Plagued by poverty in the Amma IDP site, Achta holds up the ingredients she is cooking for her five children. Photo credit : Mahamat Ibrahim Saleh/ Oxfam

In July 2021, we raised the alarm about the staggering 67% surge in hunger, continuing to be one of the fastest growing hunger crises in the world.

Between June and September 2022, 33 million people in the Sahel and West Africa could be in a food and nutrition crisis

In July 2021, we raised the alarm about the staggering 67% surge in hunger, continuing to be one of the fastest growing hunger crises in the world. Almost 6 months later, 23.7 million people are still in need of immediate assistance in the Sahel and West Africa. If nothing is done, this number could rise even higher in 2022. That would mean millions of children, women and men in need of food and nutrition assistance during the next lean season, when previous crops are used up and just before the first harvest of the year. What can be done to curb this food crisis, which could be one of the worst in the region since 2016?

Our food security specialist, Ismaël Ardho Boly, reflects on the root causes of this crisis, the lessons learned in 2021 and some recommendations that could help mitigate the situation.


Question 1 : What explains the increase in the number of people in a food and nutrition crisis between July and December 2021 ?

Ismaël Ardho Boly : A number of combined factors explain the rising numbers of people living in food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel and West Africa.

  • Unpredictable weather events, such as lack of rainfalls in many Sahelian countries and flooding in other countries.
  • Continued conflicts in the region has led to millions of internally displaced persons (nearly 7.5 million in the Liptako Gourma[1] and the Lake Chad basin) and made it increasingly difficult to access production areas, which has prevented a good agro-pastoral season. In comparison with last year, there was a decline in cereal production, particularly in Sahelian countries

Although we had raised the alarm about the 2021 lean season, unfortunately we have realised that the national response plans deployed by governments and humanitarian agencies in the form of food assistance were generally insufficient (50 to 60% of the total needs). This has resulted in people not being able to meet their nutritional needs and therefore having to resort to emergency coping solutions that have a negative impact on their livelihoods.

In addition to these two factors, there is a global increase in the price of agricultural products and staple food items. The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in fewer cash transfers, and the closure of borders negatively affected cross-border trading and income-generating activities.

All of these factors combined have left millions of people in a food and nutrition crisis.

Question 2 : In recent months, as you mentioned, food prices have increased in several West African countries, leading to a decline in the purchasing power of the most vulnerable households. How can we explain this inflation?

Ismaël Ardho Boly: This is likely due to a number of combined factors. Insecurity in the region has disrupted markets and subsequently has created more demand. This came at a time when stocks of the previous year's crops were running low.

Restrictions due to Covid-19 also had a negative impact. The closure of borders and higher prices for transport and freight, as well as the depreciation of some local currencies, have contributed to the overall increase of food prices in the Sahel and West Africa.

Question 3 : If things stay the same, what could happen during the next lean season?

Ismaël Ardho Boly: Without proper action, the next lean season is likely to be very challenging and may even come earlier than usual due to lower cereal yields. Unless effective measures are implemented, 33.4 million people in the Sahel and West Africa could face a food and nutrition crisis.

Question 4 : The 2022 lean season will start in about 6 months. What can be done now to stop millions more people from facing hunger in the Sahel and West Africa?

Ismaël Ardho Boly: We need to act now. Food and nutritional assistance must be provided to the populations currently in need:

  • To reduce the financial losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be important to ease border closures in order to resume commercial exchanges between countries.
  • It’s also important to encourage production activities outside of the rainy season, from october to june
  • It is important to promote manufacturing or commercial activities that can generate extra income
  • It is also critical to support community support mechanisms such as grain and livestock banks. These community-based initiatives help overcome price fluctuations for basic food items and help manage the supply of food and livestock in the most vulnerable villages in areas affected by the food and nutrition crisis.
  • In order to be prepared to help more people, states and humanitarian partners need to seek more funding as the number of people facing a food crisis is increasing and funding is insufficient. As of now, for the year 2021, only 45% of the funding needed to cover the basic needs of the people of West Africa and the Sahel has been raised.[2]

It is also important to address the root causes of the problem.

  • Develop a holistic approach to resilience, security and sustainable development in collaboration with local civil society actors in order to strengthen inclusive peace efforts, prevent civil insecurity and avoid mass displacement.
  • Focus on facilitating access to humanitarian facilities and ensuring compliance to the humanitarian principles by all stakeholders in areas of insecurity.
  • Invest on a joint humanitarian-development needs analysis that is conflict sensitive and includes risk analysis in order to respond more effectively and appropriately to the needs of affected people
  • Continue and strengthen measures to prevent and treat acute malnutrition in areas where levels of concern have been reached, such as the Lake Chad basin and Liptako Gourma.

[1] The Liptako-Gourma region is located on the shared borders of Burkina, Mali and Niger.