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West Africa faces renewed food crisis

21 October 2011

Fears of severe hunger in West Africa are growing as poor rains leave millions of people vulnerable.

Uncertainty is mounting across the region, especially in the many areas left reeling after drought caused losses of livestock and crops a year ago.

Burkina Faso. Tearfund provides porridge for extra nutrition for babies.

Tearfund continues to support partners’ existing projects to improve food security and to reduce the risk of disasters, especially among the most vulnerable, while also planning an increased response due to the current substantial food stresses emerging across the region.

In Niger, the government has declared a state of crisis. Last year, 70-90 per cent of the population lost livestock and lack of rain is reducing the availability of pastures once more.

Many herders are moving long distances looking for decent grazing and some have started selling animals before their condition and value deteriorates further.

Although animals aren’t dying in large numbers at the moment, the fear is the death toll will rise from early 2012 if the rains don’t come.

Fields abandoned

Niger’s harvests are also not looking good, expected to be between 40-70 per cent of what would be expected in a normal year. Tearfund partners are preparing communities by helping them start grain banks and adopt farming methods adapted to a drier climate.

Niger is also under pressure from an influx of refugees from Libya, fleeing the conflict there. Our partner Jemed is providing the means for refugees to buy food, clothing, medicine and blankets.

In Burkina Faso, all Tearfund partners have reported less rainfall this year compared to last and are predicting a much poorer harvest than 2010.

Scarcity of rain has led to 30 per cent of fields being abandoned by farmers in some villages and a steady influx of people heading into towns and cities from the countryside.

Tearfund partner AEAD is working with farmers to survey their staple food requirement needs.

Cash crops suffer

Prospects for cereal crops in Mali similarly remain uncertain following irregular and low rainfall in May and June. Increased downpours in recent weeks have helped but cumulative rainfall is below last year’s levels for most of the country.

The millet harvest is looking poor and secondary crops such as peanuts and beans have failed too. As well as being vital sources of protein for people, peanuts and beans are cash crops which help farmers pay for medicines and their children’s school fees.

The knock-on to this is that where food is being produced, it’s rocketing in price, being pushed beyond the reach of many poor families.

Drissa Tessougue, 52, who has a ten strong family to support, typifies the plight of many in Mali. He said, ‘Our survival depends on the rain. If there’s no rain, our crops will not be fruitful; if there is no food, all my money will be spent on buying food. Also, children at school can't study if they are hungry.’

Late, irregular and low rainfall in Chad also indicate that a poor harvest is likely, with wide variations in the development of crops in different areas.

Deadly cocktail

On a national level, areas being cultivated are down by 35 per cent on average compared to 2010 and predicted yields per hectare are also down as a result of the poor rains leading to reduced crop density and growth.

There are also a much larger than usual number of birds and locusts starting to feed on and so destroy crops before they are fully mature for harvest

Staple food prices have dramatically increased compared to last October; rice is up 24 per cent, sorghum up 30 per cent, maize up 31 per cent and peanuts up 52 per cent.

The number of severely malnourished children being admitted for treatment has already reached 45,000, compared to 33,000 last year, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Commenting on the region’s worrying plight, Martin Jennings, Tearfund’s Head of West Africa Region, said, ‘All in all, on top of the existing vulnerabilities carried by people from previous years, this is a deadly cocktail.


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