- Millions are reported to be at risk of food shortages in parts of West Africa, in particular in Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Last year's drought and locust invasion is already causing a large increase of food prices in these countries, which poor households are unable to bear, FAO today warns.
According to recent estimates, the Sahel region as a whole registered a grain surplus of 85,000 metric tonnes, but Niger and Chad suffered grain deficits of around 224,000 and 217,000 metric tonnes, respectively. An increase in food prices is fuelling the food crisis, especially in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where millions of people are at risk of food shortages.
FAO, the UN's food and agriculture agency, today warns that the consequences of last year's drought and locust invasion are becoming critical now. "The situation is getting worse in the affected areas and unless aid comes now, hundred of thousands of people will be suffering the consequences for years to come," according to FAO's Fernanda Guerrieri.
Fortunately however, the desert locust situation is expected to remain relatively calm this summer in West Africa. Contrary to last year, locust swarms still active in north-western Africa are not likely to cross the Sahara and invade the region this year, according to an FAO analysis.
In the most affected areas in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, access to food staples is now getting increasingly difficult. Severe child malnutrition has been reported to be on the rise. The scarcity of water and fodder was seriously affecting the health of the cattle, camels, sheep and goats that are the only source of food and income for nomadic communities, FAO said. Competition for limited resources had sometimes resulted in local conflicts.
Farmers were now needing seeds and agricultural inputs immediately to ensure the October 2005 harvest. Herders depended on animal feed distributions and veterinary services to keep their weakened animals alive. FAO has appealed for US$ 11.4 million for emergency projects in the region and funds were "urgently needed".
In Mauritania, where the crisis is deepest due to years of drought, FAO is already operating several emergency projects, reaching hundreds of thousands of people. In the capital, Nouakchott, 18,000 people are benefiting directly from the distribution of vegetable seeds, which have been planted in plots reclaimed from the desert by farming cooperatives.
Favourable climatic conditions in Mauritania permit up to four harvests per year if there is an access to water, so the cooperatives are providing a constant source of vegetables for the town's inhabitants, as well as helping to prevent further desertification. Due to lacking economic resources, Mauritania is in fact losing agricultural lands to the desert rather than reclaiming it.
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