As worries around food security for 2012 grow, new report shows learning lessons from the past is key to preventing next food crisis in the Sahel

Published: 15th November 2011

The Sahel Working Group, a consortium of International NGOs, today launched a report evaluating the responses to the 2005 and 2010 food crises in the region, concluding that the Sahel is “in a state of permanent crisis” requiring smarter and earlier investment in the region to prevent similar crisis recurring in the future.

With early reports of poor harvests and rising food prices in the region, the group also warns that the lessons of the past need to be learned now in order to avoid serious impacts in 2012 and beyond.

The report highlights the fact that although the response to the crisis in 2010, which affected 10 million people in Mali, Chad and Niger, was demonstrably better than in 2005, it remained the case that far too little was done too late to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

Rather than waiting for crises to hit before acting, the report urges all actors to invest continuously in the livelihoods of the poorest communities to tackle the underlying factors that make them so chronically vulnerable to external shocks.

“The fact that 300,000 children in the Sahel die of malnutrition-related causes in a ‘normal’ year is a scandal in itself, but also demonstrates the fact that this region is chronically vulnerable to the sorts of food crises that affected so many people in 2005 and 2010,” said Dodo Boureïma, Chairman of Bilital Maroobe, a network of pastoralists in West Africa.

In the past few months the fragility of the region has been tested by the impact of the conflict in Libya, where the loss of remittances from migrant workers forced to flee the country put great economic stress in some regions of Mali, Chad and Niger. Given that poor people in the Sahel spend more than 60% of their revenues buying their food from the market, rising food prices has also been a major challenge for families, while recent poor rains in parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are currently threatening harvests and pastures.

Al Hassan Cissé, Oxfam's Regional Food Security Advocacy Coordinator in West Africa added:

“We can't wait until the next crisis hits the Sahel before learning the lessons of the past. We need to invest now in programs that help people become resilient to the challenges of the world around them. If we continue to wait, we invite crises that destroy lives and livelihoods and ensure that the Sahel never manages to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger. But the solutions are there if we are ready to think differently and act smartly."

The report also stresses that clear weaknesses remain in the effectiveness of early warning systems, the timeliness of responses, appropriate targeting, and the ability to anticipate and respond specifically and efficiently to problems faced by pastoralist communities.

The Sahel Working Group urges all Governments and humanitarian actors to fundamentally change the way they think about and respond to food crises in the Sahel, moving beyond definitions of what constitutes an ‘emergency’ and thinking more about prevention measures by tackling long-term root-causes of vulnerability.

Such an approach, including investing in small-scale agriculture, Disaster Risk Reduction and developing pro-poor social protection programs, would be far cheaper and more effective in saving lives than waiting until crises strike before responding. Former UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland said that before the 2005 food crisis it would cost $1 per child per day to prevent a child from acute malnutrition, but $80 per child per day to stop that child dying once the crisis was fully under way.

And with the looming food insecurity this year, Dodo Boureïma warns: “We must have no more loss of herds and flocks, no more deaths. We don’t want to see our women and children suffering because of a late reaction from our governments and the international community. We need to act now, in line with what we have learned from the past. If nothing is done now, we risk suffering the same next year as we suffered in 2005 and 2010.”

Read more

Download the report: Escaping the Hunger Cycle: Pathways to resilience in the Sahel

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We can't wait until the next crisis hits the Sahel before learning the lessons of the past.
Al Hassan Cissé
Oxfam's Regional Food Security Advocacy Coordinator in West Africa

Notes to editors

  1. The Sahel Working Group gathers over 20 INGOs working in the West Africa region, and this report was specifically commissioned by CAFOD, Care, Concern, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Plan, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.
  2. 300,000 children die each year in the Sahel – UNICEF figure

Contact information

Charles Bambara: – Tel: + 221-77 639 41 78