The Sahel region is regularly affected by food crises, each contributing to exacerbating the vulnerability of its populations. Following the crisis of 2010, it became particularly evident that only long-term policies would bring the region out of a situation that some experts have described as "a chronic emergency". The report commissioned by the Working Group on the Sahel1
and published by Groundswell International last September, led to the same conclusion. The third part of this report that we invite you to read an excerpt from2
, particularly emphasizes the fact that current systems for crises prevention and mitigation will continue to be ineffective as long as mechanisms for market regulation and the control of agricultural price volatility have not been set up.
Momagri Editorial board
This review of the market dimensions of the 2010 food crisis in Chad made it clear that highly vulnerable households cannot depend on markets to ensure availability of food, or to prevent extremely high prices.
Beyond food aid, other forms of public intervention are essential to control highly volatile prices and regulate markets. There are signifi cant questions of cost, distribution, targeting, and governance to consider. A national system of food buffer stocks is an important instrument to consider in order to address market failures, ensure distribution and regulate prices.
Markets respond to demand, not to need.
The example of Chad starkly demonstrates that markets, when they work, respond to demand, not to needs. Relying on unregulated market forces can increase vulnerability and insecurity of poor households throughout the Sahel.
The role of food reserves.
Food reserves can be a valuable tool for improving access and distribution of food and for stabilising prices. They can support small scale farmers by helping them to predict their markets, and by countering concentrated market power over grain sales and
distribution. They can contribute to improved operation of local, national and regional markets, where resources in the private sector are lacking. Reserve stocks can compensate for shortfalls in foreign currency (that makes imports difficult), offset supply shocks or spikes in demand, and facilitate humanitarian response to food emergencies. Reserves can also help countries cope with climate change and its impact on food production and supply.
In the Sahel, food security reserves are already in place to increase availability and access to food
to vulnerable households during food crises. Many of these reserves are insuffi cient in size even for emergencies, (particularly in Chad). What is lacking is an additional price stabilization reserve to buy foodstuffs when prices are low, in order to reduce supply and sell when prices are high to keep prices in check. This can help protect farmers’ incomes and mitigate the effect of steep price rises on consumers. However, as this type of storage involves regulating prices it is politically less acceptable than security reserves. Food buffer stocks for price stabilization were abandoned in the Sahel, starting in the 1980s.
Since the food price crisis of 2008, there has been a major shift in the debate on food security and the role of food reserves. Initially, the debate focussed on ideological standpoints (being for or against regulation). Now, the discourse recognises the need, and is concentrating on the technical, political and institutional feasibility of market regulation instruments, primarily food reserves. Within the Sahel, there is increasing recognition that strategic food reserves could play an important role in regulating the market, in order to improve food security. The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) has started discussions on security reserves, and organised a forum at the end of 2010 in West Africa on this subject. CILSS has established a food reserves information system for CILSS and ECOWAS states. The German Aid agency, GTZ organised a seminar in Africa in September on mechanisms to control price volatility, including regional, food reserves and insurance schemes. What is lacking is a vision of how such a system could be structured, particularly in light of WTO rules.
A major lesson of 2010 is that as long as no mechanism for market regulation and control of price
volatility is in place, the current national systems of prevention and mitigation of food crises in the Sahel will remain undersized and ineffective. In face of high prices and market failures, investments in DRR, and potential use of social protection mechanisms, will also be limited.
The potential limitations of food reserves to address price volatility in the Sahel need to be further
analysed and tested at the regional, national and local levels. In the short term, capacity to promote food security could be signifi cantly enhanced simply by maintaining much greater quantities of food in existing national reserves, for use when the next food crisis occurs.
1 The Sahel Working Group (SWG) is an informal inter-agency network, focusing mainly on Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. It was formed to identify and implement solutions to the chronic vulnerability and hunger of communities, as highlighted by the chronic food crises in 2005 and 2010.
2 To read the full report: http://www.oxfam.org/fr/policy/echapper-cycle-faim-chemins-resilience-sahel