In the last week I came across the alarming news that the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) has issued a food security alert with regards to West Africa. The alert came on 17 Feb 2009 and it is due to the above-average market prices of local agricultural produce across West Africa.
According to the FEWS NET information, during the 2008/09 growing season West Africa has been fortunate to ascertain above-average harvests in the region, meeting the local consumption demand. The 2008 rainy season has been marked with agreeable regularity and distribution of rains in the Sahelian countries and West Africa. Thereby, the performance of crop production in the region is expected to be more than satisfactory. Nonetheless, price movements in the region, coupled with the presence of the international food crisis have raised a considerable level of alert. Despite the good harvesting season 2008/09, cereal prices in the region have remained at worrying levels.
After the arrival of the new harvest in September 2008, the price of cereals stabilized or declined, except for the price of rice and wheat. In December 2008, the nominal retail price of millet, the main food staple for the majority of the Sahelian population, was 24-48 percent above the five-year average. Prices for cereals and other foodstuffs have largely been rising since January 2009. Similar trends have been observed in maize and rice markets. Markets in the cereal production zones of Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso have already recorded post-harvest price increases between November 2008 and January 2009, whereas these increases were expected between January and March. Post-harvest price increases in line with this trend could lead to moderate, high, or extreme insecurity for populations in West Africa who are net food consumers. Such price movements can be expected to occur by the start of the June-September lean season.
Commentators have speculated that in order to protect national supplies, some surplus countries such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, and Niger could turn to erecting trade barriers to limit the transfer of cereals to net food importers in the region. FEWS NET and its partners will undertake an assessment mission in February 2009 to analyze markets, stocks, cross-border trade, and food security in the region. In March 2009, results of the mission are expected to explain causes for current prices and to offer recommendations for action.
I will continue monitoring the price dymanics for cereals (particularly sorghum and millet in the region). I have previously reported on the use of mobile phone for price collection in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal (Encouraging foreign exchange: A cross-border initiative to share market information in West Africa). Given the raised relevance of the mobile price collection efforts in West Africa I will be following closely the mCollect project pilot and its possible extensions to Benin and Ghana.