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Race on to help farmers and herders in drought-stricken Sahel

FAO calls for an additional $69.8 million to head off food and nutrition crisis

Photo: ©FAO/Issouf Sanogo
FAO is working to protect and restore livelihoods in the Sahel.

9 March 2012, Rome – Several countries in the Sahel region of western Africa need urgent support to prevent a full-blown food and nutrition security crisis and to protect and restore livelihoods of communities dependent on livestock and crops, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The agency is calling for at least $69.8 million in additional funding to provide assistance to 790 000 vulnerable farming and herding households, who have been caught in a cycle of recurring food crises.

At least 15 million people are estimated to be at risk of food insecurity in the Sahel, in part due to localized, but significant, declines in agropastoral production. This includes 5.4 million people in the Niger (35 percent of the population), 3 million in Mali (20 percent), around 1.7 million in Burkina Faso (10 percent), around 3.6 million in Chad (28 percent), 850 000 in Senegal (6 percent), 713 500 in the Gambia (37 percent) and 700 000 in Mauritania (22 percent).

The looming crisis is due to a combination of factors, including drought; sharp declines in cereal production and high grain prices; a shortage of fodder for livestock; a reduction in remittances from migrant workers in several countries; environmental degradation; displacement; and chronic poverty deepened by chronic crisis.

Total 2011 cereal production in the Sahel was on average 25 percent lower than in 2010, but as much as 50 percent lower in Chad and Mauritania. There were also localized, huge food production deficits in other countries (up to 80 percent), according to the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA), a forum which includes governments, donors and others involved in food security issues in West Africa.

There were also reported increases in the number of displaced persons in the region. This includes a total of 63 000 internally displaced persons in Mali who have fled conflict in the northern section of that country, and more than 60 000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries.

“We need to act to prevent further deterioration of the food security situation and to avoid a full-scale food and nutrition crisis,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said.

“Part of the solution is to improve the access of farmers and herders to local markets, encourage the use of local products, and apply risk-reduction good practices to reinforce their resilience”, said Graziano da Silva.


Taking action

FAO is working with its partners to “stop jumping from crisis to crisis,” by getting life-saving and livelihood-saving cash, food, agricultural inputs and training to the people who need them most, in addition to planning longer-term interventions to protect and restore the livelihoods of farmers, agropastoralists and pastoralists, the Director-General said.

Immediately planned FAO support will include: 

  • helping farmers with the delivery of food crops and vegetable seeds in time for the main planting season, which begins in May
  • increases in off-season irrigated crop production
  • drought-related assistance to herders, including the distribution of animal feed, use of cash vouchers to rehabilitate natural pastures and water points
  • production of animal fodder; livestock destocking, and veterinary inputs
  • provision of integrated nutrition practices through agriculture, livestock rearing, school gardens, and nutrition education for women with children
  • support for reinforcement of food security-information, early-warning systems and coordination.


The FAO Director-General said regional and local leadership, supported by UN coordination, will be crucial to the success of a twin-track approach. This approach aims to ensure that critical, short-term hunger needs are met, while action is taken to protect the assets and livelihood systems of farmers and pastoralists and build resilience in the long term.

“If we are to avoid yet another disaster, the humanitarian and livelihoods responses must be funded and applied on a scale that ensures protection of all vulnerable communities before they are forced to shed their assets,” Graziano da Silva explained.

Regional coordination

FAO’s response to the situation in the Sahel is taking place as part of an already active regional strategy. Humanitarian organizations have already launched the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Regional Strategy for Preparedness and Response to a Food, Nutrition and Livelihood Crisis in the Sahel, in addition to Consolidated Appeals Processes (CAPs) for Chad and Niger.

FAO is working with the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS, by its French acronym) as well as with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), WFP, and governments through joint food security, agricultural and markets assessments.

The Organization is also providing support, through the IASC, to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in order to further strengthen its capacities to intervene in potential humanitarian crisis.

FAO’s emergency response requirements

Since 2010, a total of $ 25.4 million has been allocated through FAO to the Sahel. At least an additional $ 75.4 million are required to support 790 000 vulnerable households. While $ 5.6 million have been mobilized, a funding gap of $69.8 million remains. The donors which have provided assistance in the region include Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the European Union and its Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), Finland, France, Luxemburg, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.