AKRON, Pa. – A food crisis is spreading through the semi-arid Sahel, a seven-country ribbon across the southern edge of the Sahara, from Mauritania on the Atlantic to Sudan on the Red Sea. The United Nations says the disaster now threatens 15 million lives and may grow to affect several million more.
While parts of the region have endured food crises over the past decade, the current situation is unique in its breadth, encompassing the entire Sahel, said Chad Warfel. Warfel and his spouse Isabelle, both of Ephrata, Pa., serve as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representatives in Burkina Faso.
Warfel said the rains in Burkina Faso, which usually last from May or June to September, fell steadily for only three to four weeks in 2011, tapering off altogether within six weeks. “The rainy season was very, very short,” he said. “Already by September crops were drying up.”
Many farm families began having to purchase basic food grains – millet, sorghum, corn – even before the usual harvest months of October and November. Prices have since soared beyond the means of farm families to purchase these staples.
The Burkina Faso government has listed 170 of its 350 townships as grain-deficient and at risk of famine.
MCC partner Development Office of Evangelical Churches (ODE) is intervening in 21 of those townships, and other nongovernmental agencies are helping in the remaining ones, Warfel said.
MCC is providing $31,000 to assist ODE’s efforts in Pella township, about 40 miles from the capital of Ouagadougou.
ODE’s strategy is twofold – to supply food in the short term and to shore up its ongoing efforts in food production and security for the longer term. It will give grain to the most destitute and sell grain to other households at subsidized prices. The money earned from selling this grain will become the working capital by which two food banks later can buy grain from local farmers and sell it locally at subsidized prices. This longer-term effort will give farmers a local market for their products and help provide stable food prices for the community, even during times of need when the market cost of food rises.
In addition to this project, MCC is providing some $150,000 through its account in the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to food assistance responses in other areas of Burkina Faso, and in Mali and Niger, through partner agency Caritas Internationalis Confederation. Through another partner, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, MCC also is providing $50,000 to support food-for-work and tools-for-work to 4,062 households in the departments of Say and Aigué in Niger.
Emily Will is a freelance writer based in Frederick, Md.