Sahel Markets Under Pressure | Food Security | Niger

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The people of Africa’s Sahel region are facing an increasing risk of widespread food crisis, following a series of crises over recent years which has slashed incomes, undermined livelihoods and reduced their borrowing capacity. Low rainfall, abnormally high grain prices and increased insecurity in part of the region have contributed to their vulnerability. It is estimated that more than 18 million people are currently in a situation of food insecurity in the Sahel, where even in a good harvest year, malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world. Markets in the region are already showing signs that regional trade in agricultural produce will be unable to supply adequate quantities of food in the coming months, increasing the risk of a worsening food security situation. Oxfam ROPPA, RBM, APESS, POSCAO and WILDAF are calling for urgent action to support the markets of the region and to allow the people of the Sahel to access food in adequate quantities and quality in the approach to and throughout the hunger gap.
  Inter-agency briefing note 31 May 2012 Sahel Markets Under Pressure   POSCAO-AC Summary Harvests in Africa’s  Sahel region from the 2011/12 season are down sharply compared with last year and have been later than usual, extending the previous ‘ hunger gap ’  period. A further aggravating factor for the people of the region is that local grain prices failed to drop as they generally do in the period after the harvest. In December 2011, prices reached levels that were 80% above their five-year averages and remained at high levels, compromising access to adequate food for vulnerable populations. Together with the main agencies involved in the crisis, Oxfam, ROPPA, RBM, APESS, POSCAO and WILDAF estimate that more than 18 million people are currently in a situation of food insecurity in the Sahel. Sahelian countries have a structural grain deficit and are usually supplied by coastal countries, as local supplies dwindle and prices increase in the run up to the hunger gap. This year, the markets will not be able to supply the deficit areas with adequate quantities or at affordable prices. The unusual spread of the deficit areas across the Sahel, from Senegal to Chad, further complicates grain supplies. Conflict in northern Mali and to a lesser degree in Nigeria adds to the complexity of the crisis and the problems of providing an effective response. Furthermore, trade restrictions imposed by Mali and Burkina Faso, the high price levels of maize and millet in several coastal countries and the increased fuel prices in part of the region tend to reduce the movement of grain to deficit areas of the Sahel and to push costs up. As the hunger gap period approaches, it is likely that grain prices will continue to rise from their already abnormally high levels, especially as some areas are running shortages and as conflicts intensify in the region. Many households are facing the fact that their sources of income are being undermined. Terms of trade are deteriorating for pastoral populations, as their traditional transhumance corridors are disturbed by regional conflicts. Displaced populations are intensifying pressure on the scarce natural resources still available and place an extra burden on the host populations. The impact of migrants returning from Libya will also be felt for the first time in a hunger gap, reducing the incomes of 3 million people in the Sahel. Numerous households are also facing a slump in casual labour opportunities due to border conflicts and the crisis in some cash crop industries, such as the onion industry in northern Niger. These work opportunities offer crucial coping strategies for the most vulnerable fringes of the population. Oxfam ROPPA, RBM, APESS, POSCAO and WILDAF believe that the situation could continue to deteriorate sharply in the coming months, and call for an urgent deployment of resources to support those already affected by problems accessing food. The member states, ECOWAS and the international community should: Over the short term, support people’s purchasing power and the functioning of the regional market (by facilitating the movement of grain within the region), while anticipating risks of major disruption to the markets over the coming months; In the mid-term, member states and ECOWAS should build capacities to regulate markets (national and regional), in particular by implementing the ECOWAS food security storage strategy. 1    2 Introduction A large swathe of the population of the Sahel is in a situation of chronic food and nutritional insecurity. Even during a good harvest year, malnutrition rates remain among the highest in the word. Sahelian households have undergone several major food crises in 2005, 2008 and 2010, and so have been unable to rebuild their livelihoods.   On average, the people of the Sahel only produce half of their food needs and are not strongly integrated into the markets on which they trade their produce or their labour. Consequently, their access to food is based on three intrinsically linked elements: the markets being supplied in adequate quantities; affordable prices being maintained for staple foods; and the ability of their households to generate revenue. However, for a major part of the Sahelian population one or all of these elements is challenged or is likely to be so in the short term. More than eighteen million people are already food insecure in the Sahel because of the abnormally high prices seen since the harvest. Analysts 2  have long debated the role of markets in preventing the spread of a major food crisis over the whole of the Sahel due to a lack access and availability. Moreover, it seems that the markets are failing to respond effectively to the food security challenge that confronts the region. The most optimistic outlook for markets has been disrupted by recent socio-political turmoil and the worsening security situation in the Sahel. Trading of agricultural products is especially hampered by increased border controls and harassment on the road which makes it hard to send supplies to areas with a grain deficit. Moreover, as the region moves gradually into the hunger gap period, prices remain abnormally high with no prospect of change in the short term. This situation could lead to supply disruptions in the areas affected by regional conflicts, thus making it more difficult for the most vulnerable households to access staple foods. The abnormally high level of grain prices since the harvest compromises access to food for the people of the Sahel Final production estimates for the 2011/2012 agricultural season were released in March 2012 during a regional dialogue meeting that brought together the main regional and international institutions involved in analysing the food situation in West Africa (CILSS 3 , FAO 4 , WFP 5  and FEWSNET 6 ) in Abidjan. 7  Since then, these different agencies have gradually confirmed the severity of the agro-pastoral crisis in the region. 8  Even if the production levels for the 2011/2012 agricultural season are within the five-year averages (+5%) throughout the ECOWAS region, yields are sharply down on the previous year for Sahel countries (-26%). 9  Moreover, these global figures hide major disparities within countries: some areas are particularly affected by production deficits and these deficits areas are normally spread differently across the Sahel 10  (see Table 1).   Table 1: Overview of production estimates for the 2011/12 season and changes compared to previous years (based on various sources 11 ) Zones/countries Estimates for 2011/12 in tonnes Gross deficit/excess for 11/12 Comparison with 2010/11 in % Five year average in % West Africa 54 780 000 (1) -9% (1) +5% (1) Sahel (CILSS) 16 424 000 (1) -26% (1) -3% (1) Chad 1 600 000 (3) -595 091 (3) -49% (1) - 23% (4) Niger 3 628 000 (3) -624 959 (2) -31% (1) -14% (2) Mauritania 124 000 (3) -465 000 (3) -34% (1) -38% (4) Mali 5 138 000 (3) +555 631 (2) -20% (3) +13% (2) Burkina Faso 3 666 405 (3) -154 462 (3) -19.61% (1) -5.09% (2)  3 In terms of the pastoral situation, the Sahel belt has a significant fodder deficit, exacerbated by poor water availability. 12  The situation seems especially difficult for the third year running in Niger, northern Mali and Burkina Faso. 13  According to some estimates, the pastoral hunger gap has already begun and some areas are badly affected such as in Niger. 14  This is made worse by the crisis in northern Mali which is disrupting traditional transhumance corridors: close to 100,000 heads of livestock from Mali are on their way to Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, far exceeding these countries capacities. 15  This situation increases the risk of conflict over the use of scarce pasture, and the current weak state of some herds diminishes the animals’  market value and thus pastoralists’ purchasing power.  The ‘ average ’  levels of the harvest over the whole region should not obscure the chronic food and nutritional insecurity that stalks the people of the Sahel populations as well as the growing problems they encounter in rebuilding their livelihoods following recurring crises in the Sahel. It is estimated that it takes a minimum of 3 years to rebuild a herd of goats or sheep and 5 to 8 years for a herd of cattle; but pastoralists in the Sahel are already seriously affected by the past crises of 2005, 2008 and 2010, and so are especially vulnerable to new shocks. Figure 1: Price increase for staple cereals in comparison to 5 year average, March 2012 Source : CSA Sénégal, OMA Mali, SONAGESS Burkina, SIMA Niger, Afrique verte (for Kayes, Mali) Furthermore, as can be seen in Figures 1 and 2, and in contrast to the usual cycle, the price of local grains has not declined in the period following the harvest. Instead, they have undergone sharp rises in Burkina Faso and Mali: the price of millet has nearly doubled in Bamako, Ségou and Sikasso compared with the average for the last five years. The price rises for local grains are also significant in Niger and Chad 16  compared with last year’s level for the same period (March– April 2011).  4 Figure 2: Price levels for a sack of millet in April 2012 in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger compared with the average for 2008  – 2011.  Source: FAO, GIEWS The population’s overall nutritional status is therefore deteriorating rapidly, despite the food distributions undertaken by governments and non-government organisations. According to the briefing note on food security from the Crisis Prevention Network in April 2012, the nutritional situation for children under 5 is a cause for concern and could worsen, especially in the Sahelian area of Chad, Timbuktu in Mali, the northern regions of Senegal, Benin, Nigeria and southern Mauritania. According to the United Nations, more than eighteen million people are currently food insecure in the Sahel. 17   Figure 3: Severity of food insecurity in Sahel in March 2012 (Cellule d’analyse du Cadre Harmonisé, Niamey 2  – 6 April 2012; CILSS, FAO, FEWS NET, WFP, GSU, ACF, OXFAM, Save the Children)
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