Markets critical to food security in Sahel

Some communities in the Sahel region could face “extreme food insecurity” after erratic rains this year deeply cut cereal production particularly of the staple millet, food security experts say.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWSNET, in a 25 November alert says 2009 millet production in Burkina Faso, central Chad, northeastern Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria is likely to be 30 percent below average.

Total production for the region should be near average given surpluses in some areas, but how cereals flow through grain markets will be critical. Experts say rain is just one of many factors affecting whether Sahelian families find enough to eat; local markets play a pivotal role.

“If food flows relatively freely from surplus to deficit areas, availability in affected areas will be sufficient to meet needs,” FEWSNET says. “Access to food markets, however, will be constrained by high prices and reduced incomes.”

If governments restrict cereal flows, poor farmers in Niger, Chad and northeastern Mali could face reduced availability, high prices and locally extreme food insecurity, the alert says. “Every effort should be made to encourage the free movement of cereals across borders.”