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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

9 November 2007

Mixed Food Security Outlook in West Africa



Joint CILSS/FewsNet Crop Assessment Missions to the nine Sahelian countries (Burkina-Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal) have recently been completed, to review the evolution of 2007 cropping season and preliminary cereal production estimates prepared by the national agricultural statistics services. This year, the exercise was extended to three coastal countries: Benin, Ghana and Nigeria. FAO participated in some of these missions.

According to preliminary findings, a relatively good crop is expected in the Sahel in spite of this year’s erratic rains. Aggregate cereal production is forecast to be above the average of the previous five years in all Sahel countries, except in Cape Verde and Senegal, where output is expected to decline by 46 percent and 11 percent respectively. Crop prospects are less favourable in the countries along the Gulf of Guinea, notably in northern Nigeria, where coarse grain production is anticipated to decline significantly due to late and poorly distributed rains, and in Ghana where agricultural production was severely affected by long dry spells and floods. As a result, outlook for food production and availability is mixed in the Sub-region.

In view of the size of the agricultural sector in Nigeria and Ghana, a large cereal deficit in these countries will have a significant impact on regional cereal markets and push up prices because of the high level of market integration in West Africa. Nigeria is the largest producer in West Africa and its agricultural sector strongly affects the food supply position of the whole subregion, notably in some poor and vulnerable neighbouring Sahel nations. There are also significant trade flows between Ghana and Burkina-Faso, so losses in northern Ghana will likely be offset with inflows from Burkina Faso. There are already reports of rising food prices in northern Nigeria; GIEWS will continue to monitor closely price trends in Nigeria and neighbouring countries.

In Cape Verde, production of rainfed maize is estimated to be down by one-third in relation to last year’s below average crop (46 percent below the average of the previous five years). Haricot beans, which are usually associated with maize, have also been badly affected by adverse weather conditions. As a result of deteriorating agricultural conditions including decreasing and volatile rainfall, production has fallen sharply in recent years. Although Cape Verde usually imports the bulk of its consumption requirement, the continuing drop in food production may have serious consequences for food security because maize is mostly for home consumption, and a large proportion of farmers are finding themselves in a situation of increased vulnerability. Moreover, the implementation of the country’s safety net program may now be constrained by the low level of available food aid. Until recently, food aid played a major role in Cape Verde’s food policy, accounting for over 50 percent of total cereal consumption in some years. Monetisation of food aid to finance “cash for work” activities has been the main instrument used by the Government to deal with food emergencies. However, the amount of food aid received has declined sharply in recent years due to various factors, including the upgrading of Cape Verde to medium-developed country status from least-developed country, and the shift of several donors’ aid policy to direct budget support. As of late September the country had received only 3500 tonnes of food aid in 2007 compared to 22000 tonnes by the same period last year. Moreover, food imports and distribution, which were handled by a parastatal food supply agency, have been completely liberalised, increasing the exposure of the domestic food market to international commodity markets variability. Therefore, the food situation during marketing year 2007-08 will depend on two major factors:
  - The capacity of the Government to finance and implement an effective safety net program in the short term, to assist affected populations and restore their production capacity for the next agricultural season;
  - The evolution of international food prices and actions the Government may take to mitigate their impact on consumers’ purchasing power.

In Senegal, cereal production is estimated to have declined by 11 percent compared to the average of the previous five years, for the second year running. Large segments of the rural population, already suffering from the effects of last year’s low production, have yet again had poor harvests because of adverse weather. Their food security status will remain precarious and may even deteriorate further in commercial year 2007-2008 due to high and rising international food prices. Senegal is a food-deficit country whose domestic production covers only about half of the country’s cereal utilization requirements, so it relies heavily on rice and wheat imports, amounting to an average of 900 000 tonnes per annum, from the international market. Food prices are thus a key determinant of access to food for the majority of Senegalese. Lower domestic production in a context of tight international market is likely to lead to high inflationist pressure on the domestic food market and erode the purchasing power of urban and rural consumers. Finally, Mauritania is also likely to be seriously affected by increased international prices due to its high food import dependence and low per capita income levels.

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