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Mali: Impending planting season at risk, support to agriculture critical

FAO Director-General and Mali’s Minister for Agriculture stress need to restart local food production, build communities’ resilience
Photo: ©FAO/Jeanette Van Acker
15 February 2013, Rome - With Mali's next agricultural season set to begin in May, there is an urgent need to help displaced farmers return to their lands and resume food production when and where the evolving security situation permits, FAO said today following talks between Malian Minister for Agriculture Baba Berthé and the Organization's Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.

Minister Berthé stressed the importance of targeting assistance to returning farmers in areas which have seen an improvement in their security situation, as well as the need to build the resilience of smallholder farmers across all of Mali.

"Mali's primary planting season is set to begin in May. As the security situation continues to evolve, FAO, our partner agencies and the international community must do everything we can to help the government support farmers returning to their land, where it is safe to do so, and get back to growing food," said Graziano da Silva. "Mali simply cannot afford to write off the next growing season".

All told, an estimated 2 million people in the West African country are food insecure. Half of them are in the north, but the lingering effects of the 2011-12 food and nutrition security crisis, brought on by a combination of drought, high grain prices and environmental degradation, coupled with internal displacements, mean that another million in the south remain food insecure.

An evolving situation

More than 400,000 people have fled from their homes since conflict erupted in northern Mali last year, further exacerbating the pre-existing crisis.

Many of the displaced are farmers, who remain in refugee camps or host families in neighboring Burkina Faso Mauritania, and Niger. Other smallholders have temporarily relocated to southern Mali, placing strains on local food resources.

Although some people have started to return home and resume farming, they have not been able to cultivate their land as they have little or no access to the tools, seeds and animals necessary to begin production.

Meanwhile, despite improvements in the security situation in the north, most markets there remain closed.

Families are relying on household food stocks, and will be forced to turn to markets just as the lean season starts and prices are highest. They could resort to consuming or selling off seed stock intended for planting, as well as selling off other assets, like farming tools and supplies, to get by.

The World Food Programme is working to deliver emergency food supplies to the displaced (read more), targeting life-saving food relief to some 564,000 people in Mali and neighboring countries.

But in their meeting Berthé and Graziano da Silva stressed that in addition to this critical emergency relief, jump-starting local food production ahead of the upcoming growing season - which runs from May through July - has emerged as a critical need.

Resolving the ongoing conflict and restoring security throughout the country will be essential to improving Mali's food security over the long term.

Building resilience, restoring livelihoods

FAO has requested nearly $12 million in humanitarian support aimed at helping 490 000 families to not only cope with the impacts of past droughts but also build stronger livelihoods and more resilient agricultural systems through a wide range of farming and livestock support. An additional $10 million is needed to assist new IDPs, returnees, and host families in Mali, FAO estimates.

This includes the provision of quality seeds, farming tools and supplies, and veterinary health services, as well as extension programmes aimed at giving farmers the means to better produce, process and conserve, their production (more details).

Speaking with Graziano da Silva, Berthé stressed the importance of strengthening existing irrigation projects that have been very effective in drought recovery. Livestock breeders across the country need assistance restoring depleted animal stocks, as well, he said.

Conflict has disrupted FAO's ability to monitor locust movements in Mali, and Berthé and Graziano da Silva stressed the need to resume monitoring activity as soon as possible, in order to stave off any potential outbreaks of the pest following the summer rains.