Early warning systems and food supply in Western Africa (in the Sahel)

Bernd Hoffmann
German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), 65760 Eichborn, Germany.
Tel. : +49-6169-791321, Fax: +49-6169-797130,
E-mail: bernd.hoffmann@gtz.de

The Sahel is a drought prone area with yields fluctuating up to 50% depending heavily on the yearly rainfall patterns. The local production often has to be complemented by imports and food aid. To develop efficient strategies for this situation reliable information on the actual food supply situation and market prices is needed. The earlier the information is available the more efficient the strategies can be.

Based on 15 years of experience GTZ developed with its partner countries instruments to design disaster preparedness, disaster prevention and early warning measures to cope with the food insecurity. The main Instruments are:

  • Early warning and market information systems
  • Food security stocks
  • Food security fonds
  • Disaster mitigation plans

Early warning systems provide timely information on the food supply situation nation wide and by region.

Market Information systems try to support the free interaction of supply and demand in time and space, to be able to limit interventions by the governments to situations where an efficient allocation of the resources is not sufficient to cope with the food insecurity situation. These interventions are either through the food security stocks (physical stocks of grain) or through imports financed by the food security fonds.

The early warning systems are mainly used by the donor community and the governments. They allow a timely reaction to food deficit situations and a more targeted intervention through food aid or commercial imports. The main problem is often the divergent interests between both partners. Governments tend to boost the deficit to receive more food aid whereas donors try to provide as little as possible to limit the negative influences of food aid and the costs related to it. The gain in time through early information on the food Situation is often lost in the negotiations between both partners.

Market information systems increase the transparency of the market for the economic actors. Reduced information costs and increased concurrence contribute to a higher market performance and to a more efficient allocation of goods. They allow to monitor the effects of food aid and government interventions on the market and to adapt the interventions to minimise the negative effects.

Difficulties occurred with traders who had no interest in transparency of the market and after a long period of fixed prices for staple food the actors had difficulties to adapt to a systems of free market prices.