Agriculture Issues Intensify Food Shortages

WEST AFRICA - 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).
calendar icon 13 March 2012
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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 localised, but significant, declines in agropastoral production. This includes 5.4 million people in the Niger (35 per cent of the population), 3 million in Mali (20 per cent), around 1.7 million in Burkina Faso (10 per cent), around 3.6 million in Chad (28 per cent), 850,000 in Senegal (6 per cent), 713,500 in the Gambia (37 per cent) and 700,000 in Mauritania (22 per cent).

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 per cent 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 per cent), 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 Mr Graziano da Silva.

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.

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