N’faly Traore, Malian Red Cross Society volunteer, reports on the current food crisis:
In 12 years volunteering for the Red Cross I have never seen a catastrophe like the current food crisis here in the Sahel region of Mali.
I live in Kayes town, which is in west Mali near the border with Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea, and I’ve been assessing some of the really remote villages in this region where people are truly in need.
Families have shown me the inside of their granary and it is bare – not even one kilogram of rice. When even the head of the household is crying because they can’t afford to buy food in the market then you know it is bad.
In this region, people survive by growing their own food but this year many crops failed completely. The rainy season usually starts in June, which is when people begin planting millet, maize and sorghum. The harvesting is normally finished by November.
"It has now been several months since people ran out of food."
But in Fegui village for example, where the Red Cross has distributed food aid, last year was a disaster. In June, it rained heavily for two weeks and there were floods. Some people lost their homes and livestock and for a month there was stagnant water everywhere. Many seeds that had been planted were washed away and after, it didn’t rain again. When the time came to harvest the crops, there was nothing there.
It has now been several months since people have run out of food. Some families have animals – goats and sheep – which are like their savings in the bank. They don’t eat the animals but sell them to buy cereals which can feed a family for longer.
However the bad rains, failed crops and less fodder available for animals have affected market dynamics. Since November, as families run out of cereal stocks and fodder to feed their animals, they have no choice but to sell them. But this makes the price drop considerably and now people’s ‘savings’ do not stretch so far.
Previously you could sell an animal for 15,000 CFA [£19], but today you will only get 10,000 CFA [£12]. Yet at the same time the price for animals is decreasing, the reduced harvest across the country means the price for grain is increasing. A month ago 1 kg of rice in Kayes cost 375 CFA [47p] and today it costs 550 CFA [68p].
People here are used to hard times and there is a great sense of solidarity. Those who are selling their animals to buy millet or rice, often come to the aid of their neighbors who have nothing. However, no family here has animals or grain reserves that will keep them going till the next harvest in November. In one or two months they will have nothing to eat.
"I feel very proud and privileged to be a Red Cross volunteer."
When I talk to people they tell me they are worried no one will come to help them. They say, those who must die, will die and those who have to survive, will be saved.
For me personally, it is also a struggle to feed my family, and like everyone around here we’ve had to reduce the amount we eat each day. I feel very proud and privileged to be a Red Cross volunteer. When we do the evaluations I often go with something to share We eat together and build trust. When an old person weeps because I have brought something for them to eat before even beginning to talk, it truly touches me.
But we need to find more long-term solutions so people do not need to depend on aid. For example, investment and training in more modern farming techniques and also diversifying sources of income. Fegui village is not far from a river and encouraging the community to work more on vegetable gardens as opposed to just the traditional cereals could help, particularly in providing food in between harvests. But at the moment it’s hard because they have absolutely nothing to invest in seeds or water pumps.
I am glad that we’ve been able to return after the assessment and distribute rice, oil, sugar and salt to more than 500 households in Fegui, but further emergency support and funding is vital to protect people’s health and help families survive till the next harvest.
Donate to the West Africa Food Crisis Appeal