April 18, 2018 | Food security

Millions of people in West Africa are at risk of malnutrition and imminent premature death resulting from the chronic food crisis in the Sahel. Figuratively, the Sahel means a coast- an implication of the zone being ashore to the vast Sahara Desert. This shore is however not a beacon of hope as the Sahel has been constantly plagued by incessant food insecurity. The livelihoods of Sahel residents have been devastated due to crop failure. Nutritional deficiencies have predisposed the Sahel children to acute malnutrition. As a result of this food crisis, the Sahel has become a hotspot of humanitarian aid. This is, however, a precarious situation that cannot be sustained for long. It is thus imperative to address the Sahel Food Crisis by first identifying the root causes of the food insecurity.

 Drivers of Chronic Food Insecurity in the Sahel

The Sahel Zone consisting of several West African countries is primarily a semi-arid zone. The vulnerability of the Sahel to food insecurity has however been instigated by a wide array of factors including poverty, armed conflict, climate change, and environmental degradation. Poverty has an intricate relationship with food security or lack thereof. Majority of people in the Sahel region live in abject poverty. As a result, even when the yields are good, poverty forces the residents to consume the seed. This affects the perpetuation of planting seasons due to deficiencies in seed. Ultimately, this affects the stock of food available especially for low-income households.

The Sahel area is characterized by persistent insecurity. Malians, for example, have been subjected to a civil war with religious intonations. The situation is reflected in Nigeria where the Boko Haram has wreaked havoc, particularly on rural farming communities. Indubitably, when the frontline of war is a farming community, the security of food stands at risk. As a result of the war, farmers have fled destabilizing agricultural patterns. Refugees have further compounded the Sahel food crisis by exerting additional pressure on the resources.

The region is a naturally semi-arid region and climatic changes have compounded the food crisis. Global warming and the increase in temperatures in the Sahel have affected the growth of staple foods. This has been coupled with a reduction of rainfall. Staples such as millet and corn thrive well under sufficient precipitation. Yields have however been affected by heat perpetuating the Sahel food crisis.

Rising population growth has exerted pressure on natural resources such as land in the Sahel region. This pressure is further exacerbated by the commercialization of agriculture. The land has thus been divided into small non-economic units. To optimize production, residents have resorted to overuse of chemical fertilizers. While this increased output in the short run, it ultimately led to the degradation of land spurring food insecurity in the Sahel region.

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