, Ségou, Bamako, Timbuktu, and Gao. At the end of September, according to the Directorate General for Civil Protection (DGPC), more than 90,000 people suffered harm or damage and 21 were killed, in addition to 73,424 hectares of grain being destroyed. The loss of homes, property, equipment, livestock, crops, and food stocks reduced poor households' ability to appropriately meet their food needs and rebuild their livelihoods. The government and humanitarian agencies provided food and non-food support, and that remains below what is expected to remedy the situation.

    Agricultural production: The usual drop in fish catches was seen during this high-water period. Catches are deemed low as compared to average, due to security disruptions in the fishing areas of the inner Niger delta.

    Impact of regional economic sanctions: The lifting of the Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) economic sanctions on Mali, following the country's socio-political crisis, has allowed trade with neighboring countries to resume, as of the beginning of October. These sanctions resulted in slight to moderate disruptions in the operation of certain trade routes, with the exception of food products, fuel, and pharmaceutical products. Cash transfers from migrants also stopped. With those sanctions lifted on October 6, trade improved markedly as compared to September, but continued to suffer from the slowdowns created when cash transfers through the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) stopped. This in turn caused a complete stop of orders from typical suppliers. The drop in customs receipts related to these trade transactions reduced the government's ability to act.

    Market operation and prices: Food availability remains sufficient at all markets, despite the combined effects of insecurity, restrictions related to COVID-19 in May and June, and ECOWAS economic sanctions on Mali from August to the beginning of October 2020. Farmers' usual stock drawdowns, in light of the positive outlook on agricultural production and the arrival of new harvests are contributing to improved grain and vegetable offerings in markets. The price for basic grains in regional capital markets at the end of September was stable or increasing, overall. As compared to the five-year average, the basic grain prices are similar in Mopti, Koulikoro, and Sikasso, and rising in the less secure areas where supply chains have been disrupted in Ségou (8 percent), Kayes, 11 percent), Gao (13 percent), Timbuktu (21 percent), and Kidal (25 percent). This limits very poor households' access to food. Slight rises in imported food prices (5 to 10 percent) have been seen, but in an isolated manner, due to sufficient supplier stocks and the government's actions since COVID-19 began in March 2020.

    Livestock offerings have risen in the primary markets, due to the usual return of migratory livestock, and livestock-raisers' grain procurement needs. Livestock prices are stable or rising as compared to last month, due to the animals' good physical condition and the good livestock-raising conditions at present, which do not motivate farmers to sell their animals. Goats are the animals most often sold by poor households to buy food. As compared to the five-year average, goat prices have been rising overall: in Timbuktu (30 percent), Nara (19 percent), Rharous (13 percent), Menaka (10 percent), and Mopti (7 percent). they have dropped in Bourem (11 percent), and Gao (10 percent). The goat/grain exchange terms are stable overall, or have improved as compared to the previous month. As compared to the five-year average, the goat/millet exchange terms at the livestock markets we track are similar or rising: 40 percent in Nara, 8 percent in Mopti and Timbuktu, 10 percent in Rharous. Gao and Bourem are the exception, where terms have dropped by 20 and 21 percent, respectively, due to insecurity and the lower number of participants in these markets, which reduces shepherds' access to food products.

    Accessibility: Average to above-average availability of home-grown food, gifts/charity, and in-kind compensation for harvest work have allowed most households to access food without great difficulty in production areas. Prices for the primary staple foods are average or below-average, and livestock/grain exchange terms have improved in most pastoral areas (Figure 1). This favors average access to food for agropastoral households. However, in conflict areas in central and northern Mali, some households, due to the significant decrease in livelihoods related to ongoing insecurity and atypical displacements causing material goods to be lost and economic activity to stop, have difficulty accessing food and depend on humanitarian aid and relatives/friends, due to their decreased purchasing power.Additionally, poor households still coping with the effects of COVID-19 (layoffs, decreased international trade and a 60 percent decrease in financial transfers from migrants to households (mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping, August 2020)) continue struggling to access food and non-food items due to decreased income.

    Security situation: The security situation remains volatile in northern and central Mali, and is characterized by armed attacks, conflicts between armed groups, and targeted killings. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), 85 security incidents were recorded in September 2020, a 34 percent drop as compared to August. Despite a decrease in security incidents in some areas, these continue to disrupt the movement of people and goods, and regular market operations in the areas bordering Burkina Faso. However, we have seen an increase in security incidents in 2020 as compared to 2019, with a total of 2,789 as compared to 1,970 in 2019. In addition to population displacements, these security incidents have caused a 15 to 20 percent decrease in cultivated area in the Bankass, Koro, Douentza and Bandiagara areas. These production losses and economic disruptions are reducing the ability of households in these areas to meet their food and non-food needs.

    Population movements: Ongoing security incidents in northern and central Mali continue to cause population displacements as people look for safer areas. The number of displacements has been rising constantly since March 2019 and, at the end of September 2020, was estimated at 299,859 people (Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), September 2020 report). At the same time, refugees and some displaced people are tentatively returning based on inter-community negotiations and agreements, with support from the government and humanitarian agencies. Most displaced persons, 79 percent according to the July 2020 DTM, have lost their self-sufficiency and live on humanitarian, community, or third-party aid such as host households or camps. The tentative return of refugees from Mauritania and some displaced persons returning to their home areas has been documented.

    Humanitarian assistance: In the context of seasonal aid, more than 1,331,153 people (84 percent of those in need) received monthly food or livelihood support assistance (865,797 people), primarily in the form of cash, from June to September 2020 (Food Security Cluster, October) from the government and humanitarian partners. Ongoing aid primarily goes to displaced households as part of the rapid response system, which is ongoing throughout the country.

    Nutritional situation: Improved availability of the first harvests has helped households access a variety of foods: animal products, plant products, vegetables, and grains, at affordable prices. This has contributed to a drop in seasonal malnutrition. In late September 2020, the number of admissions to malnutrition treatment centers rose by 5 percent overall as compared to the same period in 2019, 198,677 admissions in 2020 as compared to 188,513 in 2019. Evaluation and treatment for malnutrition continues in functioning health centers. 

    Current food security situation: Food consumption has improved, as is typical at this time of availability and access to a variety of foods. Fewer negative coping strategies to reduce meal volume, quality, or quantity help to improve overall household food consumption. However, this will remain below average for poor households, and especially displaced persons in unsafe areas who struggle to appropriately meet their food and non-food needs. Humanitarian aid and local mutual aid groups are keeping the situation from getting worse. Most households are in Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1). Poor households in Liptako Gourma and in unsafe areas, that cannot meet their food needs without using coping strategies on an atypical basis are finding themselves in Stressed food insecurity situations (IPC Phase 2).


    The most likely scenario from October 2020 to May 2021 is based on fundamental hypotheses related to changes in the national context, specifically:

    • Seasonal agricultural production: Good rainfall and an increase of approximately 6 percent in surface area, as compared to the average and to last year point to above-average grain production. Projected production, according to the Statistics and Planning Unit/Rural Development Sector (CPS/SDR) is up by 20 percent as compared to the five-year average. This favors average grain availability in Mali during the 2020-2021 food year. However, localized production drops related to lower surface area in the unsafe areas in central and northern Mali, along with flooding, will cause decreased availability and early depletion of stocks in the households in question.
    • Off-season crops: The average to good water levels in ponds and retention lakes, due to good rainfall and flood conditions in rivers and streams, point to average to above-average production for off-season drops beginning in October (vegetables), and January/March for rice in irrigated areas, and for flood-zone crops in the Timbuktu, Kayes, Mopti, and Gao areas.
    • Animal production/livestock movement: Normal to high pasture production this year will ensure proper feeding of livestock; this favors average body condition for the livestock in May 2021, and average to good animal production throughout Mali. The animals' expected good condition and average milk, butter, and cheese production will generate average income for livestock-raising households. However, in unsafe areas in northern Mali, and in Liptako Gourma, Menaka, Koro, and Bankass, access to pastures will be disrupted by security incidents. This will affect food for animals in those areas and will cause production drops as compared to an average year. Additionally, the expected increase in livestock prices due to the severe drop in cotton production will limit poor households' ability to maintain dairy animals during the lean pasture season, which will reduce their income.
    • Fishing: High-water levels in rivers and streams favor good fish spawning. Low catches in October, caused by very high water levels, will improve beginning in November, with the opening of the fishing season and with the receding of the rivers. In March to May, restrictions on communal fishing areas should be lifted. This should increase the availability of fish. Production outlooks for the November to May 2021 fishing campaign are average to above average. However, ongoing insecurity will affect fishing in some areas in the inner Niger delta.
    • Non-agricultural labor: Usual non-agricultural labor activities and odd jobs from December to May will continue as normal in Mali. Labor demand in the cotton processing plans will decrease between December 2020 and April 2021, due to a significant drop in cotton production. However, insecurity in the Liptako Gourma area and in the northern regions, and the effects of COVID-19, particularly in urban centers, will limit job prospects, which in turn will cause income from those activities to drop below average.
    • Agricultural labor: The harvests beginning now offer average food opportunities for those who are paid in kind, and cash income from October to January for able-bodied people in agricultural areas, with the exception of areas where farming has decreased due to insecurity and/or poor rainfall. Beginning in April 2021, field cleaning and manure transportation to prepare for the new agricultural campaign will constitute average job prospects for poor households in agricultural areas. Average income and in-kind payments from these activities will improve their access to food.
    • Migration: The usual phenomenon of able-bodied people leaving to find work in September will continue until February, as they head toward Mali's major production areas, and neighboring countries, to find harvesting work. Gold panning sites opened in October will be highly prized destinations for many migrants in the Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso regions, specifically due to decreased labor demand in the cotton production sector. In-kind and cash support from October to May, and or income brought by returning migrants in April and May will improve household purchasing power. However, decreased monetary transfers due to the effects of COVID-19 in host countries will reduce the income from that activity, which has already dropped by more than 30 percent for more than 71 percent of the households that depend on it (mVAM, August 2020).
    • Economic impacts of regional sanctions, and decreased cotton production: ECOWAS' economic sanctions on Mali have negatively affected trade with other countries from August to October 2020, with impacts on customs receipts, money transfers, and certain economic activities in Mali. Although those sanctions were lifted at the beginning of October, the effects will last until the end of 2020 in terms of activity in the affected sectors. Despite reduced income from cotton exports, a 70 percent drop in cotton production will probably be offset by higher worldwide prices for gold; approximately 30 percent above average. This might result in very little net effect on Mali's export income.
    • Grain prices: Above-average harvests are expected beginning in October. According to the CPS/SDR, these should be 20 percent higher than average, and will favor satisfactory market grain supplies throughout the scenario period. The expected stock drawdowns, caused by reassuring outlooks for the current campaign in production zones, along with the usual drop in consumption demand due to the availability of home-grown food will be the catalyst for seasonal price drops, which will continue until February. Community stocks will be replenished beginning in March, at grain banks, cooperatives, and institutional storage locations (Mali Office of Agricultural Products (OPAM), the World Food Program (PAM), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)). Stocks will be below average in Mali and in neighboring countries due to the ban on exports to Nigeria, and the high need for aid due to flooding in Niger, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso. This will increase demand as compared to an average year. From January to March, the usual purchasing period, season price increases will be seen, and will continue until May 2021. In general, prices will be below average or near average from October to February, and near average to above average from March to May.
    • Price of livestock: Livestock prices are generally rising as compared to average in the main livestock markets, due to expected drops in supply during this period, and the animals' good physical condition. This trend toward above average prices should continue until April/May. Beginning in April, the expected decline in livestock-raising conditions, along with declines in the animals' physical condition, will cause an expected price drop. Prices will still remain above average due to favorable livestock-raising conditions which will prevent emergency selling of animals. However, in the unsafe areas in Liptako Gourma and some parts of northern Mali where market dysfunctions have been seen, prices will be below average due to low demand and the sale of stolen animals.
    • Rebuilding institutional stocks: Free and subsidized food distribution as part of the 2020 national response plan have considerably reduced OPAM's stocks. Purchases to rebuild the national buffer stock and the stock of other entities with an eye toward becoming involved in the national response plan for 2021 will be carried out. Demand will be below average or near average, due to the preference for cash transfers and vouchers instead of direct distributions that are seen as onerous and overly restrictive. Additionally, the socio-political crisis in Mali will limit the government's ability to meet these rebuilding needs in an ideal manner, which in turn will limit the level of institutional purchasing in Mali.
    • Flood impacts: The drop in agricultural production due to loss of crop land and declines in livelihood, specifically seen in the river valleys and lowlands will reduce poor households' ability to meet their food needs appropriately, and to rebuild their damaged livelihoods, which will make them more vulnerable to food insecurity.
    • Security situation: Security incidents continue to occur in conflict areas in central and northern Mali, despite ongoing negotiations by the government and various communities, which led to the signing of a peace agreement in some areas in central Mali. Explosive devices, confrontations with the army, and confrontations between rival groups are expected to continue. Despite the calmer situation and the hope raised by these negotiations, localized disturbances, specifically in the Liptako Gourma area, will continue to occur during the scenario period.
    • Population movements: Ongoing security incidents in northern and central Mali continue to cause population displacements as people look for safer areas. Changes in the security situation, particularly in the Liptako Gourma area, where there are ongoing incidents, attacks on villages, and an increasing number of military operations, make it impossible to hope for a major change as compared to the current situation.
    • Nutritional situation: The nutritional situation, which is not usually high during the lean season from June to September because of difficulties in accessing food, will improve beginning in October, due to the availability of harvests and a variety of foods, and to dropping food prices which promotes average household access to food products. Beginning in March and April, the usual negative health effects caused by water shortages, and increasing household dependency on markets, especially in low production areas, will contribute to decreased food consumption and a worsening nutritional situation. The usual decrease in animal product availability from March to May, and the implementation of stock management strategies will increasingly affect households' nutritional situation. The prevalence of global acute malnutrition will follow rising seasonal trends from March to May. This is expected to remain near average during the entire period, given the overall satisfactory food situation in Mali, and ongoing work to identify and treat malnutrition cases. However, in unsafe areas, we will see a decrease in the nutritional situation, beyond the usual prevalence in that area, due to difficult living conditions, especially for displaced households.
    • Humanitarian assistance: Ongoing humanitarian assistance, primarily for displaced households as part of the rapid response mechanisms will continue during the entire scenario period, but will not reach 20 percent coverage for the population in one area. The same is true for identification and treatment of malnutrition cases in social and health facilities. In terms of assistance for the pre-lean season (March to May) and support in the form of agricultural inputs (seeds, livestock food, and so on), this will occur primarily in northern and central Mali, according to the resources that are available from various humanitarian agencies.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    The availability of home-grown food, even if in small amounts in some places, in-kind items, and cash earned from harvesting work, animal products (milk, butter, cheese), and below average or near average food prices favor average household access to food throughout Mali. Additionally, a majority of households in Mali will be in a Minimal food insecurity situation (IPC Phase 1) from October 2020 to January 2021. Income from selling agricultural products, livestock, and from usual activities will allow poor people to have the means to access markets without much difficulty. However, decreased income caused by the combined effect of COVID-19 and insecurity will have a negative effect on poor households' ability to meet their food and non-food needs, specifically in urban centers, and for flood victims and those in unsafe areas that are suffering from decreased livelihoods. Thus, households that cannot meet their food needs without resorting to increased labor, migration, and decreasing their food costs will be in Stressed food insecurity (IPC Phase 2) from October 2020 to January 2021.

    From February to May 2021, poor households with limited and decreased livelihoods are in an unfavorable situation in the Liptako Gourma area, and in urban centers. Flood victims, primarily in Menaka, Kayes, Koulikoro, Segou, and Bamako will have difficulty meeting both their food and non-food needs. These households, who have relatively average access to food in this harvest period, even if harvests are small, will, due to local cooperation, see their food consumption and nutritional status rise to above average levels beginning in March. Average to above-average availability of pastures and water after the overwintering season favors good feeding conditions for livestock in Mali's various pastoral areas. The pastoral lean season will begin in March-April as in a typical year. Average to good agricultural production is expected in Mali, and changes in price, which will be slightly higher than average, favor good availability and average household access to grains during the entire 2020/2021 food year. This gives rise to hopes for an average lean season in Mali, beginning at the typical time, in June. However, the lean season will arrive one month early due to early depletion of stocks in localized areas with poor production, and especially in Liptako Gourma. Poor households that cannot meet their food needs without resorting to atypical coping strategies such as reducing non-food expenses and borrowing, will be in a Stressed food insecurity situation (IPC Phase 2), from March to May 2020, specifically in the Gao, Mopti, south Timbuktu, north Kayes, and northeast Koulikoro areas. However, beginning in May 2021, without humanitarian aid, the poorest households and particularly the displaced households will see their food security situation deteriorate to Crisis levels (IPC Phase 3).

    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

    National (office zones: Niger, the Gao river basin, and Timbuktu)

    Pest damage to crops from October to May

    Significant damage to off-season crops, caused by grain-eating birds, will reduce grain availability in agricultural areas, and may cause increased market prices. These price increases will reduce poor households' access to food, and will reduce farming households' income. The same is true of potential vegetable crop damage caused by caterpillars from October to March.


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

    New restrictions in Mali or in neighboring countries caused by rising COVID-19 cases will negatively impact economic activities, which are still sluggish due to the pandemic's effects. The resulting economic disruptions will limit poor households' ability to meet their food and non-food needs. Decreased job prospects in countries receiving migrants will reduce transfer amounts, already reduced by more than 30 percent for households that depend on them.

    North and central Mali.

    Increased market disruptions due to residual insecurity from October to May.

    Increased security incidents will further affect the economic environment in the areas in question; this will negatively impact income, supplies, and household livelihoods, and will increase poor households' vulnerability to food insecurity.

    Northern Mali (Zone 2, 3, 4) the Niger delta (Zone 6) and the Sahel band (Zone 13)

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

    These brush fires typically cause significant damage to pastures from December to May; this causes an atypical decline in pasturing and will create difficulties feeding livestock. The decline in animals' physical condition and in animal production, or even the deaths of animals, will negatively affect livelihoods for agropastoral households.

    Figures Rainy season is from mid-May until October. Land preparation is from April until June. Planting is from June until August. Ma

    Figure 1

    Mali Seasonal Calendar


    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    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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