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Plan cautiously optimistic over Sahel harvest forecast

Women and children affected by the Sahel Food Crisis queue at feeding center
Women and children affected by the Sahel Food Crisis queue at feeding center
September 18, 2012

Plan welcomes the news that harvests in the Sahel should be better this year but warns that the world should not let its guard down, just yet, because children remain at risk in the Sahel which continues to battle several emergencies.

Roland Berehoudougou, Plan’s Disaster Risk Manager for West Africa, says that it is too early to pronounce the Sahel Food Crisis over.

“We are cautiously optimistic because we know from experience that better harvests do not necessarily mean improved food security. We also know that this year’s Sahel Food Crisis was triggered by a number of factors well beyond those that were considered by CILSS,” says Berehoudougou.

CILSS (the inter-agency task force on drought in the Sahel) says that increased cereal production this year could be 5-17% higher than last year. The preliminary forecast is based on a number of factors including greater availability of seeds, improved fertilizers and pesticides, farming equipment sold at subsidized cost and better rainfall.

However, Berehoudougou says that market prices must also be considered.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWSNET, reports that there are several threats which may result in increased food prices in the coming months. Among them are rising global commodity prices, declining terms of trade, and major civil unrest in northern Mali, the fallout from which is spilling into neighboring countries.

In addition, food specialists warn that the fallout from the food crisis will continue and require concerted action by national, regional and international actors. The specialists, from the Joint Multiple-Agency Team on the Sahel Food Crisis, say that there are three food-security-related crises which required immediate attention. These are: acute food insecurity requiring an urgent humanitarian response; a high level of chronic food insecurity; and a chronically-high level of acute malnutrition.

Plan’s Head of Disaster Response, Dr. Unni Krishnan, says that the 18 million people on the hunger line this year are among the poorest people in the region. Even though food is available they cannot afford it.

“We live in a world of empty stomachs and packed warehouses. Children need unwavering attention. Good harvests are not the only criteria for better access to food, food prices are equally important,” he says.

“Ten countries in Sub Saharan Africa have declared food emergencies every year in the past 10 years. A combination of factors over the past few years has amplified the food crisis in the Sahel: extreme poverty, lack of purchasing power, poor harvests, drought and other local and global factors. It is a long list and together, they make a deadly cocktail,” he adds.

Once these factors are taken into account, the food crisis could enter an extended phase and it is therefore way too early for the world to let its guard down, especially when the region continues to battle several emergencies. To break the cycle of hunger, long term solutions are necessary and disaster risk reduction measures are vital, says Krishnan.

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