Food insecurity in the Sahel region: a silent tragedy

Published: 31 August 2015 12:00 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

Since the failure of last year’s harvest, Lamanara Diallo faces a daily struggle to feed his family. The 67-year-old farmer living in the village of Sitouama in eastern Senegal, cannot remember the last time he went to bed without worrying what he was going to do the next day to feed his wife and his seven children.

“Last year, I sowed much but harvested only four bags of maize due to insufficient and erratic rainfall. Very little for my family,” laments Diallo.

Since then, he and his family have drastically reduced their food consumption. “Most of the time, we sleep hungry,” explains Diallo. For several months now, the only meal served in this family consists of a bowl of wild leaves with little maize and without vegetables or meat. “It’s our one daily meal, our daily menu. We have no other options.”

With a few variations, it is this type of daily menu which being consumed by all the households in Sitouame and the surrounding villages. “We do not have money to buy rice or millet,” the families say.

Like many other farmers in the village, Lamarana is also heavily in debt. To feed his family, he began borrowing to buy food, or to have seeds to plant when the rainy season was approaching.

He was relying on the profits from this year’s harvest to pay off his loans but, once again, the rains arrived late. “At least 50 per cent of weather forecasts are predicting rain deficits in 2015 in several parts of the Sahel region,” says Jerry Niati, acting Disaster Manager Coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Sahel region.

For Diallo, who’s crippling debt is pushing him to sometimes beg to feed his family, the hope is to have good rainfall this year. “Otherwise it will be a disaster.”

According to the regional harmonized framework for food security, led by CILSS (Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel) FEWSNET (Famine and Early Warning System Network), the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, governments, the Red Cross Red Crescent, and other stakeholders, an estimated 20 million people are currently struggling with food insecurity in the Sahel, of which 7.5 million require emergency food assistance.

Funding shortfall

“Despite early warnings we issued several months ago, the food insecurity situation in the Sahel region has not yet caught the attention of the international community,” says Momodou Lamin Fye, the IFRC’s Sahel Regional Representative. “The lean season has started and will last until September. Malnutrition is widespread, with children being the most greatly affected. Urgent support is needed to bring lifesaving assistance to these vulnerable people while also investing in long term resilience-building solutions.”

The scale of the food insecurity situation has prompted the IFRC to launch emergency operations across three countries: Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal for funds amounting to 5.1 million Swiss francs to provide immediate assistance to over 64,000 people, and 108,000 people in the medium term. The appeals are just 7 per cent, 4 per cent, and 6 per cent funded, respectively.