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Poor start to the agropastoral season in central and northern areas

  • Special Report
  • Senegal
  • August 31, 2015
Poor start to the agropastoral season in central and northern areas

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  • Key Messages
  • Background
  • Methodology
  • Mission Findings
  • Food Security Outlook
  • Post-Mission Update on Conditions
  • Key Messages
    • This year, farmers are resorting to short-cycle varieties of cowpea and Souna millet crops more than usual as a strategy to limit the negative effects of the late start of the rains on crop production in order to ensure near-average crop yields. With the likely downsizing of the land area planted in groundnuts, Senegal’s main cash crop, household incomes between December and March will likely be below average.

    • The poor pastoral conditions between February and June severely affected pastoral incomes, which have been well below-average as a result of the decline in animal production and livestock prices. The larger than usual numbers of animal deaths have adversely affected the livelihoods of pastoral households, limiting their food access on local markets. However, the recent recovery of pastures and replenishment of watering holes have helped improve the situation in many pastoral areas.

    • Food assistance from the government and its humanitarian partners is easing poor households’ food insecurity. Humanitarian food and non-food assistance and cash transfer programs will limit the use of atypical coping strategies (ex. borrowing and reducing food and nonfood expenditures) by recipient households.

    • An examination of food prices on domestic markets shows prices for locally grown millet still slightly above-average and prices for regular broken rice, the main foodstuff consumed by Senegalese households, at below-average levels. However, despite these prices, the below-average incomes of poor agropastoral households is preventing many households from adequating accessing these food items.


    Domestic cereal production for 2014 was approximately 20 percent below the five-year average. Groundnut production, which is the country’s main cash crop, was 50 percent below-average, cutting the incomes of poor agropastoral households in central and northern areas of the country. The premature depletion of household food stocks has engendered a need for extra cash to adequately meet household food requirements. However, the reduction in income from the sale of livestock and dairy products as a result of the poor pastoral conditions caused by below-average 2014 rainfall is negatively affecting the market access of poor agropastoral households.

    Based on this limited food access, both the Cadre Harmonisé workshop and FEWS NET projected Crisis (IPC/CH Phase 3) during the June to August 2015 lean season.

    Adding to concerns over the effects of the poor 2014 rainfall conditions on current food security outcomes, remote sensing data for July 2015 suggested that the 2015 rainy season had started several weeks late in certain parts of Senegal and that cumulative seasonal rainfall totals and the condition of vegetation were both below-average. This contributed to concerns that a poor start-of-season would prolong the lean season for pastoral populations or hurt this year’s crop production.

    With food insecurity at Crisis levels and the unpromising start to the 2015/2016 growing season, the food security situation needs to be closely monitored in order to provide decision-makers with early warning data. It is to this end that FEWS NET organized a mission to Senegal in conjunction with the Executive Secretariat for the country’s National Food Security Council (SECNSA). The mission was conducted between July 27th and August 3, 2015 in at-risk areas of the country, particularly in the Fatick, Kaffrine, Tambacounda, Matam, Saint-Louis, and Louga regions.


    The members of the mission met with government officials and technicians in the fields of agriculture, livestock, food security, etc. in all visited areas. They held separate meetings with technical units in all such areas except in the Louga region, where representatives of technical agencies and farmers organizations gathered with the Administrative Assistant to the Governor to assess the situation. The mission also made field trips to croplands, rangelands, livestock markets, and cereal markets to assess the situation and talk directly with farmers, pastoralists, and traders.

    Mission Findings

    Rainfall conditions

    On the whole, the rainy season got off to an earlier start than last season and with better spatial-temporal distribution. Compared to a typical year, it began one to two weeks later than usual in the central part of the country and more or less on schedule in the north. There had been large amounts of rain in most of the areas visited by the mission, which caused major damage to homes in these areas. However, rainfall levels as of July 20th were deemed too low for the start-up of crop planting activities in certain parts of the Fatick (Gossas department), Kaffrine (Koungheul and Kaffrine departments), Tambacounda (Bakel and Tamba departments), Matam (Ranérou and Matam departments), Louga (Louga and Kébémer departments), and Saint-Louis (Podor and Saint Louis departments) regions.

    The level of the Senegal River was at approximately three meters, which is similar to last year’s levels at the same time but too low for the proper irrigation of flood-recession farming areas, particularly in Podor and Matam departments.

    Growing season

    On the whole, there were average to good ongoing harvests of off-season rice crops in the Senegal River Valley, with average yields of five to six metric tons/hectare. The same goes for the ongoing harvests of tomato and onion crops.

    With the low flood stage of the river in 2014 preventing the proper irrigation of flood recession farming areas, there were poor harvests of flood recession crops in June-July, which normally bring relief to farming households at that time of year. The resulting shortage of maize, sorghum, potatoes, and groundnuts used as lean season foods was further aggravating the already poor food security situation in certain areas visited by the mission.

    This year, crop farmers were furnished with farm input assistance (in the form of seeds, fertilizer, and urea) by the government and food security partners (ex. FAO). They were also furnished with millet, maize, groundnut, and cowpea seeds at subsidized prices 50 percent below market prices. This helped many farmers after the last poor growing season, enabling them to buy millet seeds at 140 CFAF/kg, compared with a market price of 225 to 250 CFAF, and groundnut seeds at 350 CFAF/kg, compared with a market price of 500 to 750 CFAF. However, there were major delays in the delivery of these inputs to certain areas such as the Tambacounda region and the quota allocated to each farmer was reportedly rather small.

    To forestall any delay in planting activities, farmers began dry planting crops as early as June. With the start of the rainy season, there were crop planting and plowing activities underway in all areas visited by the mission. Crop planting activities followed the rhythm of the rain, with a few cases of the replanting of failed crops, particularly in Kaolack, Fatick, and Tambacounda. Unlike the situation in 2014 when there were several rounds of planting (four in the Matam region), this year, in general, there was reportedly only a single round. Early-planted crops ranged from the germination to the sprouting-leaf formation stage of development.

    During the 2014 growing season, crop yields were poor to very poor, as low as 30 to more than 50 percent below-average, depending on the crop and area in question. As a result, the price of a kilogram of groundnut seeds in Louga was 36 percent above-average, driven up by the low level of market supplies after last year’s poor crop production. With their shortage of income and the high price of seeds, certain households cut back the land area planted in groundnuts (which are normally the main source of household income in the groundnut basin), in favor of the planting of more short-cycle cowpea and millet crops this year.

    Despite these reported problems, the frequent rainfall since the last dekad of July and generally stable plant health conditions are promising signs and, in general, the growing season is deemed to be going fairly well.

    The flooding problems in certain areas visited by the mission are noteworthy, particularly in the Kaffrine region where heavy downpours during the last week of July caused major property damage in the municipality of Kaffrine. The heavy rains in Arafat, a religious site in the municipality of Koungheul, caused the death of an infant and severely affected 112 households. There were also reports of a human fatality and property damage in Kanel department.

    Pastoral conditions

    The situation in pastoral areas was marked by the severely degraded condition of pasturelands, particularly in the Matam, Saint-Louis, and Louga regions where there was practically no grass cover for grazing animals. There was some new pasture growth with the rainfall activity during the last week of July, but this has mostly just benefited small ruminants. These conditions were causing pastoralists to indiscriminately lop off tree branches to meet the needs of their animals.

    With the poor condition of pastures as a result of the 2014 rainfall deficit and the delay in new pasture growth this year, there have been larger than usual numbers of animal deaths, particularly for sheep and cattle. Pastoralists left early for the south and, in some cases, for Mali, in search of pasture for their animals, looking to limit the number of fatalities. These early, mass herd movements southwards created overgrazing problems in normal livestock receiving areas. In addition, animal herds put off their return migration to rainy season grazing areas on account of the delay in the improvement in pastoral conditions, which could trigger disputes with local farmers.

    This year, there have been mass sales of small ruminants by better-off pastoralists looking to purchase animal feed for their cattle. For poor households, atypically large numbers of animal deaths and their excessive sales of livestock in order to meet food needs at prices that declined by more than 50 percent between May and early July severely thinned their herds. This, in turn, has resulted in a total livelihood protection deficit for poor households and has heightened their vulnerability to food insecurity.

    The Senegalese government furnished pastoralists across the country with 14,000 metric tons of animal feed at subsidized prices as part of Opération de Sauvegarde du Bétail (its livestock protection program). The extension of this program by different cooperatives has helped save the animals of those with access to these operations. Pastoralists have also been furnished with seeds for forage crops as part of efforts to improve food availability for livestock.

    In southern and south-central areas, there was already visible new pasture growth, which will help herds recover and improve milk production, which was virtually nonexistent at the time of the mission due to the poor physical condition of milking animals. Milk consumption, which accounts for a large part of the diets of pastoral households, was expected to resume sometime in August.


    In general, there was average cereal availability on local markets. There was a large availability of rice in the Senegal River Valley (in Matam and Saint Louis) with the ongoing harvests of off-season rice crops in that area. However, supplies of millet and maize in the Matam, Tambacounda, Fatick, and Saint-Louis regions were lower than normal due to the poor 2014 crop production. Most of the millet and sorghum found on local markets were from the Saloum area (Kaolack, Kaffrine, and Fatick) and neighboring countries (Gambia and Mali). However, even with the sharper than usual decline in cereal availability, there were still adequate market supplies to meet consumer demand.

    There were more and more reports of seasonal declines in market prices, though prices for imported broken rice, the main cereal consumed by Senegalese households, were holding steady. The stability of millet prices on certain markets despite the low levels of production in 2014 was attributable to 1) a decline in demand in favor of maize, cowpeas, and rice, and 2) changes in household eating habits as many rural households were replacing their traditional morning meal of couscous with coffee, bread, and cowpeas. With the ongoing rice harvests, prices for locally grown rice, ranging from 270 to 275 CFAF/kg, were expected to drop to 250 CFAF by the beginning of August, as these harvests continued.

    Looking ahead, there will be small seasonal rises in cereal prices between now and September, but they should stay close to average, particularly with the buffer effect of ongoing food assistance programs on this upward price trend.

    Business was picking up on the main livestock markets visited by the mission with the sales of animals by pastoralists looking to stock up on supplies before heading north and with the approaching celebration of Tabaski, as reflected by the number of male sheep on local markets. After weeks of sharply falling prices (between May and July) due to the poor pastoral conditions and resulting reduced demand for livestock, prices are gradually improving with the emerging new grass cover and approaching Tabaski. Sheep prices on the large livestock market in Darah (in Linguère department) were up from the month of June by around 30 percent, though still approximately 36 percent below-average.

    There were reports of distress animal sales in most areas visited by the mission as part of a herd thinning strategy by pastoralists looking to cut their livestock losses. Prices for cows in Matam, for example, were reportedly in some cases as much as 70 percent below-normal in May and June on account of their poor physical condition. In this type of situation in which livestock are in such poor physical condition, the rare well-fattened animals offered for sale on the market go for extremely high prices, which benefits better-off pastoralists with the means to properly maintain their livestock herds.

    Food security situation

    The food security situation for low-income households with limited market access for the purchasing of adequate food supplies was becoming increasingly problematic. In the groundnut basin, the shortfall in groundnut production, which is the main source of income for farming households, was a key driver in reducing household incomes to more than 30 percent below-average.

    The picture for pastoral households in areas visited by the mission was hardly any brighter. There was talk of livestock losses in many of the villages visited in Matam, Tambacounda, and Louga due to the shortage of pasture. In addition, the decline in livestock prices (which were 30 to 50 percent below-average) on account of their poor physical condition contributed to the erosion in livestock-to-cereal terms of trade.

    In the Senegal River Valley, the sharp decline in flood recession crop production was significantly affecting food availability for poor households. However, the availability of rice crops earned as in-kind wages for work during the harvest was easing the food security situation of these households, which had no irrigated rice fields of their own, to some extent.

    According to the people encountered in the different areas visited by the mission, these large declines in income were limiting the food access of poor households.

    Ongoing coping strategies

    In the face of these hardships, households were resorting to atypical coping strategies to mitigate their food security problems. In addition, some poor households had changed their eating habits, cutting the number of their daily meals back from three to either one or two per day, which could drive up malnutrition rates.

    Many households in the valley, particularly in diéri areas of the northern agropastoral zone, were more reliant than usual on migrant remittances. Unfortunately, in many cases, these remittances were no sufficient to cover needs, particularly those from internal migrant workers, which are generally the case with poor households.

    Households were also more reliant than usual on cash and in-kind loans from traders or better-off relatives, to be repaid from the next harvest around October 2015. In addition, there were growing numbers of unsecured loans from group savings and loan schemes set up in local villages.

    Moreover, according to certain evidence collected by the mission, reductions in food spending achieved by cutting out purchases of meat and fish were contributing to the rise in the already chronically critical levels of malnutrition in northern areas of the country. This was also true in the case of pastoralists who, at the time, were without a supply of milk for household consumption and sale.

    By September, the reportedly larger tracts of land planted in short-cycle cowpea crops in certain areas could ease the food security problems faced by poor households.

    Ongoing assistance programs

    The problematic food security situation of poor households across the central and northern reaches of the country hurt by the poor 2014 crop production prompted the Senegalese government to formulate and implement a national response plan in conjunction with the humanitarian community with three main components: namely, food assistance for poor households; animal feed assistance for agropastoral households; and the treatment of malnutrition. Its coordination was entrusted to the SECNSA, the Executive Secretariat for the National Food Security Council.

    The plan initially targeted 927,416 people (approximately 92,742 households) for food assistance. Eighty percent of these households were covered by the Senegalese government with the help of a US$16.5 million payout from ARC (African Risk Capacity), a Pan-African mutual risk and disaster management association. The government’s main partners in this endeavor were:

    • WFP, serving approximately 15,567 households in Dagana, Tambacounda, Matam, Bakel, and Podor departments;
    • the Senegalese Red Cross, operating in Goudiry department;
    • a consortium formed by ACTED (the French Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development), CECI (the Center for International Studies and Cooperation), and ACF (Action Against Hunger), operating in the Matam region;
    • OXFAM, operating in the Kolda and Kédougou regions; and
    • CARITAS, operating in the Saint-Louis and Thiès regions.

    The Government of Senegal was distributing rice to recipient households for a period of three months. Each target household was to receive 10 kg of rice per person for a maximum of ten household members. The government’s partners were supplying recipients with cash or vouchers for the purchasing of food supplies. The WFP, for example, was to provide target households with cash payments and food vouchers amounting to 5,000 CFAF per person for a maximum of nine household members, or a total of 45,000 CFAF per household. Ground operations for the distribution of this food assistance got off to a slow start. The Food Security Commission (CSA) in charge of dispatching the rice shipments, was having problems getting them to the distribution outlets.

    Food Security Outlook

    The problematic food security situation for poor households during this year’s ongoing lean season will improve for a good many households with the proper implementation of the national response plan between July and September 2015.

    The use of short-cycle varieties of cowpea and maize crops will give households a supply of green crops by September which, with the gathering of wild plant foods, should put an end to this year’s longer than usual lean season.

    In addition to scaling up their wage labor, poor pastoral households will receive a few head of livestock donated by better-off households from community assistance networks to enable them to use the milk as a source of food and income. The rising price of livestock, particularly with the approaching celebration of Tabaski, will also help improve terms of trade for pastoralists and their cereal access through market purchase.

    Post-Mission Update on Conditions

    The good pattern of rainfall in all areas of the country during the month of August helped promote good crop development and improving pastoral conditions across the country, raising new hope for near-average levels of crop and animal production. However, the heavy damage from the reported floods in the Dakar and Kaolack regions is negatively affecting the already critical living conditions of local households during the ongoing lean season.

    In general, there are adequate market supplies despite the sharper than usual contraction in supplies of locally grown cereal crops. On the whole, prices for regular broken rice, the main cereal consumed by Senegalese households, have been stable since last month and are close to or below-average, which is helping to improve household food access.

    The physical recovery of livestock with the improvement in pastoral conditions, the resumption of milk production, and the rising prices of livestock, fueled by demand for the approaching celebration of Tabaski, particularly for small ruminants, are helping to boost the incomes of pastoral households to near-average levels, thereby improving their market access.

    The distributions of humanitarian food assistance under the national response plan by the government and its partners have slightly improved the Crisis (IPC Phase 3) situation of households in northern areas of the country. Ongoing distributions of food rations and cash transfer payments are enabling poor recipient households to limit their recourse to borrowing and sales of productive assets. The expected harvests of green short-cycle cowpea and maize crops in September will improve the food security situation. Agropastoral households will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security conditions until the main harvest at the end of October.

    Figures Figure 1. Planting of groundnut crops in Thianène (Louga) on August 2, 2015

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Planting of groundnut crops in Thianène (Louga) on August 2, 2015


    Figure 2. Field of maize in Tambacounda

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Field of maize in Tambacounda


    Figure 3. Small ruminants returning from seasonal grazing areas in Boulal

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. Small ruminants returning from seasonal grazing areas in Boulal


    Figure 4. Livestock in physical distress in Matam

    Figure 4

    Figure 4. Livestock in physical distress in Matam


    Figure 5. Livestock in Matam

    Figure 5

    Figure 5. Livestock in Matam


    Table 1.  July 2015 prices for food crops and small ruminants

    Figure 6

    Table 1. July 2015 prices for food crops and small ruminants


    Figure 6. Estimated cumulative rainfall anomalies (RFE) for the period from July 28th through August 26, 2015, as a percentag

    Figure 7

    Figure 6. Estimated cumulative rainfall anomalies (RFE) for the period from July 28th through August 26, 2015, as a percentage of the average

    Source: NOAA

    Occasionally, FEWS NET will publish a Special Report that serves to provide an in-depth analysis of food security issues of particular concern that are not covered in FEWS NET’s regular monthly reporting. These reports may focus on a specific factor driving food security outcomes anywhere in the world during a specified period of time. For example, in 2019, FEWS NET produced a Special Report on widespread flooding in East Africa and its associated impacts on regional food security.

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