Kati Traore, chief of Sakabala village, Kolokani region, Mali which has been hit hard by this year’s food crisis in the Sahel. Sarah Oughton/IFRC
With more than three million people in Mali currently facing a severe food crisis, Kati Traore, chief of Sakabala village, is not the only one having sleepless nights.
“The rain stopped early last year and since September we’ve had no rain. We worked on our fields but they didn’t produce any crops,” Kati says. “Normally our harvest lasts us till August the following year, but since November we’ve had no reserves. Now we have to pick wild fruits and many people have left to look for work in the cities or abroad. We are also selling our animals – when we have to do this, we hope to God for help.”
Survival is always a challenge in the Sahel, an arid region just below the Sahara desert, but the ‘lean season’ doesn’t usually start till April, with malnutrition rates peaking in July. Last year, lack of rain caused crops to fail in many communities in Mali, as well as Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Senegal. The fact that people began running out of food in November is a major warning signal that urgent action is needed to avoid the situation escalating as it did in the Horn of Africa last year.
Rising food prices
Across the Sahel region up to 23 million people are now facing a massive struggle to afford food. Most come from agro-pastoralist communities, like Kati’s, and normally survive by growing their own crops such as millet and sorghum and tending livestock.
In the local markets near Kati’s village, Sakabala, you can find food but it is imported from elsewhere and prices have risen beyond the reach of most families. As a result, people are now selling off assets – their goats and sheep – in order to buy cereals which will feed a family for longer. However, this is always a last resort, like emptying your bank account.
“Selling one cow will buy enough cereal to last a small family a couple of months, but the number of animals people have is diminishing quickly,” says Kati. “Another problem is that so many people are selling, the price has gone down. When things are good you can sell a cow for up to 200,000 CFA francs but now you’ll be very lucky to get 180,000 CFA.”
Red Cross support
In January, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) released 174,092 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to respond to the looming food crisis. The money has supported the Malian Red Cross Society’s work in Tafacirga and Fegui, two communities hit hard by the drought and failed crops.
Last week, volunteers distributed a month’s supply of rice, oil, salt and sugar to 8,200 people. They also provided information on good practices for nutrition, food storage, health and hygiene to help prevent malnutrition.
Working with the Malian Government the Red Cross is finalising plans to scale up its response to help some of the most-affected communities, including Sakabala village.
Urgent humanitarian needs
Kati says: “I have three wives and 15 children, but we have nothing. Normally when we prepare millet the residue is used to feed the animals but now we are eating it ourselves. We’ve also reduced the size of our meals.
“But we don’t have enough animals to sell to last us till our next harvest in November. I can’t sleep at night. I don’t know how I can help my village.”
The IFRC is about to launch a food security appeal for Mali as funds are urgently needed for a life-saving emergency response operation. However, there have been three major food crises in the region in the last decade and investing in long-term programmes that build communities’ resilience is also vital.
As part of its emergency response operation the Malian Red Cross and its partners will support agro-pastoralist families in diversifying their livelihoods so they are no longer solely dependent on rain-fed agriculture.