Paris/Rome – In response to unprecedented levels of acute food insecurity in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has joined with the international community in calling for urgent scaling up of emergency assistance and strengthening the resilience of vulnerable people and agrifood systems.
On Wednesday, a special high-level meeting on “Food and nutrition crises in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions: time to act now and better mobilize in Sahel and West Africa for the future” was co-organized by the Sahel and West Africa Club, the European Union and the Global Network Against Food Crises, co-led by FAO. The meeting brought together policy-makers and other non-state actors from the Sahel and West and Central Africa, and their international partners with the aim to mobilize more humanitarian food, nutrition and livelihoods-saving assistance for the most affected populations and renew a long-term political commitment to structural policies addressing the underlying causes of food and nutrition crises.
Pledges totalled around some €1.79 billion against a Humanitarian Appeal for the entire Sahel and West Africa region of €3.8 billion. This includes an additional €67 million in humanitarian assistance announced by the European Union, bringing its total contribution for the affected countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions to €240 million in 2022 so far. The European Union has also set aside €654 million for 2021-2024 to provide a long-term development assistance response to the structural food crisis in the seven most affected countries.
For the third consecutive year, the countries of the Sahel and West Africa are facing a food and nutrition crisis of exceptional proportions. Acute food insecurity almost quadrupled between 2019 and 2022, from 10.8 million to 40.7 million people respectively, with millions more at risk of slipping into a crisis situation or worse. Seven countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria, in particular, are bearing the brunt. For the first time acute food insecurity in the region is stretching beyond the Liptako-Gourma and Lake Chad region to hit coastal countries like Benin and Sierra Leone.
Large proportions of these populations are rural people who rely on some form of agriculture for their survival and both the humanitarian response and lasting solutions must take this into account and place the people of the Sahel, their priorities and needs at the centre of efforts to address this deepening crisis. At a time when international food and fuel prices are at all time highs, the urgency of supporting production of nutritious food closest to where it is needed cannot be overstated.
This situation is a result of long-term structural issues including poverty, a lack of availability and access to basic social services and protracted insecurity. Recent socio-economic shocks, extreme weather events and the impacts of COVID-19, the atypical increase of prices of basic food commodities and the very serious consequences of the war in Ukraine, are all exacerbating the food and nutrition situation. These converging and compounding shocks could cripple gains and lead to further cascading humanitarian needs.
“Any delayed response will have massive consequences and a severe cost for the future in a context where more than 30 million of Sahelians are already considered on the verge of starvation, with potentially 11 million more as of June this year,” said Laurent Thomas, FAO Deputy Director-General who represented the Organization at the meeting. “Significant efforts are needed to provide an immediate response but also to address the root causes of this crisis, otherwise levels of acute hunger will continue to rise.”
“With the increase of cost of food, the ones expected to suffer the most are the already most vulnerable for whom food represents the largest share of the budget of the family. We should also not underestimate the consequences the spike increase of the cost of fertilizer will have on yields and local food production availability. There is absolute urgency to re-invest in local food production together with humanitarian food assistance and safety nets. Investing in saving agriculture livelihoods today means saving lives of millions tomorrow. Countries of the Sahel region need to invest in making agrifood systems more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable,” he added.
The meeting also saw the participation of Mohamed Bazoum, President of the Republic of the Niger and Chairperson of the High Level Committee on Food and Nutrition Security (HLC-FNS) of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner, African Union, Jean-Claude Brou, President of the Commission, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); Abdoulaye Diop, President of the Commission, West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA); Mathias Cormann, Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union, Vice-President of the Commission; Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crises Management; Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships; and David Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Programme (WFP).
FAO’s work in response to the Sahel crisis
The priority for FAO is to make sure agriculture and related activities are never disrupted and therefore to ensure that farmers and agropastoralists, including internally displaced persons, be provided with time-critical inputs including seeds, fertilizers, particularly in the event of increased prices, ahead of the upcoming main planting season in the region. Security issues and early transhumance driven by climate change, extreme weather and violence require adapted response to support pastoralists, in the form of animal feed and veterinary care to prevent livestock losses.
Agricultural production and access must be at the centre of efforts to mitigate this crisis – in both the immediate term and as a core part of lasting solutions – to finally reverse the upward trend of acute hunger.
FAO’s goal is to provide urgent agricultural livelihoods assistance to rapidly secure local, nutritious food production, laying the pathway to resilience building, while also tackling the multiple underlying vulnerabilities that are driving recurrent food crises in the Sahel. For example, providing them cash alongside adapted seeds, livestock feed, improved water sources and regenerating degraded land.