West and Central Africa

Situation Report
Emergency Response
Food security
A woman farmer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Food insecurity in the Sahel has increased significantly over the past year

The Sahel crisis is worsening fast and significantly and needs are deteriorating. The confluence of conflict and violence, deep poverty, and the impact of climate change are driving millions to the fringes of survival. Farming, trade, and transhumance have been significantly affected, compromising the livelihoods of millions of people.

Conflict, insecurity, displacement, and their impact on communities have become a key driver of food and nutritional needs, steadily deteriorating since 2017. The situation is compounded by a decline in agricultural production across Sahelian countries. The high food prices on local and international markets, as well as residual effects of COVID-19 measures and a worsening economic situation in some countries leading to high inflation, have all contributed to reduced access to food for most households.

Climate shocks are also contributing to the dramatic food crisis. Drought conditions in some countries of the region are comparable to severe droughts experienced in 2011/2012, in 2004, and in 1983/1984.

2021 was marked by a delay in rains in some areas, a poor spatial and temporal distribution with local flooding in August. In addition, rainfall breaks and an early cessation of rains in September came at a critical time in the agricultural season.

Insecurity remains the primary cause of food insecurity in the region, resulting in displacement and disruption of livelihoods and trade. The number of people facing severe food insecurity in the Sahel, including Senegal, has increased significantly. Across the Sahel region, close to 20 million people are facing severe food insecurity, the highest caseload recorded since 2016. Currently, the number of people facing severe food insecurity has doubled in Niger and Mauritania and tripled in Mali compared to November 2020. According to the Cadre Harmonisé results, more than 50 per cent of the region's population is food insecure.

The lean season is expected to start earlier in 2022, with farmers' stocks depleted and increased demands on the markets. The decrease in supply will likely lead to prices further escalating and some commodities may no longer be available on the markets.

Compared to 2021, an increase of more than 40 per cent in the number of people facing severe food insecurity is expected during the next lean season in 2022. Across the Sahel, over 29 million people are expected to face severe food insecurity, including 8.1 million people in the Central Sahel. 18 million people in Nigeria will face severe food insecurity during the lean season.

In Niger, the number of food-insecure people could increase by 57.5 per cent, in Mali by 40.9 per cent, and in Mauritania by 36.5 per cent. In Burkina Faso, three areas (compared to two areas in 2021) could face emergency levels of food insecurity and the situation is deteriorating overall in the country's crisis areas.

According to the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), available pasture will likely only cover two to three months of needs due to an important pasture deficit across the Sahel, from Mauritania to Chad. As a result, transhumance has begun earlier than normal, which could exacerbate conflicts between farmers and herders. Additionally, cereal production is declining in all Sahelian countries, especially millet and sorghum, which are staple crops across the region. 

As for government measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restriction of movements within and between countries had a significant impact on people and animal mobility as well as trade flows. 62 per cent of households surveyed by the Cadre Harmonisé report lower incomes in 2021 compared to before COVID-19.

West African governments' responses to the impending crisis will include replenishing national food security stocks for food distributions during the lean season. This will further reduce the availability of food in the markets, leading to increases in food prices.

Local and international food price increases could reduce the feasibility and effectiveness of assistance programs but also hinder the possibilities for food distribution assistance.

Improving flows between the region's trade basins could help increase food availability in the Sahel. To do this, tariff and non-tariff barriers to the movement of goods and services should be removed. However, it should be noted that the production increases announced in coastal countries have not yet translated into significant decreases in prices on the markets.