Hunger crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa | Development and Peace

Hunger crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa


Our response

Development and Peace’s partners in the region, notably the local Caritas members, have several activities in place to help communities cope with the effects of this food crisis. Development and Peace with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank supported large-scale food distribution projects organized by Caritas Mali, Caritas Niger and Caritas Burkina Faso. However, there is more that can be done in other countries, like Senegal, which have also been affected by this crisis.

Here are some of the activities that you can help support today:

  • In Mali, Caritas Mali is working to improve food security and nutrition for 36, 972 vulnerable people through the distribution of seeds for staple crops as well as market crops, and the construction of contingency granaries for communities.
  • In Niger, Caritas Niger is contributing to helping 20,700 households affected by food insecurity due to a poor harvest in 2013 by supporting them with food distributions, the subsidized sale of grains and the provision of seeds at fairs.
  • In Senegal, Caritas Senegal is contributing to fighting hunger and food insecurity in rural areas. More than 3,000 households will benefit from the distribution of food and agricultural supplies. In addition, community granaries will be built, and 14 health clinics with receive supplies to treat women and children suffering from malnutrition.


The situation

In the spring of 2012, Development and Peace launched an appeal because the Sahel region of Africa was on the brink of a major humanitarian crisis. This region, which runs beneath the Sahara desert, was facing catastrophic food shortages after erratic weather had caused the failure of crops. In addition, rising food costs made it increasingly difficult for families to access food.

It is estimated that as many as 12 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad and parts of Nigeria and Cameroon, were at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition, and according to the United Nations, one million children were at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

Recurrent droughts had progressively eroded the capacity of communities to cope with poor harvests, which had increased their vulnerability. Faced with this dire situation, people were driven to put at risk their livelihoods by selling their livestock at reduced cost, eating grains meant to be sown to produce the next harvest and abandoning the countryside to find work in urban centres.

In addition, conflict in northern Mali between nomadic Tuareg tribes and Malian forces resulted in a coup d’état, which destabilized the region and exacerbated the situation by causing the displacement of 200,000 people.

Two years later, the situation remains fragile and thousands of people are living in chronic vulnerability. The United Nations estimates that 25 million people are affected by food insecurity. Development and Peace is still active in the region working in partnership with Caritas Internationalis to ensure that communities have access to food, but also to help communities build up their resilience to future crises. The organization is putting in place prevention programs to help ease the most devastating effects of the crisis. Many efforts still need to be made in the region.

February 10, 2016

In January 2016, my colleague Ann Dominique and I had the opportunity to go on a project monitoring trip to the Sahel, more specifically to Mali and Niger.

February 2, 2015

Happy are those, like me, who have taken a long journey. In December of 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting different initiatives carried out by Development and Peace partners in Niger and Mali, and speaking with villagers in these communities.

August 12, 2014

We are travelling down a paved road in western Niger, on our way to the village of Garbay Tombo, which is participating in a project being spearheaded by Caritas Niamey. The horizon is ocher, dotted with greenery. There are trees scattered here and there and shoots of millet struggling to emerge from the ground, hampered in their efforts by the absence of regular rainfall.

Domo Damani and her granddaughter trek home after visiting a Caritas centre in Niger
July 9, 2014

Two years after the serious humanitarian crisis that affected 16 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa, Development and Peace remains on alert.

June 5, 2013

A few months ago, we had the pleasure of premiering Salt+Light’s documentary A New Leaf, about the food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa in several cities across Canada. These premiere events brought out hundreds of people who wanted to learn more about this little known part of the world and how as Canadians we can make a difference. In only a mere 30 minutes, audience members felt a connected solidarity with those whose stories spanned across the screen.

Image from the new documentary A New Leaf
March 8, 2013

Last week, Development and Peace sponsored a series of premieres of the new Salt and Light documentary A New Leaf, which features the response of Development and Peace to the foo

February 27, 2013

We just launched our "Cross Canada Tour" (5 cities) Monday night in Ottawa and it was with a lot of pride that Mgr Terrence Prendergast (Archbishop of Ottawa) hosted the premiere of the documentary A New Leaf. Mgr Prendergast made the opening remarks of the one-hour panel discussion following the film screening.

February 27, 2013

This summer, I travelled to Niger and Mali to report on the food crisis that was gripping the Sahel region of West Africa, as well as the impact that political instability in Mali was having on the population. Accompanying me for the Niger part, was a crew from Salt and Light Television, who we had invited to come to document how the population was coping and our response. Together, we visited villages where the threat of hunger was a daily struggle. We also visited a refugee camp for Malians fleeing the violence in their own country. We could see the despondency of the people in the camp, having been completely uprooted from their homes and without any real idea as to when they would be able to return, if ever. It was a journey of discovery for all of us, and I was anxious to see how this story would be told in the documentary.

February 26, 2013

Development and Peace is hosting a series of free premiere screenings of the documentary A New Leaf in several cities across Canada this week.

CADEV - Caritas Niger - staff with Malian refugees
February 26, 2013

The ongoing conflict in Mali is the result of a complex series of events in which each player has defended their own interests. Secessionist ambitions, control of natural resources, the imposition of sharia, are all claims raised by a variety of national and international actors.

February 13, 2013

When drought caused crops to fail in the Sahel region of West Africa last year, local Caritas organizations knew that the coming year would be a difficult one for the population. The Sahel is a dry, arid region that sits directly below the Sahara desert.

February 13, 2013

Sara Doua, 50, is a tiny woman. Her small frame seems to sag under the weight of her daily struggle to feed her family. When she became a widow 15 years ago, she began to make millet beer as a source of income, but after developing respiratory problems, she had to give up her trade.

The refugees are arriving in one of the most arid parts of Burkina Faso. They’ve arrived with nothing. They need food, shelter, medical care and fuel. Photo: Simone Stefanelli/Caritas
January 30, 2013

According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 7,500 Malians have fled their country in the last two weeks. The intensification of fighting has compelled entire families, some of them in car or truck, others on foot or on the backs of donkeys, to seek refuge in neighbouring countries (mainly in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania).

Newly arrived Malian refugees in Niger wait for registration and for their first food rations. Photo: Ryan Worms/Caritas Internationalis
January 16, 2013

The French military intervention currently taking place in Mali has been making headlines. Although supported by the vast majority of Malians, it also carries with it the risk of worsening the humanitarian situation for the population, especially for those in the North.

October 23, 2012

Apparently, it is never too early to teach the concept of solidarity, nor does it have to be difficult. When the Director of our 3-year-old boy’s daycare informed me that she intended to put together an awareness-building project on Africa for the 2-5 year-olds and that the exercise would culminate in a fundraising activity in support of our West Africa appeal, I was both moved and surprised.

October 5, 2012

Development and Peace has raised over $1.8 million to help 18 million people affected by a food crisis due to drought in the Sahel region of West Africa.

October 3, 2012

The food crisis occurring in the Sahel region of West Africa has gone relatively unseen in the media, but on a recent episode of Perspectives Weekly, which airs on Salt + Light Television, it was featured as the main topic of discussion.

August 31, 2012

Over 18 million people are suffering from food shortages in the Sahel region of West Africa and Development and Peace is helping.

Pastor Cissé with displaced children from the North of Mali
August 21, 2012

On my last day in Mali, I went to visit a centre in Bamako that is hosting 16 displaced families (98 people) who have fled the North of the country due to conflict there. Rebel groups have taken over several cities and have declared independence of this northern region, which stretches out towards the desert.

Sara Doua, a widow at a food distribution organized by Caritas Mali
August 17, 2012

In the early morning Malian sun, members of Caritas Mali are getting organized for the first food distribution to take place in the Diocese of Sikasso. They are setting up rows of chairs, scales to measure out the beans, maize and oil that will be distributed to 93 households in the region and even some speakers to play music.

Farmer working in a rice field in Mali
August 15, 2012

The Sikasso region in the South of Mali is dominated by the wide berth of the Niger River, making it favourable for the cultivation of rice. After a few days of rain here, the river is full and ready to irrigate the rectangular rice paddies nestled at its banks. But for rice to grow, there need to be seeds to plant.

Karya Sagare and her son at a subsidized food sale
August 13, 2012

Karya Sagare’s granddaughter is sticking close to the skirt of her grandmother. Despite the heat, she is wearing a sweater with a hood that covers her head. Her eyes are listless as she quietly follows her grandmother through a church courtyard Karya explains that her granddaughter is not feeling well. She brought her to the doctor once, but can’t afford to bring her again.

August 9, 2012

The Government of Canada announced on Tuesday, August 7th, that it will match dollar for dollar donations made to registered Canadian charities between August 7th and September 30th for the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa.

August 8, 2012

Last year, when the rains didn’t come for the harvest in Mali, it could already be foretold that a potential food crisis was on the horizon. What was less predictable, however, was that the country was on the brink of a political crisis.

August 7, 2012

One of the main questions I had when I left for Niger, was why the country has been experiencing food crises more frequently. After a near famine in 2005, serious peaks in food insecurity have occurred in 2008, 2010 and now 2012. Professor Alpha Gado, a specialist in food crises in the Sahel at the University of Niamey, helped me to understand the complexities of a food crisis in a country like Niger.

August 6, 2012

In Niger, where 80% of the population depends on subsistence farming for its livelihood, getting the land to produce is essential. To see stretches of earth that are rocky and caked dry, languishing with little purpose, feels like an enormous waste, especially at a time when there is not enough food to feed the population.

August 3, 2012

Niger, like most of the countries in the Sahel, only has one rainy season, which means that the harvest that is cultivated from that rain is crucial to survive through the coming year. The time to plant the harvest, however, comes at a time when last year’s crop is nearly depleted and there is little, if anything, left to eat. It is a time when there is not enough food when it is needed most. To plant a field and work the soil requires energy, energy that is hard to find when there is nothing to eat.

July 31, 2012

"There are more refugees arriving every day." These were the words of Nassar, the Caritas Niger representative who accompanied us to the Tabarey Baley refugee camp in Ayourou, close to the Malian border. It is the beginning of the desert here, where the air is dry and the sun is strong. In early February, Malians began to cross the border into Niger to escape violence in their villages by fundamental Islamist groups that have taken over the North of the country.

July 29, 2012

We are in the Sae Saboua commune, in the Maradi Diocese. Today, 234 households from four villages are each receiving 80 kg of millet, 21 kg of "niébé" (dried beans) and 5 litres of cooking oil. This ration is intended to feed a family of seven for a month. As the men are in the fields, it is largely the women that gather at the distribution points. It is now the rainy season in this part of Niger and the millet that was planted with the initial rains in June is already well along and needs to be weeded. If all goes well, that is if the rainy season does not bring floods, if the crop doesn't dry up from lack of rain, or if caterpillars don't ravage the crop as was the case last year, the harvest is due at the end of September.

July 28, 2012

We are in Maradi about 650 km away from Niamey, Niger's capital. Maradi is the country's breadbasket, which also makes it its economic capital. However, we are also 25 km from Nigeria and everything from sugar to cars here comes from Nigeria. Boko Haram is also rampant in northern Nigeria and its influence in the area is very much felt, for example with the full veil being predominant. Tensions with the Christians are such that the Church failed to issue its traditional pre-Ramadan greeting on July 21st this year.

July 27, 2012

The village of Garbeygourou is found off an uneven dirt road that stretches over red sandy earth that has turned even brighter after a recent rainfall. The village itself only seems to be formed of a small cluster of huts, yet when we arrive and the village chief comes out to greet us, people begin to trickle out, slowly grouping in the middle of the village. Before we know it, there are at least 100 men, women, children and babies milling about behind us, with more arriving by the second. The village is receiving support from Caritas Niger because of food insecurity. Many families do not have enough to eat, and a there have been a few cases of severe malnutrition in some children.

July 26, 2012

Niger is one of those countries that seems forgotten on the map, a place at the edge of the world that feels like it has been lost in time. The imagination can't even seem to conjure what it would look like because we hear so little about it. Yet, this large African country is currently experiencing a food crisis that is affecting 6 million people.

July 12, 2012

As a major hunger crisis continues to worsen in West Africa, Development and Peace is widening its response in order to support relief projects in Mauritania, Chad and Senegal.

July 11, 2012

Caritas Internationalis has just released Niger: On the Hunger Frontline, a new video about the current situation in Niger, where over 6 million people are touched by food shortages and at risk of suffering from malnutrition. It shows how Caritas Niger, who is supported by Development and Peace, is making a difference with its program to help communities cope with this hunger crisis.

Refugees from Northern Mali find shelter in neighbouring Niger
July 4, 2012

You might have read lately about the destruction of 7 of the 16 sacred mausoleums in Timbuktu in Mali by the islamist group Ansar Dine who is controlling the city since April 1st, 2012.

We received last week an analysis from Théodore Togo, General Secretary of Caritas Mali (which we support in the actual food crisis), who presents 2012 as the year of all dangers in Mali.

Niger is one of the countries currently affected by a food crisis
June 22, 2012

The drought and food shortages currently affecting 18 million people in six countries in West Africa are signs of a growing humanitarian crisis in the region. Although this situation is receiving little media attention, Catholics are not waiting for the crisis to worsen in order to start acting. Most Rev.

June 15, 2012

This Sunday marks World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. It was on June 17th 1992 that the UN adopted the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). It is a day to remember the dangererous impacts of desertification and drought in the world.

May 30, 2012

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and Development and Peace have announced a joint campaign to respond to the serious food shortage and drought in the Sahel region of West Africa. Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year had appealed to the international community because of the situation.

May 30, 2012

Since the month of May, we at Development and Peace have joined our voice with those of our sister agencies within the Caritas Internationalis confederation to sound the alarm on the situation in West Africa.

Today, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) announced their full support for this campaign, by appealing to all Canadian Catholics to show solidarity with the communities threatened by a major food crisis in the coming months.

May 30, 2012

In response to a major hunger crisis in West Africa, where an estimated 15.6 million people are facing food shortages, Development and Peace is planning a $5 million response to help 14,500 people in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.

May 15, 2012

I have arrived in Burkina. It was more or less of a chaotic arrival! I was meant to fly to Bamako, Mali, to later travel to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, but the situation being what it is, the flight to Bamako was cancelled and I landed directly in Ouaga. Fortunately, our partner OCADES knew what to do and I found myself in good hands!

May 7, 2012

Development and Peace is warning that a growing food crisis in West Africa will continue to worsen if the international community does not mobilize to react to this unfolding humanitarian crisis. An appeal has been launched to support relief efforts in the region.

May 7, 2012

I am writing my last blog post from home in Montreal. With the airport in Bamako closed, I was driven by our friends at Caritas Mali to neighbouring Burkina Faso (14 hours) so that I could fly back to Montreal from Ougadougou.

May 1, 2012

Monday 4 p.m. and the first shots are heard. In these circumstances, we always ask ourselves if this noise is simply a car engine exploding. But after the 10th detonation in 15 minutes, we no longer ask ourselves this question. For a moment, there is a lull, but the shots begin again around 7 p.m. I was at a restaurant with Gaston Goro, Emergencies Coordinator with Caritas Mali.

April 30, 2012

I spent my first day in Bamako with Gaston Goro, the Emergencies Coordinator at Caritas Mali, and Mamadou Diakité, an accountant with the organization. Caritas Mali was the first Caritas in the region to launch an appeal for aid to go towards the current food crisis here, but the response of the Caritas network – and the international community  -  has been slow.

April 26, 2012

It seems like just yesterday that I was 20 years old and a law student at the University of Laval in Québec. I had just been selected by Canadian Crossroads International to go to Africa – Mali to be precise. I was leaving North America for the first time. In fact, it was the first time that I was travelling by plane! Was I excited?

April 5, 2012

Since this past January, over 200,000 people have fled their homes in Mali, mainly due to rebel offenses in the north of the country. Of this number, 107,000 have taken refuge in other parts of the country, while the rest have fled to neighbouring Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria.

Photo credit: Gaston Goro/Caritas Mali
March 15, 2012

Guy Des Aulniers, Emergency Relief program officer at Development and Peace, was interviewed by Geoffrey P. Johnston from the online news magazine Christian Week for an article on the Christian response to the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa.

February 24, 2012

Development and Peace is providing $50,000 to Caritas Mali in support of its emergency food aid program.


A documentary about the food crisis in the Sahel
and Development and Peace's response

In the summer of 2012, the Sahel region of West Africa faced a food crisis that put 18 million people at risk of hunger and food shortages. At the height of the crisis, Development and Peace travelled to Niger, one of the most affected countries, with a film crew from Salt and Light Television, to chronicle the impact on communities. The result is A New Leaf, a 30-minute documentary that delves into the complex issues that led to the crisis and how our solidarity can make a difference.
Watch the trailer >

At the end of February 2013, we premiered the film in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria and it subsequently aired on Salt+Light TV. Hear what people across the country had to say about A New Leaf.
Organize a screening in your community
We would like to invite you to take the journey to Niger through A New Leaf with your community. We have prepared a Screening and Discussion Guide to help you organize a screening of the documentary in your community to raise awareness on the realities of food insecurity in this region of the world. We have also prepared a poster template that you can use to promote your event.
Screening and discussion guide

Available for sale for $16.95 from Salt+Light Media.