Niger + 2 more

Urgent action is needed to avert a full-blown food crisis in the Sahel


Niamey, 22 July 2022

In the Central Sahel dire projections of mass food insecurity are materialising. To date, programmes and funding for the humanitarian response have failed to address the challenges faced by vulnerable populations, particularly women and girls, warns Rotimy Djossaya, Plan International’s Regional Director for the West and Central African Region.

Following a visit to Burkina Faso and Niger, Rotimy Djossaya calls on all humanitarian actors to significantly increase and coordinate their efforts in response to the unprecedented deterioration of the food crisis in the Central Sahel, with children and girls in particular facing the worst impact. This dramatic food crisis is wreaking havoc on the conflict-affected areas, while the already precarious nutrition situation is worsening, and access to livelihoods and basic social services is hampered.

Alert levels already exceeded and worrying projections

During the lean season which has started, 9.7 million1 people are projected to be food insecure in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, and the situation is deteriorating fast. “In Niger food consumption is already very degraded in almost all regions, and the emergency thresholds set by World Health Organisation for global acute malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition have already been exceeded” alerts Mohamed Bah, Country Director in Niger, before adding: “Now, the response to the food crisis has become our top priority.” In Burkina Faso and Mali, the trend is worsening as well, as the armed conflict continues to expand. Agricultural output forecasts show a 12% drop2 in regional cereal production compared to last year, with Niger (-36 %) reporting the steepest decline.

A combination of factors leading to an exponential worsening of the crisis

In the Central Sahel protracted conflict is the main driver of a dramatic food crisis, combined with an ever-increasing mass displacement, global food shortages and climate shocks. Yaouba Kaigama, Country Director in Burkina Faso, adds about the current situation: “In addition to attacks on civilians, non-state armed groups loot and destroy crops, steal livestock, and extort money from communities, starving hundreds of thousands of families. Markets in affected areas are no longer functional or operate at a slower pace.” Farming, trade, and transhumance have been significantly affected, compromising the livelihoods of millions of people, and increasing conflict over natural resources worsened by the climate change. On top of that, with one-third of the world's wheat supply coming from Ukraine and Russia, food insecurity in the Central Sahel will drastically increase as the region faces diminishing global grain supplies and soaring fuel prices. Prices for agricultural items including fertiliser are also progressively skyrocketing, impacting agricultural production and crops.

Girls, adolescent girls and women are the most impacted

Girls and women are bearing the brunt of the hunger crisis, amidst heightened risk of sexual and genderbased violence, especially during food distributions. Unaccompanied and separated children may struggle to access assistance. When food is scarce, girls often eat less and eat last. Not only do they have access to less food, but they often bear the brunt when families resort to negative coping strategies: girls are most likely to be removed from school, with some never returning and are most at risk of child labour, child, early and forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

Adequate resources to protect girls remain limited, and gender-responsive protection services must be strengthened. “We would like to call on the attention of the humanitarian community to the specific and serious consequences of the food crisis on girls, which further expose them to all forms of gender-based violence and put their future at risk. They have unique needs which are overlooked, with devastating consequences on their wellbeing, in particular when they live in crisis settings for years” says Constant Tchona, Country Director in Mali.

Insufficiency of funding and increase in humanitarian needs

The scaling up of the response to meet the urgent needs of people is hampered by an insufficiency of funding, and the crisis is outpacing the response. Early recovery and resilience responses are the least funded, risking to turn back the clock on overall human development and human rights gains made over the past decade, including in girls’ rights and gender equality.

“2021 saw a drastic increase in humanitarian needs in the Central Sahel, reaching 14.7 million people in need of life-saving assistance early 20224 , at the same time only 41% of the funds required by the humanitarian community to respond to urgent needs in the Central Sahel were met, and even only 38% for Mali” alerts Rotimy Djossaya. As of 27 June, the three countries' Humanitarian Response Plans were only 15% funded, according to OCHA. “Mobilization of international public opinion, governments, and donors is highly needed. Beyond Ukraine, the Central Sahel crisis demands attention more than ever before, and especially to avert a full-blown food crisis” adds on Rotimy Djossaya. As for Plan International, additional efforts are ongoing to mobilise resources in support of this crisis not only in the region but also at the global level.

Our response

The three countries of the Central Sahel are experiencing similar crises with the same root causes. Our cross-sectoral regional approach allows us to respond to this crisis in a holistic way and to coordinate our actions by pooling efforts and expertise. Our response plan includes interventions in nutrition and food security, with the support to resilience to disasters and climate change, from a gender perspective.

We have scaled-up interventions by:

  • Delivering immediate, life-saving assistance to those in the most urgent needs including food security initiatives for children and pregnant women/girls

  • Supporting familial agriculture production systems

  • Addressing specific negative coping strategies affecting girls during food crisis and other protection risks to advance gender equality and children’s and girls’ rights

  • Protecting communities’ livelihoods and building community resilience through early recovery actions.

Our call for urgent actions

Through high-level meetings with the Ministers coordinating the response in Burkina Faso and Niger and other humanitarian partners, the Regional Director drew attention on the gravity of this humanitarian crisis and the dramatic level of the food crisis in the Central Sahel countries, while other crises across the globe are attracting the attention of the international community. Unlike in other parts of the world, states and communities of the Central Sahel do not have the capacity to cope with these shocks and rely heavily on international solidarity.

All humanitarian actors must understand the specific and serious consequences of the food crisis on girls and women. Plan International invites all humanitarian actors to design and implement interventions tailored to their specific needs. Prevention and response to the hunger crisis must be tackled comprehensively from an age and gender perspective. This includes ensuring genderresponsive child protection, gender-based violence prevention, maternal, child and sexual and reproductive health services and education.

Moreover, humanitarian actors should propose innovative, coordinated, and agile ways to deal with the medium-term consequences of the food crisis by focusing on sustainable agriculture including offseason cultivation aiming at improving food self-sufficiency in affected communities.

Investments in multi-dimensional solutions are required, if not critical. Host governments and local communities are first responders – they need support. Only coordinated action and strong partnership among local communities, national governments, humanitarian and development actors and international partners and sustained investments in social services can turn the crisis around. Time to act is now.

To request an interview or for more information, please contact:

Elise Cannuel, Information and Communication Coordinator – Central Sahel Response Plan International West and Central Africa E-mail: Mobile: +226 01183358

About Plan International

Founded in 1937, Plan International is a humanitarian child centered development organization without religious and political affiliation that advances children's rights and equality for girls. It strives for a just world, working together with children, young people, supporters and partners. Plan supports the safe and successful progression of children from birth to adulthood.