Famine in the Sahel

The aftermath of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa is ongoing and the effects of the famine in Niger in 2010 are still being felt and yet a new crisis is looming. More than 18 million people in 8 countries could be affected and over 1 million children under 5 risk severe acute malnutrition if food shortages and drought in the Sahel escalate. Over the last 12 months 43 million have been added to the number of people going hungry in the world due to severe food shortages.

Calls for early action to prevent a famine in the Sahel have been made but will the international community respond rapidly enough? A failure to respond to early warnings and calls for help has been widely cited as contributing to the scale of the crisis in the Horn of Africa, and detailed in Oxfam’s report A Dangerous Delay.

The escalating drought has already depleted food stocks as of March 2012 and harvest is not until September. Grain production in many areas of the Sahel is 36% lower than for 2011. Increasing food prices due to chronic shortages and speculation as well as regional conflicts, particularly in Mali, have compounded the situation as have untreated locust outbreaks able to move across the area. As with most famines, it may have been sparked by the drought but a lot of other factors, infrastructural, political and social, have combined to cause this escalating crisis.

So far the international community has committed to half ($700 million) the total amount in aid called for in December 2011. But the crisis is expected to get a lot worse before it gets better if the international community does not take urgent and significant action.

While future plans to break the cycle of famine (this will be the third drought in the Sahel in ten years) must focus more on prevention, the situation in the Sahel, quoted as having never been this bad, demands international attention now.

Another Food Price Spike?

At the time of writing (August 2012) the worst drought in half a century is occurring in the US Corn Belt, despite high harvests having been predicted as little as two months ago. As an article in the Financial Times documented, 9 out of 10 acres of maize and soybean land is suffering drought and half of the maize harvest and a third of the soybean harvest are being categorised as poor to very poor.

Given that the US is the largest exporter of agricultural commodities, exporting 40% of the world’s maize and soybean crop last year, the impact on food prices is felt globally. Another increase in prices may lead to the same panic buying and export restrictions seen during the 2010 Russian heatwave and consequent cereal shortage. [Read more…]