By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC
Many countries across the Sahel will experience a major food crisis if urgent measures are not taken now to mitigate the effects of declining rainfall that is destroying crops and livestock. And this during a time of higher food prices.
The most affected countries are likely to be Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and northern Senegal. Compounding the issue, a severe shortage of fodder is also expected.
The rains arrived late, which meant that many farmer were forced to sew late or replant their crops. Moreover, the rains were irregular and stopped earlier than normal, leading to a 25 per cent slump in agricultural production compared to the past season. This average masks huge disparities between regions where cereal production seriously declined. As a result, the food situation has become difficult for millions of people, and could deteriorate in the coming months if nothing is done.
In Diakassdé, a village of agro-pastoralists in the north of Senegal, the granaries are already empty. The situation is similar in many villages in the Sahel. The lean season is already here and will be particularly early and severe. Some people who still have cattle have begun to sell it to buy food and meet the basic needs of their families, but the price the cattle fetches is greatly reduced. Others have moved to towns to look for work, leaving many villages desolate.
As the lack of water and pasture was likely to destroy the herds, most people in Diakassdé preferred to migrate to other areas. Salif Sy decided to leave his village with his wife without deciding on a particular destination. “The harvest was bad and there is already a food shortage,” he said. “We will try to move to down areas to look for water and grazing in order to save our cattle, the only resource left to us now.”
Diakassdé recorded its last rain just three months ago, but the vegetation has almost disappeared.
In Ndoye Diagne village, northern Senegal, Mayel Diagne is already struggling under the weight of debt. His hectare produced only 100kg of cowpeas due to the lack of rainfall. To feed his family, and that of his brother who recently died, Diagne Mayel sold many of his possessions and was heavily indebted. Meals in the home are down from three to one a day, to the dismay of children.
In several regions in Chad and Mauritania as well as in some parts of Niger and Senegal, child malnutrition rates are already above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent, and without immediate action, it will only get worse.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has already released 812,000 Swiss francs (USD 852,000 ; EUR 672,000) to support Red Cross Societies of Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Tchad and Niger to help more of 70,000 people facing food insecurity.
A preliminary emergency appeal for 2.1 million Swiss francs (USD 2.2 million, EUR 1.7 million) aiming to assist 10,000 households has been launched in Mauritania and an amount of 200,000 Swiss francs (USD 214,000, EUR 163,000) was made available to start relief operations.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies plans to launch emergency appeals for Niger and Chad in the coming weeks.