Mali: Ensuring food security in Gao despite the conflict

Pastoralists in the region of Gao, Mali. Photo: Oxfam
We help Gao's pastoralists preserve their most valuable resource: their livestock

In early January 2012, Oxfam launched an emergency response to the 2011-2012 food crisis in order to support some of the most vulnerable people in the region. Fighting has limited humanitarian activity in northern Mali, but working with partners we continue to support communities in the north.

Bordering Niger and Burkina Faso, the Gao region of northern Mali is home to around 600,000 people. Here Sonrai, Peulhs, Bozo, Tuareg and Arab communities live together as farmers, herders, fishermen and traders.

Life in this fragile region is hard, and conflict and instability in northern Mali last year, and more recently the escalation of fighting in early 2013, have exacerbated the devastating impacts of a food crisis that hit the Sahel region in 2011-2012. In a region already prone to cyclical water and food shortages, ongoing insecurity makes life for people in the north ever more precarious.

Fighting exacerbates food crisis

Mali’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates that cereal production fell by 40 percent last year. Unreliable rainfall followed by flooding in some areas damaged the rice harvest, and reduced the availability of ‘bourgou’, a supplementary food foraged for in the lean season.

Instability has severely disrupted trade routes along which food is brought into northern markets, which means many markets are very poorly stocked, and prices pushed up further. In Gao, many of the town’s key traders have left as a result of the conflict. People have been afraid to travel to markets because of insecurity, and pastoralists have been unable to move freely to graze their animals.

In early 2013, renewed fighting in northern Mali has further limited humanitarian activity that would help give the most vulnerable people access to the support they need and want. Social services are barely functioning and local economies are severely disrupted. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the north since last April, seeking refuge in neighboring countries, and in southern Mali.

According to the latest figures from the UN, there are now over 160,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, and over 240,000 Malians who have fled their homes in the north to seek safety in southern Mali.

Oxfam's response

Oxfam has been working in the Gao region of northern Mali for over 20 years. In response to the 2011-2012 food crisis, Oxfam launched an emergency response. Working with local partner organization Tessaght, Oxfam aims to reach 59,000 people through projects that increase access to food and help protect livelihoods for the most vulnerable people. These include cash transfers, ‘cash for work’ programs, food distributions, and projects to improve access to animal fodder for families who depend on rearing livestock.

In early 2012, in the communes of Taboye, Bourem and Temera, around 13,000 people benefited from cash transfers, and a further 14,000 pastoralists received 270 tons of fodder for their herds to help prevent the loss of valuable animals – a loss that would further weaken their ability to cope with future problems.

Operations continue despite conflict

Despite the onset of instability in Mali in April 2012, working with partners, Oxfam has continued to operate in the north, reaching more than 45,000 people in total in the communes of Taboye, Bourem, Temera and Bamba with food and hygiene equipment, support for pastoralists, and support for local market gardening projects.

Hamzata Ahmidi is from Dengha, a village in Taboye commune. He looks after a household of ten people. “To provide for my family I work our land by hand as I don’t have a plow or a cow to pull it. Last year, I only harvested around 200 kilograms of rice, which was only enough to feed the family for just over a month,” he says.

Hamzata received enough rice, maize, oil and salt to help feed his family for one month, supplementing his own production to see them through the leanest part of the year.

Dated 28 January 2013.