Conflict in Mali disrupts fragile food markets and threatens to escalate food crisis in West Africa

Published: 30th March 2012

Growing insecurity in Mali and northern Nigeria is disrupting the supply of food to communities suffering from a major food crisis affecting 13 million people in West Africa, said international aid agency Oxfam today.

The conflict in northern Mali, one of the driving factors of last week’s coup d’état and the temporary closure of borders, had already posed a major risk to vulnerable communities in Mali and the region. Now there are signs that the escalation in the country’s instability is further affecting the already serious food insecurity across West Africa, meaning a rapid increase in humanitarian assistance to the region is urgently needed.

  • In Mali, over 200,000 people have been displaced since January. Half of these people have fled to neighbouring countries, and they are in urgent need of food, water, sanitation and shelter. Further waves of displacement remain a risk.
  • The disruption of local and cross-border food markets have limited food supplies and increased prices. Markets in Bandiagara at the border with Burkina Faso, Menaka bordering Niger, Nara-Nioro bordering Mauritania, as well as Niono and l’Office du Niger  in the centre of the country, which provides rice for all four countries, have all been hit.
  • Traditional migration routes used by pastoralists have been disrupted. Conflict has caused livestock, an essential source of food and livelihoods, to be herded in large numbers towards the south of Mali, and across to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, where fodder, food and water levels are dangerously low and threaten their survival.
  • A reduced ability to travel across borders to seek alternative sources of income and employment to support families at home. This is a traditional way that people cope during crises, with Nigeriens travelling to work in northern Mali, Burkinabè searching for work in central Mali, and Malian women of Nara and Nioro travelling to Mauritania.

While Oxfam and other agencies continue to operate and provide assistance to vulnerable populations in zones affected by conflict, a further degradation of security may risk hampering humanitarian access and provision of basic services to areas of greatest need.

In Northern Nigeria, an increase in conflict over recent months has also affected communities who are struggling with the food crisis. Some border posts in Borno and Yobe states  have been closed due to growing violence, while at other borders exports have been dramatically reduced, having a major impact on the ability of hard hit countries such as Niger and Chad – where 9.7 million risk going hungry this year – to import food. There has also been a sharp downturn in the migration of workers – an important way that families cope in hard times – due to fears of violence.

"Serious and complex" crisis compounded by insecurity

Al Hassan Cissé, Oxfam Regional Food Security Policy Manager, said “The Sahel was already facing a serious and complex food crisis this year, and the growing security concerns in the region risk aggravating the situation further. Regional food markets are not able to function properly in such conditions, meaning greater assistance is rapidly needed to protect millions of people who risk going hungry across the Sahel.”

Responding to the increased humanitarian needs of displaced people, Oxfam is already providing food, water and sanitation to refugees and host communities at three sites in the Tillabery region of Niger, as well as the Fassala transit camp in the Nema region of Mauritania. Preparations are also being made to provide assistance to 19,000 refugees in Burkina Faso. Overall, Oxfam plans to reach 350,000 people in Mali and 1.2 million people across the Sahel with humanitarian assistance.

Eric Mamboué, Oxfam Country Director in Mali, said “The insecurity in Mali must not prevent the urgent efforts needed to deal with the other crisis in this country: the lack of affordable food that threatens the lives and livelihoods of 3.5 million Malians. While Oxfam continues to work alongside others to tackle this crisis, dealing with the urgent nutritional needs of the Malian population must remain a top priority for all actors in the country, and access to desperately needed humanitarian assistance must be ensured”.  

Some 13 million people in the Sahel are facing a major food crisis in 2012 as poor rains and locust attacks led to a drop in cereal production of 25%, while in some regions such as Gao in northern Mali prices of food remain over 70% higher than the five year average.

Read more

Please donate to Oxfam's Sahel Food Crisis Appeal

Blog: Hunger calls in Africa’s Sahel region

Report: Escaping the Hunger Cycle: Pathways to resilience in the Sahel (November 2011)

The insecurity in Mali must not prevent the urgent efforts needed to deal with the other crisis in this country: the lack of affordable food that threatens the lives and livelihoods of 3.5 million Malians.
Eric Mamboué
Oxfam Country Director in Mali

Notes to editors

  • Photos of Refugees Camp in Niger -
  • Mauritania - Malian refugees camps in Nema region
  • Spokespeople from Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Dakar available for interviews in English and French
  • In Mali, some 3,575,000 people live in areas at risk of a serious food crisis
  • Refugees and Internal Displaced People (IDP) figures used are from the OCHA Bulletin on 22nd March. Total numbers of displaced people are estimated at over 206,000, of which 93,433 are displaced internally in Mali. Niger is hosting 20,839 refugees and returnees, Burkina Faso 22,974, Mauritania 39,489, and Algeria over 30,000.

Contact information

For further information:
Charles Bambara - - Mobile + 221 77 639 41 78