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Western Africa and the Sahel

Western 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 2017

The 2016/17 agropastoral campaign was overall satisfactory in the Sahel, except in the Lake Chad Basin and in northern Mali due to civil insecurity. The nutritional situation also remains of concern particularly in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, the Niger and northeastern Nigeria.

Without adequate means to restore their livelihoods, vulnerable households will be forced to turn to negative coping mechanisms (e.g. selling productive assets, reducing the number and quality of daily meals, accumulating debt, decreasing expenditures for non-food related items, etc.) leaving them even more vulnerable to future shocks thus aggravating food insecurity. During the upcoming 2017 lean season, about 15 million people are expected to be affected by food insecurity in the Sahel.

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. Staple food prices have also increased up to 50‒100 percent, as reported in some areas of Borno State, Nigeria (2016). In northeastern Nigeria, more returnees are expected to go back to their area of origin in 2017, thus increasing the need for support 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.

FAO and resilience in West Africa and the Sahel

In order to break the cycle of crises in the Sahel, governments and international aid organisations 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 and nutrition insecurity 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 developing Cash+ activities in the Sahel, 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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