Sahel Food Crisis Situation Report #1

Anta Karambe, a woman in Mali, grinds millet for porridge


Summary of Situation

The Sahel is the region in Africa that is a transitional zone between the Sahara desert on the north and the savannas to the south.

The Sahel region of West Africa is facing a severe food crisis, with many areas expected to experience high rates of malnutrition in the coming months. The governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad have declared a food crisis and are calling for international assistance. Exacerbating the food crisis is a series of conflicts in northern Mali, forcing internal displacement and movement of refugees into Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.

There are many factors playing a role in this complex emergency, including recurring drought and erratic rainfall, increasing crop production and labor costs, environmental degradation and lack of access to basic humanitarian services.

By the Numbers:

Number of people facing food insecurity: 10.4 million

Children at risk of severe malnutrition: 1,000,000

Number of refugees from Mali: >88,000

Additionally, migrant workers returning to the region in 2011 from Libya and Cote d’Ivoire caused an abrupt halt in remittances sent from the workers to their families at home. This lack of income, and the extra persons to feed, further increased food insecurity, or the lack of availability and access to food.

Poor rainfall distribution in 2011 resulted in significant cereal crop production deficits in southern Mauritania, western Mali, western Niger, and parts of Burkina Faso. Crops affected include sorghum, millet and maize. The October – December harvest period in the Sahel saw abnormally high cereal prices, though prices are beginning to stabilize. Labor costs remain high, at 20-30% above average.

In pockets across the Sahel, the combination of these factors is expected to intensify food insecurity. This crisis is predicted to peak between July and September 2012, and humanitarian interventions are needed to mitigate the impacts of this crisis.

Current malnutrition rates in the region are between 10-15 %, with more than 10 million people in need of improved access to nutritional food. 1 million children under 5 are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

In Mali, more than 88,000 people have fled to surrounding countries, and nearly 70,000 remain displaced within the Mali borders. More than 3 million people face food insecurity, and an estimated 320,000 children will need to be treated for acute malnutrition throughout 2012.

Niger has seen one of the highest rates of returning migrant workers, with approximately 240,000 workers returning to Niger and seeking employment at home. More than 5.4 million people remain food insecure, and 1.9 million are considered severely affected.

It is important to note that food insecurity has been perpetual in the region. The current spike serves to highlight many of the complex issues underlying food insecurity and malnutrition rates, and the humanitarian sector as a whole is working to address the root causes in addition to alleviating current emergency needs.

LWR Responds

LWR’s ongoing agricultural work in West Africa is aimed at increasing household incomes and reducing food insecurity. As one example, LWR has been engaged in Cash-for-Work programs that are also designed to promote sustainable agriculture in Niger. This intervention includes communities facing the return of migrant workers from Libya and Cote d’Ivoire.

Specific to the current crisis, LWR offices in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are working to address both immediate needs and promote long-term sustainable agriculture. LWR is implementing its Resilience Plus model, aimed at:

  1. providing for immediate food needs,
  2. improving water and soil conservation structures, and
  3. promoting a sustainable response that will improve agricultural yields for farmers.

The model also incorporates a strong gender component, such as training female farmers in techniques to increase crop yields and improve their marketing capacity.

Overall, LWR’s program will support more than 134,000 people with Cash-For-Work programs, building soil and water conservation structures and irrigation canals, as well as rehabilitating land. To achieve this, committees in each community will be trained on cash management and distribution, supervision of environmental protection efforts, and will interface with technical authorities and a project supervision team.


Below are more specifics as to the work in each country:

Burkina Faso

Resilience Plus will be implemented in the most affected communes of Passoré province with partner Coopérative Agricole du Passoré (CAP). The project aims to serve more than 29,000 project participants and recover more than 160 hectares of land.


Resilience Plus will be implemented with partner Fédération des Unions de Sociétés Cooperatives (FUSC) in the Ténenkou, Djenné, Youwarou, and Douentza areas of the Mopti region, host communities for Malians fleeing violence in the North. LWR anticipates more than 50,500 people will participate in the Cash-For-Work program, including repair of more than 5,000 meters of irrigation infrastructure.


Resilience Plus will be implemented in 4 communes located in the Badagichiri watershed in the Tahoua region with partner Union Nazari. The Tahoua region is among those with the highest food insecurity; 33.8% of households are currently food insecure. More than 54,000 people will participate in Cash-For-Work, recovering more than 480 hectares of land.

Ultimately, LWR’s approach aims to provide affected communities with long-term resiliency, reducing their vulnerability to future shocks.

Finally, Quilts & Kits are currently being distributed in Mali and Burkina Faso to vulnerable populations affected by the ongoing food insecurity. LWR is also working with LWF Mauritania to ship additional Quilts and Kits to support people in Mauritania affected by the food crisis, as well as refugees from Mali.

For More Information:

Communications / Media Related questions should be directed to:

Emily Sollie
Director for Creative Services and Media Relations

is Lutheran World Relief's Program Coordinator for Emergency Response

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Categories: Africa, Agriculture, Burkina Faso, Emergency Response, Mali, Niger, Quilts & Kits
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