Cereal production in West Africa's Sahelian belt is expected to be three percent less in 2002-2003 than in the previous agricultural season, USAID's Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) said in its latest monthly food security update, issued on 23 December.
However, adds the report, the projected output - 11.3 million tonnes - is 11 percent higher than the average for the past five years in the nine countries of the Sahel, the semi-arid area just south of the Sahara.
It said the amount of food available in the subregion varied from country to country, with the countries most at risk being Cape Verde, Chad, Mauritania and Senegal. The other countries of the Sahel are Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Niger.
Cereal prices continued to rise in countries where forecasted harvests were below or just about average, and in those facing a disruption of their traditional supply circuits as a result of a three-month-old insurgency in Cote d'Ivoire, according to the report.
There were also significant differences within countries, FEWS Net said. A case in point was Chad where two departments, Western Logone and Kanem, in the southwest and west respectively, faced moderate to chronic food insecurity, according to the latest FEWS Net monthly report on that country.
Pockets of food insecurity in Chad
FEWS Net said a rapid assessment mission in mid-December in the departments of Western and Eastern Logone - which border on Cameroon and Central African Republic - confirmed that farmers had been developing strategies to alleviate short-term food insecurity. It explained that there were areas that had not produced enough cereal, but which had substantial income from cotton, fishing, artisanry and gathering to attenuate the cereal deficit.
The most common survival strategy seemed to be that of using money earned from an oil project in the area to buy food to supplement household production.
The situation in the affected departments could deteriorate from March/April 2003 and should be monitored, according to the report. It warned that if the government did not start taking action before the food crisis in those areas peaked, populations in Kanem and the Logones could go hungry.
Factors that affected the 2002-2003 agricultural output in Chad included less rain than in the previous year and a reduction in the acreage produced because of a drop in the amount of water along the waterways that make up the Logone and Chari river basins.
[The reports on West Africa and Chad, along with similar reports on other countries can be read at http://www.fews.net/index.cfm]