The consequences of last year's drought and locust invasion continue to threaten the livelihoods and access to food of millions of farmers and herders in West Africa, FAO said today.
According to recent estimates*, the Sahel region as a whole registered a grain surplus of 85 000 tonnes, but Niger and Chad suffered grain deficits of around 224 000 and 217 000 tonnes, respectively. An increase in food prices is fuelling the food crisis, especially in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where millions of people are at risk of food shortages.
"The situation is getting worse in the affected areas and unless aid comes now, hundred of thousands of people will be suffering the consequences for years to come. Farmers and herders who have lost their livelihoods because of drought and the locust invasion are living in poverty with very limited access to food," said Fernanda Guerrieri, Chief of FAO's Emergency Operations Service.
Fortunately, the Desert Locust situation is expected to remain relatively calm this summer in West Africa and, contrary to last year, swarms from Northwest Africa are not likely to invade the region this year.
In the most affected areas in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, access to food staples is increasingly difficult and severe child malnutrition is reported to be on the rise. The scarcity of water and fodder is seriously affecting the health of the cattle, camels, sheep and goats that are the only source of food and income for nomadic communities. Competition for limited resources has sometimes resulted in local conflicts.
Farmers need seeds and agricultural inputs immediately to ensure the October 2005 harvest. Herders depend on animal feed distributions and veterinary services to keep their weakened animals alive. FAO has appealed for $11.4 million for emergency projects in the region. Projects in some countries are already operational but more funds are urgently needed.
Aid for Mauritania
In Mauritania, FAO emergency projects are bringing assistance to hundreds of thousands of people.
In the capital, Nouakchott, 18 000 people are benefiting directly from the distribution of vegetable seeds, which have been planted in plots reclaimed from the desert by farming cooperatives. Favourable climatic conditions permit up to four harvests per year, so the cooperatives are providing a constant source of vegetables for the town's inhabitants, as well as helping to prevent further desertification.
In southern Mauritania, the distribution of animal feed and the provision of veterinary services will help keep animals alive until the rains come. Veterinarians are providing assistance to approximately 20 000 herders by examining and treating their animals when they come to drink at watering holes in the region.
FAO projects in Mauritania are funded by Italy, the United States and Norway.
* Estimates published by CILSS, Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel