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West Africa and the Sahel

West Africa and the Sahel

In West Africa and the Sahel, as a result of chronic poverty, high population growth, limited investments in agriculture and lack of access to basic services, rural communities are extremely vulnerable to recurrent shocks. The majority of the population depends on agricultural and pastoral activities for their livelihoods that are particularly susceptible to natural disasters. When they occur, floods, droughts and pests can have a direct impact on the food security and nutrition situation.

In recent years, growing insecurity due to terrorist threats has worsened the Sahel’s chronic hardship, especially in the Lake Chad Basin and in northern Mali. In affected areas, the current crisis is adding to existing poverty, vulnerability, food insecurity and malnutrition patterns.

Challenges to food security and livelihoods in 2018

The 2017/18 agropastoral campaign was marked by severe rainfall deficits and erratic distribution of rains across the Sahel. Pasture and water shortages have contributed to causing early transhumance movement ‒ nearly 3 to 4 months before compared with a regular year. In Mauritania, around 2.4 million animals have already started moving, including 80 percent into Mali and Senegal. Livestock are increasingly being concentrated in smaller areas, raising concerns about the outbreak and spread of disease, potential conflict with settled farmers and the impact on the already fragile environment. The prices of staple cereals and livestock feed are rising, while the price pastoralists are able to sell their livestock for is declining. Livestock nutrition and body conditions are also deteriorating as are the quantity and quality of pasture lands.

As household food stocks are depleted, vulnerable families are increasingly depending on wild foods and markets earlier than usual for staple foods, as well as the adoption of negative coping mechanisms in order to deal with the crisis (e.g. selling productive assets, reducing the number and quality of daily meals, accumulating debt, decreasing expenditures for non-food related items, etc.).

In the Lake Chad Basin, unprecedented levels of displacements, coupled with the prolonged disruption of agricultural, livestock and fishing activities, have caused a deterioration of the food security situation in recent years. Most of the displaced people rely on the already limited resources of host communities, who themselves have suffered from the disruption of agricultural activities, trade and transhumance flows. As significant numbers of returnees have gone back to their communities to resume production in northeastern Nigeria, support is needed to rebuild and improve their livelihoods while restoring the agriculture sector. Their protection will also be considered as a priority, allowing for returnees to peacefully reestablish in a secure and enabling environment.

Strengthening resilience

In order to break the cycle of crises in the Sahel, governments and international aid organizations have agreed to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable populations. Identifying and addressing the root causes of crises reinforces resilience and allows for durable improvements by reaching the most vulnerable people. Therefore, FAO’s work on resilience focuses on developing, protecting and restoring sustainable livelihoods in order to reduce the impact of crises for communities that depend on farming, livestock, fisheries, forestry and other natural resources.

FAO’s Regional Resilience, Emergency and Rehabilitation Office for West Africa/Sahel (REOWA) is based in Dakar since 2006, aiming at liaising and coordinating with resilience and humanitarian partners at regional level. The REOWA team also provides strategic guidance and support in food security analysis, disaster risk reduction, resilience and crisis management to FAO country offices in the subregion.

Through its integrated resilience approach in the Sahel, FAO contributes to improving the food security and nutrition of vulnerable populations by:

  • Strengthening national and regional capacities to better identify, measure and analyse the dynamics of food security and resilience at household and community levels. For instance, the development of the Cadre Harmonisé, supported by FAO, enables the seasonal analysis and identification of populations facing food insecurity and malnutrition in 17 countries of the Sahel and West Africa. Launched in 2016, the Platform for the analysis and measurement of resilience of populations in the Sahel and West Africa (PTMR-SAO) also represents a unique opportunity to better guide investments to strengthen populations’ resilience and to assess the impact of implemented policies.
  • Increasing the resilience of vulnerable households affected by repeated shocks through innovative approaches. REOWA is currently implementing cash-based activities in the Sahel, including cash+ activities, combining unconditional cash transfers with the provision of in-kind inputs to protect their livelihoods, diversify their sources of income and accumulate productive assets.
  • Supporting the resilience agenda in the Sahel by playing an active role in the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative (AGIR) and supporting governments to design their national resilience priorities. FAO is also one of the lead agencies in facilitating the implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS).

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