by Madhumita Paul
Down To Earth | April 28, 2020
At least 5.3 million people will face extreme hunger in West African countries Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report released recently.
The three countries are likely to fall under high-risk zones in the coming months, the report stated.
High-risk countries are those that face significant deterioration during a crisis, with potentially severe effects on agriculture and food security.
Alarming levels of internal conflicts, insecurity and an early lean season affecting agro-pastoral activities are touted to be responsible for an unprecedented displacement and food insecurity in these countries, according to the FAO.
Nearly 1.2 million people have already been displaced by internal conflict and violence in these countries. The UN body predicted that more are likely to be displaced in the next three months if current levels of insecurity persisted.
About three-fourth of those displaced are in Burkina Faso — at 765, 000, the country accounted for the highest number of internal displaced persons.
These include displaced pastoralists who destocked their herds because they could not access pastures and water.
Poor rainfall last year aggravated the situation for these pastoralists in Centre-Nord and East regions of Burkina Faso. Insufficient rainfall this year as well is bound to affect pastoralists living in vegetation-deficit Niger and Mali.
Niger experienced a 40 per cent deficit of dry-biomass required to feed animals. The temporary closure of the border with Benin made the situation worse for agro-pastoralists in these two countries.
FAO has projected a harsh and long pastoral season in these countries. It warned that the internal conflicts were likely to continue, thereby restricting pastoralists’ movement and access to resources during the dry season, said FAO.
Internal conflicts are also likely to worsen access to land and agricultural inputs in May and June.
At least 5.3 million people are projected to be severely food insecure during June–August 2020, the period that corresponds to peak of the pastoral lean season and key months for transhumance.
These projections are alarming and above the long-term average in all three countries, with over 2 million severely food insecure people in Burkina Faso, 1.3 million people in Mali and 1.9 million in Niger.
Vulnerable displaced people, host communities and those in insecure areas will require food assistance and livelihood support for most of 2020, warned the FAO.
The 2020 Global Food Crisis report released last week warned about acute food insecurity in these countries due to increased violence, displacements and disrupted agriculture and trade.
But this is not it. The three countries are also in the grip of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic. Burkina Faso recorded over 630 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 42 deaths as on April 28, 2020.
To contain the pandemic, they have adopted measures such as closure of borders and restriction on markets. These measures have impacted the pastoral areas as well, stated Coumba Sow, FAO resilience coordinator for West Africa. Movement of herders and livestock has been restricted due to closure of international borders.
Earlier this month, the Food Crisis Prevention Network expressed concerns regarding COVID-19-related risks such as collapse of food crop production, impact on pastoralists and a lack of food availability.
The governments were advised to provide social protection to strengthen livelihoods and purchasing power of the vulnerable. They were also advised to safeguard food supply chains, including the cross-border movement of food.
FAO recommended access to agricultural inputs and markets as well. It called upon the government to assist displaced people in distributing agricultural inputs and improved access to markets.
The national governments, too, have been advised to upscale cash-for-work activities focused on rehabilitation of degraded lands and rural infrastructure.
The FAO suggested commercial destocking for weak animals in areas with high concentration of livestock and limited access to pasture. At the same time, water and feed to core breeding livestock needed to be scaled up, it suggested.