Much of West Africa has been struggling under severe drought conditions – their third round since 2005. Some experts hope better than expected seasonal rains will bring an end to the regional food security crisis but others fear that rising global food prices, an influx of desert locusts and continuing political unrest will turn out to be spoilers.
According to Fews Net, the USAID-supported Famine Early Warning System, overall conditions are improving but high cereal prices, brought on in part by a U.S. drought combined with already depleted household food supplies, mean that poor West African households are still significantly stressed in terms of food security.
And, in a twist straight out of the Old Testament, there are locusts to contend with too. A first generation of pests has already hatched and now a second generation is breeding, many of them in Northern Mali, an area beset by conflict and dangerous for outsiders to reach.
Drought plus conflict can also lead to a rise in child soldiers. And reports from Mali indicate that equation is again proving reliable in this case.
In addition to emergency relief, the region badly needs longer term sustainable agriculture solutions. International donors, like the EU and the U.S., and engagement by national governments and ECOWAS, helped stave off some of the worst immediate impacts of this latest drought. But many families were still forced to deplete household assets, like livestock and cash savings.
In Mali, around 80 percent of the population depends on agricultural productivity for both food and income. Climate-smart farming methods, and donor and government support for forward-looking sustainable agricultural practices are a critical need. Otherwise, the drought cycle will continue and unexpected challenges, like locusts, will take an undue toll on both regional security and the well-being of millions of people.