Food security situation in the Sahel remains dire

Food security situation in the Sahel remains dire

04/09/2013

11 million people are food insecure – Support for food and livestock production urgently needed – FAO appeal

About 11 million people in the Sahel are still severely food insecure, FAO warned today. Poor families have used up their food stocks and are facing high food prices awaiting the next harvest.

FAO is appealing to the international community to increase funding for aid to the most vulnerable farmers and herders in the region south of the Sahara.

Despite an FAO appeal for a total of $113.1 million this year to support almost 6 million vulnerable people in the Sahel, only $19.4 million has been received, about 17 percent of the total.

With the contributions received so far, FAO has been supporting 1.6 million farmers, agropastoralists and pastoralists.

"The recurrent food and nutrition crises in the Sahel in 2005, 2008 and 2012 have eroded the capacity of the poor to maintain or restore their livelihoods," said Lamourdia Thiombiano, interim head of the FAO Regional Office for Africa and the Subregional Office for West Africa. "Instead of working their own fields, many poor farmers are forced to sell their labour and were unable to benefit from the good weather of 2012."

"The needs of the Sahel region are enormous and a renewed commitment from the donor community is required to support agriculture and livestock production," he said. "Investing in agriculture and strengthening the resilience of poor farmers helps to reduce hunger and poverty and to fend off future food crises in the region."

The crisis continues

Of particular concern is the food security situation in northern Mali, northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries, where prices for coarse grains such as sorghum, millet and maize continue to increase.

The nutritional status of children under five also remains worrisome, with a continuing high prevalence of acute malnutrition. Admissions to nutrition rehabilitation centres are close to 2012 levels, particularly in Chad, Mali, the Niger and Nigeria. Over 1.4 million children are at risk of severe malnutrition in 2013.

How households are affected

This year the lean season, also called the hunger season, came earlier than usual because of the negative effects the 2012 crisis had on the poorest households. Families were forced to sell their cereals to pay their debts. They lost livestock and had low livestock birth rates. Families that have mostly exhausted their food stocks are obliged to buy food at the market just as food prices are high.

At the same time, population displacements due to insecurity in some parts of the region - in particular Mali and Nigeria - have caused further stress on host communities already affected by the recent food and nutrition crises, and have increased competition over access to basic services.

Many refugees brought their livestock with them, adding pressure on scarce grazing land and water, endangering animals in the region with the possible spread of animal diseases and increasing conflict between pastoralist refugees and host communities.

In order to be sure of a minimum revenue, the poorest rural households resort to selling their labour instead of working their own land. As a consequence, the most vulnerable were unable to profit from the good climatic conditions and good harvest of 2012.

FAO's strategy builds resilience

FAO works to build up the resilience of farmers and herders to withstand such shocks.

Funding is needed to provide seeds, fertilizer and small agricultural tools to farmers for the next agricultural season, which runs from October 2013 to April 2014; to strengthen storage, processing and transportation of agricultural goods; and for nutrition education. To support the region's pastoralists, funding is also needed for livestock food supplements, animal health campaigns, herd restocking and technical support to improve livestock management.

Early warning and preparedness activities to predict and mitigate future crises, rehabilitation of irrigation systems and water points as well as restoration of degraded lands are key to reinforce the productive capacities in the area and the resilience of the Sahelian populations.

Main donors supporting FAO's campaign in the Sahel include Austria, Belgium, European Commission, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and USAID.