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West Africa: Sahel Food Crisis
Jun 7, 2012 (120607)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The high prices of basic foods are the most alarming
feature of the current Sahel crisis, according to the Famine
Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) of the US Agency
for International Development (USAID). Prices are expected
to keep rising until the end of August - during the lean
season - but the size of recent hikes has surprised food
price analysts and humanitarian aid personnel." - IRIN
humanitarian news and analysis
The food crisis in the Sahel, affecting some 18 million
people, predicted by early warnings beginning in October
2011, is the result of multiple causes: drought,
displacement of people and disruption of production due to
conflict, and structural poverty combined with rising food
prices that make existing food stocks too expensive for
large sectors of the populations of the countries in the
As usual, the response by regional governments and
international agencies is being justly criticized as too
little, too late, and too focused on short-term emergency
needs as compared with addressing long-term issues of
agricultural sustainability and resilience to crises.
Notably, however, these criticisms and attempts to change
the patternare coming not only from outside commentators but
also from within the agencies and governments themselves.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a UN press release, two
informative articles from the UN humanitarian information
service IRIN, and the press release from the meeting of West
African states on the crisis held in Lome, Togo, on June 6.
Much of the video coverage and fundraising material features
the usual stereotypical pictures. Nevertheless, the crisis
is real. And there are some welcome exceptions with
different voices. See, for example, the UNICED videos on
"Memories of Sahel," in which immigrants from Sahel in New
York City speak of conditions back home, the efforts of the
people themselves, and the need to help:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfGte6589tU These are part
of the UNICEF #SahelNow campaign on twitter
For additional background and detailed updates on the food
crisis in the Sahel, see:
Particularly helpful summaries are the periodic Executive
Briefs on the Sahel Crisis from the Food and Agriculture
Organization, available at
These outline programs and actions going beyond "relief" to
more comprehensive action. The most recent is dated 25 May.
For a summary of humanitarian funding, see
http://tinyurl.com/7nj9n5o When this chart was accessed on
June 7, only 37% of the total estimated needs for 2012 of
$1.5 billion for the Sahel food crisis had been pledged.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on food and agriculture
issues, visit http://www.africafocus.org/agexp.php For
previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on "aid" and global public
goods, visit http://www.africafocus.org/aidexp.php
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Sahel Crisis: Urgent action needed to prevent catastrophe in
May 25, 2012
Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos wrapped up a four-day visit
to Burkina Faso and Senegal calling for strong leadership
and comprehensive response plans, as well as generosity from
donors, to avoid the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel
region becoming a catastrophe.
"The humanitarian situation is expected to remain critical
at least until the main harvest this autumn in Senegal and
elsewhere. We can do more to save lives and avoid the crisis
becoming a catastrophe, but we need strong leadership and
coordinated and speedy action," said Ms. Amos.
Ms. Amos, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for
Humanitarian Affairs (USG) and Emergency Relief Coordinator
(ERC), visited the region from 20 to 24 May to assess the
current level of response to the crisis. More than 18
million people are estimated to be affected by drought and
severe food insecurity across eight Sahel countries, with
over one million children at risk of severe acute
USG Amos met with Presidents Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso
and Macky Sall in Senegal to discuss how best humanitarian
agencies can support national response plans and put in
place practical measures to enhance community resilience. In
Burkina Faso, where 2.8 million people are affected by the
crisis, Ms. Amos, also launched an Appeal for US$126 million
to support Government efforts.
Failed harvests and growing hunger
In Senegal, where some 800,000 people are facing hunger, USG
Amos witnessed food and seed distributions to vulnerable
families in the village of Ndoulo, and visited a community
centre where mothers learn how to recognize early signs of
malnutrition and to prepare enriched food for their
children. She also visited a health centre where severely
malnourished children are getting treatment. All three are
located in the Diourbel region, one of the areas worst
affected by the drought. Many local families have lost their
harvests and run out of food.
The USG's first stop was in Burkina Faso at the start of the
week. One fifth of the country's total population needs
help, including over half a million malnourished children.
The situation has been made worse by the impact of the
conflict in Mali. More than 60,000 people have fled the
fighting and crossed the border into Burkina Faso â into
areas which are already extremely vulnerable.
USG Amos travelled to a nutrition centre in Djibo and met
with refugees at the Mentao refugee camp in northern Burkina
Faso. Following the visit, Ms. Amos commented that she was
pleased that local communities, who are sharing what little
they have with the refugees, are also receiving assistance.
"The drought and rising food prices have taken their toll.
Many families have had to sell their livestock to cover
their household food needs or they are eating the seeds that
they should plant for the next season," said Ms. Amos at a
press conference in Ouagadougou.
Next few weeks critical to tackling hunger in the region
Bringing much-needed relief to hungry people in the coming
weeks until the onset of the rainy season in mid-June, which
will make many areas difficult to access, will be vital.
However, the humanitarian situation across the region is
expected to remain critical at least until the main harvest
Aid agencies are on the ground supporting governments in the
region in providing food assistance to hungry people. Other
priorities include health, water and sanitation but these
efforts urgently need further support from the international
community. Ms. Amos also emphasized the need to build up
people's ability to cope with future drought and other
shocks and reduce dependence on emergency aid.
Sahel: Sharp price hikes cause alarm
IRIN humanitarian news and analysis: a service of the UN
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
May 25, 2012
Dakar/Ouagdougou, 25 May 2012 (IRIN) - Unexpectedly sharp
price rises in April for local cereals like millet, rice and
maize in parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad mean
many vulnerable people in the drought-hit Sahel could find
it even harder to get enough to eat.
The high prices of basic foods are the most alarming feature
of the current Sahel crisis, according to the Famine Early
Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) of the US Agency for
International Development (USAID). Prices are expected to
keep rising until the end of August - during the lean season
- but the size of recent hikes has surprised food price
analysts and humanitarian aid personnel.
In Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, local millet is 85
percent above the five-year average, and in Mali's capital,
Bamako, it is more than double, said Jean-Martin Bauer, the
Food Security Monitoring Systems leader at the UN World Food
In Ouagadougou a 100kg bag of millet cost 26,000 cfa (US$49)
in May 2012, compared to 15,000 cfa ($28) in May 2011, while
in Bamako a 100kg bag of millet cost 28,500 cfa ($53) this
year but only 14,000 cfa ($26) a year ago, according to UN
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) monthly reports.
This volatility - when prices move outside of historical
minimum or maximum increases, as they did in April - is as
important to watch as steadily rising levels, said Gary
Eilerts, Programme Manager at FEWS NET. Aid agencies say the
very poor, who own no land or animals of their own and must
buy most of their food, are worst affected.
Why are local grains so expensive?
The price of key foods is still very high across the globe.
In February 2011 they reached a historic peak, partly linked
to the rise in bio-fuel costs, the impact of speculation,
and high oil prices, dropping by six percent in March 2012.
Analysts have questioned why these global price trends have
also touched millet and sorghum - grains that are consumed
in the Sahel but not globally.
While each Sahelian country has its own specific price
dynamic â markets are disrupted in Mali partly because of
conflict and displacement for instance â many of the answers
can be found in Nigeria, which supplies half of West
Africa's cereal needs, Bauer noted.
Economic growth in Nigeria has boosted domestic grain demand
for human consumption, as animal feed, to produce beer, and
for other uses, yet even steeply rising production - Mali
and Niger produced 5 million mt of these grains plus other
cereals in 2010 - cannot keep up with demand.
Ghana, too, has mounting consumption rates of these and
other grains in its booming, oil-fuelled economy; and it has
also been pushing agro-industrial development, including
large poultry farms, which require grain as feed.
The Niger-Nigeria price differential for grains "is still
what it should be", Bauer said. One kg of millet costs 222
cfa (45 US cents) in Maradi, a trading hub in southern
Niger, and 200 cfa (40 US cents) across the border in
Nigeria, which means exports are flowing normally. But
Nigeria's capacity to respond to demands in the Sahel has
A 50 percent fuel price rise in January 2012 has increased
food transport costs. Boko Haram - a jihadist group using
violent means to establish Sharia law in northern Nigeria -
caused the government to close the eastern border, bringing
slowdowns in trade in western Chad and Niger. However, Chad,
northern Cameroon and Niger are all still tapping into the
same supply pool.
Sahel grain price trends
Prices started unseasonably high in October 2011 due to late
harvests and unusually high demand, with traders -
anticipating a problem - buying up large quantities of
grains to sell on to governments and aid agencies, according
to FEWS NET.
In much of Mali and Burkina Faso, prices have risen every
month since October 2011, aside from a brief dip in January
2012, says Jean-Martin Bauer, Food Security Monitoring
Systems Team Leader at the World Food Programme.
In Niger the trend was different, with sharp increases in
November and December 2011 followed by a slight dip in
January 2012, and slight increases in February and March.
Chad experienced relatively stable prices in early 2012
after sharp increases in 2011.
"Demand is getting stronger by the day, while supplies
across the Sahel are approaching their seasonal low," said
The dynamic is unusual. The price of imported grains is
traditionally much higher than local grains, but this gap is
"seriously narrowing", said Bauer. For instance, imported
rice usually costs roughly twice as much as local millet -
as it did in May 2011 - but now a 50kg bag of millet in
Bamako sells for 28,500 cfa ($54), while a bag of imported
rice costs 35,000 cfa ($66), and 50kg of locally grown rice
is priced at 42,500 ($81).
FEWS NET's Eilerts said other reasons for the sharp price
rise in April may be because traders think institutions
(governments, aid agencies) are still interested in buying
large quantities of food, but "it might start raining, which
means prices will drop," he said.
FEWS NET warns that in this context, "local and regional
procurement [by aid agencies] should proceed cautiously".
Governments are by far the biggest grain buyers in West
Africa, but WFP, a significant purchaser, is careful to buy
only off-market grains from long-term national stocks in
Nigeria so as to limit the risks to local markets.
Rather than only buying grain to distribute, WFP is also
boosting its cash voucher distributions in Niger, Mali,
Senegal, northern Cameroon and Burkina Faso. The amounts
given will not be able to keep up with rising prices, but a
small buffer is built in to absorb some of the anticipated
monthly price increases during the lean season, said Margie
Rehm, WFP's cash-for-change programme officer. WFP has
calculated that a household in Niger would receive vouchers
worth 32,500 cfa ($62) per month, and one in Mali would get
25,000-36,000 cfa ($47-68), depending on where it is
Many agencies, including the international NGO, Oxfam, say
that given the right market conditions, cash vouchers can be
an important social protection mechanism for poor
households. Several other interviewees said less targeted
measures - such as subsidies or reduced taxes on cereals,
which the government is taking to try to control prices -
are expensive and inefficient because the rich also benefit.
Mali has lowered taxes on imported rice. Niger, Chad and
Mauritania have made subsidized grains available. The new
government in Senegal is attempting to bring down cereal
prices through consultations with importers, distributors
and consumer groups. Burkina Faso has tried to fund selected
traders to sell staple grains at reduced prices, but they
did not respect the contract and the government now aims to
open shops in 182 communes, selling rice at $14 per 25kg
Such temporary measures to control costs "do have a role",
but historically they have been "very difficult to implement
- subsidies generally don't work well in West Africa - they
can end up making problems worse", said one food price
The Mali and Burkina Faso governments also banned grain
exports, but blocking borders usually doesn't work, said
Eilerts. "People just try harder and pay more to get around
them, and farmers, seeing a blocked market, may be
disincentivized to produce, pushing down production," which
can have the opposite effect, he told IRIN.
Given chronic food deficiencies and malnutrition in the
Sahel, governments need to set up safety nets that work in
the long term, and can also be ratcheted up in an emergency,
several interviewees told IRIN. "If measures are already in
place, when the drought comes, governments should be able to
shift gears," said Bauer.
Aid efforts across the Sahel are currently keeping millions
of people alive, but the aid "remains insufficient to fully
mitigate food insecurity in northern Mali, parts of Burkina
Faso, and western Niger", FEWS NET said in its May briefing.
"We can do more to avoid catastrophe," the UN Emergency
Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said at a press conference
on 24 May in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. "We need good
leadership, strong coordination; each country needs a
comprehensive response plan and funding from the
Some $715 million of the $1 billion required for food and
nutrition aid across the Sahel has been committed, according
to the 18 May snapshot from the Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which estimates that nonfood
sectors like health, clean water, education and
protection bring the needs to at least $1.5 billion.
Agriculture, livestock and non-food sectors are severely
underfunded. In the emergency appeal for Chad, funding for
education is at only 6 percent of the requested amount, and
for water and sanitation just 8 percent, while in Niger's
appeal, education is 0 percent funded, with water and
sanitation at 18 percent, according to OCHA.
"An integrated response is needed," Amos told IRIN.
"Healthcare is particularly important, clean water and
sanitation are critical, and we need to go beyond immediate
relief efforts to support people's livelihoods in the long
Sahel: Donors learning funding lessons - slowly
6 February 2012
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the
Dakar, 6 February 2012 (IRIN) - This year donors are
stepping up more quickly to meet Sahel's humanitarian needs
compared to 2010, when they were slow to respond. However,
they are still at fault for taking a quick-fix approach
rather than addressing long-term disaster prevention and
resilience needs, say aid groups.
As of now, over US$150 million has been pledged to respond
to food insecurity, drought and nutrition needs in the
Sahel, whereas at the same point in 2010 donors were doing
"almost nothing", said Amadou Sow in the Africa coordination
division of the UN Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
As early as December 2011 aid agencies and national
governments campaigned for aid, while OCHA released its
emergency appeal - whereas in the 2010 crisis this was not
released until April, far later in the lean season.
The European Commission (EC) has directed $138 million to
the region, according to Cyprien Fabre, head of ECHO (EU aid
body) in West Africa, who says there is "great commitment at
the EU level", with the development and humanitarian
commissioners working closely together on the Sahel crisis.
The EU is also expected to release longer-term funding soon.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID)
meanwhile, has channeled $67 million to the crisis, $25.5
million of it to the World Food Programme in Niger and Chad;
France and the UK Department for International Development
have each directed $10 million towards five Sahelian
countries without yet specifying what is going where; the UN
Central Emergency Response Fund has released $16 million of
start-up funding; while Sweden, Germany, Austria and other
donors have allotted smaller sums.
Most of these figures are not yet reflected in the OCHA
financial tracking system which currently states that the
Chad and Niger appeals are respectively 7 and 15 percent
While such pledges are welcomed, the EC Humanitarian
Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, recently said a
conservative estimate of the needs over the next six months
would be 500 million euros [US$654 million], "so there is
clearly a considerable gap to fill," noted Stephen Cockburn,
West Africa campaigns and policy manager at Oxfam.
Avoid repeat mistakes
Donors may fear repeating the mistakes of the Horn of
Africa, where everyone responded too late, and may also want
to show that they have learned the lessons from past Sahel
crises, say aid workers.
"Donors are more interested in the Sahel now," said Fabre.
"They probably want to make sure they don't miss the
opportunity to have a correct, coherent, quality response
However, some fear donors are waiting too long to
specifically allocate their aid by country, positing they
are waiting for more detailed figures on needs to be
published. An OCHA Sahel strategy paper with specific needs
in each country will be launched imminently.
Donors must not fund Chad and Niger to the neglect of other
affected countries, including Burkina Faso, Mauritania,
Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal, warns OCHA's Sow.
Longer-term still under-funded
While pledging has been swifter, the long-term aid that
Sahel experts have been pushing for for years is still not
prioritized, say Sahel experts.
"The argument [for longer-term resilience-oriented aid] has
"not been won yet", said Fabre.
A number of aid agencies are involved in longer-term
resilience work, such as Oxfam's project to give people cash
transfers or cash-for-work to help vulnerable families cope
with high food prices. "Some donors [the European Union and
DFID] are beginning to fund this work, but as an approach it
remains under-prioritized," said Oxfam's Cockburn.
The prevention and treatment of moderate acute malnutrition
is one chronically under-funded sector in the Sahel: While
over one million children are expected to face severe and
life-threatening malnutrition this year, in a "normal" year
the figure hovers around 800,000.
West Africa UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) nutrition specialist
Robert Johnston told IRIN: "It is still difficult to ensure
funding from government agencies for long-term preventative
activities when there are critical life-saving interventions
that they can respond to immediately. It's much easier [for
them] to justify life-saving than long-term."
Likewise, it can be hard to get national governments on
board: "In areas with low levels of education and poor
healthcare systems, it is hard to plant the seed of
prevention as an idea."
However, donor attitudes here are slowly changing, he said.
UNICEF programmes now come from the point of view that
emergency treatment and longer-term prevention of
malnutrition are two sides of the same coin. "Everyone is
starting to get the message," he said.
Aid agencies and donors should see their response to the
Sahel drought as an opportunity to change their approach,
said Kazimiro Rudolph-Jacondo, head of OCHA's West Africa
office in Dakar. "This is a window of opportunity to build
on lessons learned from the past and to resolve these
problems over the long term," he told IRIN.
Ministers Launch Urgent Appeal Against Aggravating Food
Crisis in West Africa
6 June 2012 [Lome - Togo]
ECOWAS Press Release
Ministers in charge of agriculture, regional integration and
trade in West Africa have launched an urgent appeal to the
international community to help mobilize financial resources
in support of regional initiatives to mitigate the worsening
food and nutritional crises in the region.
In a 20-point eight-page communiquÃ© at the end of their
High-level inter-ministerial meeting on regional food crises
in Lome on Tuesday 5th June 2012, the ministers estimated
that some CFA 400 billion (about US$800 million) would be
required to complement the efforts already deployed by the
affected states, inter-governmental organizations, and
financial and technical partners to address the crises.
The meeting noted that the ECOWAS Commission had already
mobilized about US$9.5 million and the West African Monetary
and Economic Union (UEMOA) Commission US$8 million towards
mitigating the food deficiency, but insisted that more
efforts were required, especially to provide significant
financial assistance to three worst affected countries â
Mali, Niger and Senegal.
The two Commissions should also put in place permanent
humanitarian corridors to assist displaced persons in
northern Mali, protect farmers and ensure effective
management of seasonal livestock movement especially in the
Burkina Faso-Niger-Mali zones.
While calling on financial and technical partners to assist
by mobilizing resources to help vulnerable populations in
the affected Sahel and West African region particularly
during the lean periods, the ministers also urged
governments in the region to comply with the African Union's
2003 Maputo Declaration requiring governments to allocate a
minimum of 10% of their annual national budgets to
agriculture and food security.
Furthermore, the ECOWAS Commission was called upon to fasttrack
the Establishment in 2012, of a Regional Agency and
Regional Fund for Food and Agriculture, and collaborates
with the UEMOA in providing the necessary infrastructure for
the improvement of food production and better living
conditions for pastoral communities and Facilitate livestock
Opening the one-day inter-ministerial meeting, Togo's Prime
Minister Gilbert Fessoun Houngbo had called for concerted
measures to deal with the real and root causes of food
crises in the region, and urged the coordinated mobilization
of financial resources to ensure consistency and efficiency
for the sustainable economic development of our region based
on improved agricultural production.
According to him, Member States of ECOWAS, UEMOA and the
Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the
Sahel (CILSS), including Chad and Mauritania, have already
recorded 9% reduction in cereal production this year
compared to the 2010/2011 crop season.
In his remarks, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, His
Excellency Kadre Desire Ouedraogo noted that between 13
million and 16 million people were already facing food
insecurity in the region, especially in the Sahel belt with
nine hardest hit countries - Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The
Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Senegal,
Mauritania and Chad.
The meeting, co-financed by the ECOWAS and UEMOA
Commissions, considered the report of the preceding meeting
of regional experts also held in Lome on Monday 4th June.
The ministers' recommendations will feed into upcoming
summits of regional leaders for urgent regional actions.
The High-level Meetings were attended by member states of
ECOWAS, UEMOA and CILSS, including Chad and Mauritania, as
well as representatives of financial and technical partners.
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