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An Analysis of the Sahel Food Crisis

An Analysis of the Sahel Food Crisis

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Published by Plan International
Disaster Risk Manager for West Africa, Roland Berehoudougou, has produced this simple analysis about the very complex Sahel Food Crisis explaining why a ‘normal’ lean season has turned into a food and nutritional crisis. He explains that numerous factors came together and conspired against the people of the Sahel which transformed the lean season into an emergency.

“Had these (factors) not occurred,” he wrote, “then there would be no food crisis, no emergency, no fundraising appeals.”
Disaster Risk Manager for West Africa, Roland Berehoudougou, has produced this simple analysis about the very complex Sahel Food Crisis explaining why a ‘normal’ lean season has turned into a food and nutritional crisis. He explains that numerous factors came together and conspired against the people of the Sahel which transformed the lean season into an emergency.

“Had these (factors) not occurred,” he wrote, “then there would be no food crisis, no emergency, no fundraising appeals.”

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Plan International on Jul 24, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/25/2012

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1
The Sahel Food Crisis
 – 
An Analysis
By Roland Berehoudougou
Disaster Risk Manager, Plan International West Africa
When Plan International and other aid agencies sounded the alarm bells and appealed for public assistance to finance anemergency response to the Sahel Food Crisis, there were those sceptics who saw this crisis as an annual chronic foodshortage which was being exploited by aid agencies to raise money.Those sceptics were wrong.So what is an emergency? What is a food crisis? What is involved in declaring an emergency or pronouncing a situation
to be a “food crisis”?
A number of issues are taken into consideration including forecast about the availability, cost of food, environmental factors and other internal and external factors which are discussed below.The Sahel Food Crisis is the result of a complex emergency in which these factors have come together to create thisfood and nutritional crisis. In fact, had these not occurred then there would be no food crisis, no emergency, and nofundraising appeals.
Drought causes conflict 
In the last three to five years, the people in the Sahel have been confronted with either lower than average rain, normalrainfall or excessive rainfall causing floods. As a result harvest levels have been good in some places and poor in others.In countries of poor harvests, farmers and their families have been coping using straightforward approaches of cuttingback on their expenses. In the Sahel, families sold their livestock; others sold their furniture and other possessions. Afterthree consecutive years, their assets have been depleted and men, women and children have been looking for work tosupplement household incomes.The conflicts in
Cote d’Ivoire,
the Maghreb, and Libya meant that more than 200,000 migrant workers from the Sahelhad to flee those countries and return home. Given the average size of families in the Sahel, about 7-12 members perfamily, two million people suddenly became affected and had reduced incomes.In addition, the Malian refugees which poured over the borders into neighbouring countries are an additional stress onfood insecure areas. For every one refugee, there are five animals. So if you consider 375,000 animals coming overwith 75,000 refugees, for example, those animals can dry up a water-scarce irrigation dam in just few days. Yet, cattleare a lifeline and in a food crisis, they cannot be forgotten.In addition to depriving people of a considerable source of income, the drought in the Sahel is a source of conflict.Shepherds, for example, who are forced to take their animals southward in search of pasture, come into conflict withfarmers.
 
2
Cultural differences 
People in the Sahel eat a different staple to what is grown outside the region and this has implications during a food
crisis. Let’s take a scenario where countries on the west coast, such as Liberia or Cote d’Ivoire, may have enough food
to export. However, it is not the type of food that people in the Sahel eat and they therefore
won’t import it. Instead
they import from one another at prevailing market rates which has a knock-on effect on availability and cost.Market forces
 – 
influenced by global factors - dictate price. There is a common market across West Africa where tradersmove and sell freely. When Nigeria is buying, WFP is buying, other NGOs are buying the price increases. If you look atfood prices you will see that prices this year compared to the same period last year is more than 100% in Mali, morethan 70% in Burkina 42% in Niger.So, as an NGO, Plan International had to change its strategy and approach our donors for permission to do cash-for-work or food-for-work programmes rather than waiting to do food distribution programmes after the food stock istotally depleted.A food crisis may, therefore, not necessarily mean a shortage of food but rather the inability of a people to afford tobuy the food.
Arab Spring 
In addition to the complications of prolonged inconsistent harvest levels, market forces, and inflow of refugees and theirlivestock, the situation has become complicated by the rise of desert locusts this year.The breeding grounds of locusts are in the border areas of Libya and Algeria. When the Gadaffi government was inoffice, they provided a lot of money for insect control in locust breeding grounds but since the Arab Spring and eventsfollowing it the finance for the pest control has dried up. The continuing insecurity on these borders also prevents pestcontrol activities. We are now seeing a different impact of the Arab Spring spilling into the Sahel in the form of locustswarms.The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) which monitors locust movement say that swarms have been sightedin northern Niger. If these swarms come southward through the agricultural belt farmers will experience yet anotherproblem. When these clouds of locusts descend on newly planted fields, they can devour acres of crops and trees in just30 minutes. The locust swarms have also been sighted in northern Mali but because of the insecurity, no one can gothere to control the pests.NGOs do not do pest control as it is a very costly exercise involving planes and other equipment which we do not have.This role falls to specialised agencies such as FAO and governments. This is a looming disaster.
Road to hell 
To cope with the food crisis, children have left school and have taken to the road to find work to help their parents.Some girls are working as domestic help in homes, other are begging on the streets, and boys are finding work intraditional gold mining in Burkina and Niger. A number of serious hazards face these children including respiratoryproblems from inhalation of dust and exposure to mercury, arsenic and other chemicals used in the process.Many children who go to work on plantations, in cotton fields and other types of farming also face risks of exploitationand potential trafficking.

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