Monthly food security update for the Sahel and West Africa Aug 2005 - Record cereal harvest expected
The food insecurity problems plaguing the Sahel and northern areas of the West African coastal states during the course of this year are the product of a combination of different cyclical and structural factors. Production shortfalls in the wake of the drought, record high grain prices in West Africa, inappropriate government measures obstructing trade flows and the rise in poverty have all helped heighten the current crisis situation. Grain prices shot up to record levels over the course of this year. Grain prices in the Sahel and northern Nigeria were running way above the five-year average up until the month of August, curtailing the food access of poor households dependent on markets for their food supplies. The hardest hit population groups are small farmers, pastoralists and agropastoralists engaged in subsistence farming and, thus, depending mainly on local markets to meet their grain needs.
In all likelihood, aside from the small quantities of millet traded by communities in border areas of Niger and Nigeria, there have been no significant grain exports by Niger to Nigeria. On the other hand, a study of current market dynamics and trade between northern Nigeria and the Sahel and its impact on supply and prices shows how a cutback in Nigerian exports to the Sahel over this course of this year exacerbated the precarious food situation in the Sahel, particularly in agropastoral areas of Niger. Nigeria currently bans grain exports o to help it meet its own growing domestic demand for food consumption and industrial use. Obviously, there were unofficial exports from northern Nigeria to the Sahel in general and Niger in particular during the course of the year, but their volume was definitely smaller than usual. The main factor explaining the cutback in exports to the Sahel is the sudden jump in grain prices in Nigeria, more so than a decline in grain availability and trade barriers.
Expected crop production in northern Nigeria and its Dawanu market, which is the largest grain market in West Africa, will play a major role in supplying food to the Sahelian countries (Niger, Chad, northern Cameroon, Mali and Burkina Faso). Thus, it is important to consider the food and agricultural situation in Nigeria and trends on its grain markets for a better understanding of grain balance sheets for the Sahel.
Continuing good agroclimatic conditions over the course of August bode well for record harvests throughout West Africa for the 2005/06 growing season.
II. AGRO-METEOROLOGICAL AND STREAM-FLOW CONDITIONS
Thus far, agroclimatic conditions for the 2005/06 growing season have been extremely good. With the Intertropical Front (ITF) situated north of its normal position for most of the season, rainfall conditions have clearly been good throughout the Sahel and more than adequate in the West African coastal states (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Mean position of the Intertropical Front (ITF)
After an early start in most farming areas of the Sahel, the 2005/06 growing season has so far been going very well. Rainfall totals in the Sahel for the period from June 1 - August 31 were as high as 750 mm (Map 1).
Season-long cumulative rainfall totals (June 1 - August 31) are above-average in just about all parts of the Sahel, but below-average in the coastal states, especially in the south (Map 2).
In the end, reported rainfall deficits for June, July and early August in Nigeria and northern areas of the coastal states have had no major effect on the progress of crops since rainfall amounts, though somewhat below-normal, were still more than adequate to ensure normal crop growth and development.
Elsewhere, climatic conditions have been equally good in the other coastal states. Harvests of main (April-August) rainy season crops (maize, millet, sorghum, rice and pulses) are already underway in the coastal states and secondary season crops (August-November) are in the sprouting and, in some cases, the height growth stage.
Map 1: Cumulative rainfall totals for the period
August 1 - 31,2005 (mm), Meteosat image
Source: NOAA/CPC/FEWS NET WEST AFRICA
Map 2: Cumulative rainfall totals for the period
August 1 - 31, 2005 (mm) compared with the average (1995-2004), Meteosat image
Source: NOAA/CPC/FEWS NET WEST AFRICA
The good harvest forecasts for all farming areas of Niger and northern Nigeria toured by the FEWS NET/CILSS harvest assessment mission (August 23 - September 3) have been confirmed. According to farmers and agricultural officials, Nigeria as well as the Sahel and the other coastal states are well on their way to producing a record grain harvest for 2005/06.
III. MARKETS AND FOOD OUTLOOK
In the wake of the record harvests for the 2003/04 growing season in the Sahel, price levels stayed relatively low throughout a good part of 2004. However, there was an across-the-board upswing in prices late in the year throughout the Sahel, during the harvest season, between October and December of 2004, which then spread to the coastal states, including Nigeria.
On average, the price of a 100 kg sack of millet in pastoral areas of Niger jumped from 10,000 CFAF in October December 2004 to 30,000 CFAF by early July of this year. Of course, there had been similar price hikes in 2001, 2002 and/or 2003, depending on the country in question, but price levels rarely topped 25,000 CFAF/100 kg. Current price levels are about 75-80% above the recent five-year average. This trend was found on most of the markets tracked throughout West Africa. Thus, August price levels for this year topped records set in 2001, 2002 and/or 2003, depending on the country in question.
In pastoral and agropastoral areas of the Sahel suffering from fodder deficits, the rapid rise in market prices for grain products was paralleled by a depreciation in the value of livestock. There has been a sharp deterioration in terms of trade for millet/goats or millet/sheep from the standpoint of nomadic pastoralists, particularly when the animals offered for sale look scrawny and worn out, as is often the case at this time of year. While the sale of a single animal was bringing in 100 kg of millet back in January, by July and August, a pastoralist needed to sell 3 and, in some cases, 4 animals in order to procure the same amount of grain. However, except in rare cases in pastoral areas of Niger, in the absence of any reports of distress sales, this regression in terms of trade for millet/livestock to the detriment of nomadic pastoralists is much more a result of rising grain prices than of trends in livestock prices.
High food prices since the last round of harvests in 2004 have undermined the food access of poor households, exposing them to food insecurity problems engendered more by their weak purchasing power than by a complete lack of food availability. The paradox is that market supplies were adequate up until the beginning of the pre-harvest lean period. These record high prices are attributable to a combination of different structural and cyclical factors, including:
The decline in grain availability: It is becoming increasingly clear that the drought must have affected grain production, not only in the Sahel, but also in northern Nigeria, Cameroon and other coastal states such as Togo, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Guinea Conakry. The regional decline in grain availability in the wake of the 2004 harvest was a trigger for this year's across-the-board hikes in prices, particularly in the case of products such as millet for which there is still a large demand in the Sahel, while supplies on the subregional and, most likely, even on the world market are virtually nonexistent. Thus, trade flows of exportable surpluses from the coastal states to the Sahel are expected to dry up considerably.
The panic created by the locust plague in the Sahel: The 2004/05 growing season in the Sahel was marred by a locust outbreak the worst in twenty years. However, in all likelihood, the locust plague produced more fear than harm, with more damage done to pastureland than to any crops. On the other hand, conflicting and, in many cases, extremely pessimistic harvest forecasts for 2004/05 in the wake of the uncertainty over the scale of the locust outbreak put artificial pressure on grain markets, which was further heightened by hoarding, speculative practices and barriers to free trade in foodstuffs between different countries and between different regions of the same country. In this climate of general hysteria, overestimates of damage from locusts, the prospect of a famine and heavy demand for wide-spread free food aid interfered with the operation of traditional crisis management mechanisms, seriously disrupting crop collection, storage and transfer efforts by the government and, in particular, by private stakeholders. As a result, instead of moving downward in line with normal seasonal price swings during the 2004 harvest season (October-December), grain prices continued to climb on most markets in the four countries hardest hit by the locust outbreak in the first weeks of 2005.
The steady rise in oil prices: The rise in oil prices over the past three years (including the latest 10% hike in oil prices in Nigeria in August of this year) is having a major multiplier effect on shipments of grain products and factors of production such as supplies of farm inputs.
Barriers to free grain trade: Such measures, taking the form of official export and import duties and bans on grain exports, have disrupted grain transfers between surplus and deficit areas of the same country, as well as between different subregional countries. in Niger, the hardest hit country, confusion with respect to the collection of value added taxes (the VAT), which, in principle, are payable only on coarse grains, and the ensuing socio-political unrest only served to fuel the rise in prices and further undermine the already extremely fragile food balance.
Mistaken reports of famines: Sensationalist media coverage and reports by certain NGOs of famine conditions in Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad or, in short, throughout the Sahel made the situation worse than it was, contributing to the malfunctioning of normal supply channels and undermining traditional crisis management mechanisms.
High prices and resulting food access problems are making this year's pre-harvest lean period especially hard, further exacerbating what is generally a difficult food situation at this time of year. The coping strategies of most poor households currently besieged by food insecurity problems in Niger and in small localized areas in certain parts of Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria and Cameroon revolve mainly around stepping up their consumption of wild leaves, legumes and fruits and their employment as hired farmhands. The depletion of a large part of the capital assets of these households in their battle to survive and their heavy debts (in species and in kind) will continue to undermine their survival mechanisms for some time to come and, thus, their ability to cope.
The food situation in the Sahel and northern areas of the coastal states has visibly improved since the beginning of August with fresh supplies of main rainy season maize and tuber crops from the coastal states on area markets. The seemingly good progress of the growing season and increasingly good grain availability in the wake of harvests of early crops, combined with the good outlook for crop and pasture production, have begun to trigger seasonal downswings in market prices for grain products. August prices on markets in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and northern Nigeria were down by anywhere from 5 to 25% from seasonal peaks in the month of July. However, prices on most of the markets tracked in Niger continued to climb throughout the month of August (Figure 2).
The food insecurity problems plaguing the Sahel and northern areas of the West African coastal states over the course of this year are the result of a combination of different cyclical and structural factors. Production shortfalls in the wake of the drought, record high grain prices throughout the subregion, inappropriate government measures creating barriers to trade and the rise in poverty have all helped heighten the current crisis situation. An assessment of the food and agricultural situation in Nigeria and of trends on its grain markets is essential for a better understanding of the grain balance sheets for the Sahelian countries. It is absolutely imperative to promote the smooth flow of trade and the free movement of goods, travelers and capital as recommended by the Economic Community of West African States (ECWAS).
Please email any questions to SALIF SOW (email@example.com) or AMADOU M. KONATE (Amadou.Konate@cilss.bf).