Sahel: Migrating early to avoid drought and destitution

Published: 7 February 2012 15:05 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

In Diakassdé, a village of agro-pastoralists located in the north of Senegal, the crops harvested last year were almost non-existent. Lack of rain has seriously affected the agricultural production and also livestock, leaving people in a difficult food situation.

“The granaries are empty and there is no fodder for our cattle” said Salif Sy, a inhabitant of the village.

In this area dogged by poverty, located in the Sahel belt, the last rain was recorded just three months ago, but the vegetation has already disappeared and the levels at water points have become very low, if they have not already dried up. So, Diakassdé is emptied of its population; the people have left because of the looming food crisis that could have a devastating effect.

The road leading to this village is a rocky trail, several kilometers long and difficult to reach. More than three quarters of the population has already left the village due the food shortage.

To survive, the people who remained in the village are selling their cattle in order to buy rice and millet and meet some of the basic needs of their families. But the next harvests are expected in nine months and the wait may be long, even for the most stoic people. Poor rainfall last year has had devastating effects on crops and livestock, and nothing indicates that the next rainy season will be good.

Diakassde was well known for its prosperous livestock farming, but today it is difficult to find herds. Only a few sheep are wandering in the village in a desperate search of grass to graze upon.

Faced with the fear of food shortages, lack of water, pasture and an uncertain future, Salif Sy decided to leave his village along with the vast majority of people living in Diakassdé.

“We sell our cattle to survive and at the rate we do, there will remain nothing for us. The next harvest who is too far away" says Salif Sy.

The sun is at its height and the outside temperature is around 40 degrees. A warm wind blows over Diakassdé, shaking a few thatched roofs. This is the moment chosen by Salif Sy and his wife to turn their back on a village, to which they were so attached, but can not offer them anything today.

This year, food shortages and fodder deficit have forced thousands of agro-pastoral farmers from the Sahel to migrate early with their herds to warmer areas in search of food and pasture.

More than eleven million people in the Sahel are threatened by severe food shortages following poor harvests due to lack of rainfall and pest attacks, in a context of rising food prices. The most affected countries are Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and some localized areas in Senegal. The situation could escalate into a major humanitarian crisis if urgent actions are not taken now.