ABIDJAN, 30 December (IRIN) - The Sahel is known for its unpredictable weather patterns but in 2001 - particularly in the latter part of the year, it received well-spaced, consistent rainfall which helped bring crops to maturity and provided pasture for animals in most countries.
Food deficits are still likely in a few areas, but bumper cereal harvests are expected to cushion most Sahelian countries until the next harvests early in 2002. In some countries likely to suffer deficits, governments together with other partners and donors, have set up irrigation projects to provide water.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a December report that bumper cereal crops harvested in the Sahel would "allow replenishment of farmers' and government stocks". Record harvests, it added, were estimated for Burkina Faso, The Gambia and Niger, while above average crops were estimated for Chad, Mali and Senegal.
Prospects were less favourable in Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau when compared to last year. The same goes for Mauritania, where rain-fed crop production is likely to be 14 percent less than in 2000-2001 due to short dry spells and low yield from irrigated crops, according to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) November report.
Generally, national cereal output in Mauritania was expected to drop by about nine percent, the report said. A joint crop assessment mission to the country in November by FAO and the Permanent Interstate Committee For Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS - French acronym) said the food supply situation would remain "tight" in several areas, notably in the Senegal river valley.
"Mauritania is a special case in any case - it never produces more than 35 percent of its cereal needs. Livestock seems more important," a WFP official in Dakar, Senegal, told IRIN in late December.
On the other hand, the forecast for Burkina Faso is no less than 2.6 million mt of cereals, according to that country's Ministry of Agriculture. "Such a harvest would make a great difference in terms of food security - availability as well as access - since last year the overall national cereal production hardly exceeded 1.8 million mt," FEWS NET said.
Farming is done on just 3.7 million ha of the 9.0 million ha of arable land in Burkina Faso. Less than a tenth of the country's nine billion cubic metres of water is used, various studies show. With the launch of a small-scale irrigation project in November, the government hopes to end cereal deficits in the country and targets an output of 4,000 mt of maize and 400 mt of niebe, a protein-rich bean.
In Mali, apart from localised pockets of drought which could affect crop yields, prospects for the 2001/2002 crop year are generally good. However, monitoring efforts will need to be stepped up to guard against pests such as grain-eating birds, "which are rapidly multiplying across a large part of the Niger River flood plain area," FEWS NET reported.
The overall food situation is "satisfactory" for Mali, FAO/CILSS said. It, however, noted that the reconstitution of the National Security Stock to its optimum level of 35,000 mt would require the purchase of 15,000 mt in 2001/02.
In July, a five-year irrigation project - Projet de developpement integral de l'aval de Manantali (PDIAM) - was launched in one of Mali's poorest regions to help the area attain food security. It involves the irrigation of 1,653 ha of land for rice farming on the River Senegal downstream of the Manantali Dam, PDIAM's Abdoulaye Dembele told IRIN. The planting, he noted, would start around April or May 2002.
In Niger, which had to appeal to donors for food aid after a disastrous 2000-01 harvest, rainfall was generally plentiful and well distributed, especially in July. Following good harvests, accumulated forage reserves would be sufficient to meet livestock needs until June 2002, FEWS NET said.
The Foreign Ministry had reported in April that about 40 percent of Niger's 10,094 villages had suffered food deficits of over 50 percent. The affected area had nearly 3.6 million inhabitants or 35 percent of the country's population. With funding from the European Union, 543 mt of fungicide-treated millet and sorghum seeds were distributed for planting to 713,643 people in villages with high food deficits.
After a food security assessment mission in Niger, FAO/CILSS reported in November that because of good harvests, farmers should be able to reconstitute their stocks. The government would also reconstitute the national security stock to its optimum level of 35,000 mt.
The food situation in Chad was described as "generally good" except in areas that were hit by floods that affected some 129,500 people. The worst affected areas were Tandjilé, Logone Occidental and Logone Oriental in the south, Baguirmi in the west and Ouaddai in the east. FEWS NET warned that conditions in the northern region of Kanem remained "precarious" following the influx of people expelled from Libya, and some 5,000 families displaced from the Tibesti mountains in the north, where armed rebels are operating.
In Cape Verde, the United States is to fund a food aid programme worth US $15.5 million over a five-year period, Thomas Gibb, country representative for the implementing NGO, ACDI/VOCA, told IRIN recently. Cape Verde, produces less than a third of its maize requirements, and imports 100 percent of other staples, such as rice, and oil. "Cape Verde is a food deficit country. It imports most of its food and often is reliant on food aid," Gibb explained. "It is a Sahelian country - very dry. And very little agriculture goes on."
In Senegal, WFP began a six-month emergency operation in October in the southern area of Casamance, home to a large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), forced from their homes by a 19-year conflict between the state and an armed group fighting for self rule.
In Guinea-Bissau, the West African country in which WFP supports the highest percentage of the population, the agency's emergency operation faced a deficit of 2,400 mt for 2002.
Its emergency and development programmes target about 30 percent of the country's 1.1 million people, whose food security is threatened by two main factors: falling cashew nut prices and insecurity.
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