The Sahel region of West Africa suffered a devastating food crisis in 2012. Drought and erratic rains destroyed crops and pasture, leaving millions struggling with hunger and malnutrition. With programs aimed at supporting farmers and pastoralists not only to survive but to sustain their farms and herds, Oxfam has assisted more than one million people in Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Gambia. Now, the harvest has arrived, but the crisis is far from over.
When the food crisis struck, farmers and herders across the region cut back on the amount and quality of the food they gave their families daily; denied themselves medical care; undertook difficult means of finding food, like foraging for wild fruit and sifting through anthills for bits of grain; and sold off everything they could, including the tools and livestock they needed to make a living. Although food was available in the market, skyrocketing prices put it out of reach of those in need.
As the emergency began to unfold, Oxfam helped prevent the loss of assets that are key to survival. For example, we provided veterinary care and fodder for livestock. As the crisis deepened, we focused on helping people gain access to food. Now, we need to help people get back on their feet and build resilience to future crises, with programs to provide seeds and tools, safe water facilities, improved early-warning systems, and grain-storage banks.
Early-warning systems can draw attention to food shortages before they reach crisis levels; storage banks for grain and fodder can provide a margin of safety for farmers and herders for years to come; and building and improving wells and water-supply systems are long-term investments in health for entire communities.