Sahel food crisis: Five things you should know

Lack of rainfall during recent growing seasons has resulted in food deficits for 3.5 million people in Mali. World Vision has responded to the food crisis here by distributing food to the most vulnerable.

By Kathryn Reid, World Vision U.S.
Published July 16, 2013 at 08:30am PDT


Food stocks are running low and prices are high in the Sahel, the narrow band of African countries south of the Sahara that includes Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad.

Rainfall there is erratic, and droughts are frequent. Garden and livestock production improved in 2012 after several seasons of severe drought, but many people have used up the food they stored from earlier harvests — and one good season cannot make up for all the deficits of years past.

Here are five important facts to keep in mind about this crisis and its required response.

More than 11 million people in the Sahel are food-insecure.

The poorest families are selling off their few assets — including their animals and farm tools — and going into debt to buy food. Cereal prices are 50 percent higher than the five-year average in some places. Farming and the flow of goods have been disrupted In Mali, where a million people have been displaced by conflict and insecurity.

More than 5 million children under 5 and pregnant mothers are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

Alarming levels of malnutrition have been reported this year in Niger, Mali, Chad, and Nigeria. Severe malnutrition hinders children’s mental and physical development and threatens the lives of mothers. About 45 percent of all deaths of children under 5 have hunger as an underlying cause.

Desert locusts are a threat to crops.

Adult locusts are expected to move into Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad in the coming weeks to breed during the oncoming summer rains. The summer of 2012 saw the region’s worst locust infestation since 2005, affecting the crops that feed 50 million people. Swarms of locusts can decimate a field so there is little left for farmers to harvest.

There are strategies to end hunger in the Sahel.

Communities that conserve and rehabilitate water sources and agricultural soils are better able to sustain agriculture. Farmers and livestock producers can learn to manage crops and animals to support their families year-round using drought-resistant crops and good herd management. With training and supplemental food, mothers can see that their children get the nutrition they need. World Vision assists communities to implement many of these strategies.

This is a critical time to provide life-saving assistance in the Sahel.

Many more children need to be screened for malnutrition and supplied with nutritious foods. Families need help to purchase food and build up their livelihoods. Displaced people, in particular, need access to drinking water and sanitation so they can avoid cholera and other waterborne diseases. World Vision is working to aid refugee and displaced children and families in camps and host communities.

Get involved

Read more about the crisis in Mali, a Sahel country that is also suffering from the effects of a disastrous conflict that began in March 2012.

Please pray for those affected most by the recent droughts and poor crop performance in this troubled area of the world. Pray for steady rains and healthy harvests to return, and pray for a renewed state of food security in places like Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania, where the need is great.

Make a one-time donation to help bring assistance to West Africa. Your gift will help deliver emergency food aid, agricultural assistance, nutritional training and monitoring, and other critical interventions to a region that faces hunger, drought, and political instability.


  • Conflict and instability have exacerbated poor harvests and drought conditions across Mali.
  • Millions across Africa's Sahel region face food insecurity or malnutrition.
  • There are strategies available to mitigate the problems with hunger and food shortages. World Vision is also working to provide aid to those displaced by conflict.

Related Articles

Editor's Pick