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Malians tune in for food security news

by Soumaila T. Diarra | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 22 March 2011 14:44 GMT

A food security news system in Mali is turning its attention to climate issues as lack of rain becomes a nationwide problem

BAMAKO, Mali (AlertNet) - Television viewers across Mali can now get the latest news on which parts of the West African country face a risk of food shortages and malnutrition.

The regular bulletins on nationwide food security come thanks to the Early Alert System (EAS), a Bamako-based public service that puts together information - for broadcast on national television and radio – aimed at raising awareness of brewing food emergencies.

“The food situation is good throughout the country,” announced the presenter, at the end of one recent television weather segment. “Thanks to the first harvest, new cereals are available, and cattle breeders can easily exchange their goats for millet.”

The EAS service, funded by Mali’s government and international partners including the European Union, U.S. AID and the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), was first set up after severe droughts in the early 1980s, to provide accurate information to aid workers assisting hungry people in the northern regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.

But EAS now has expanded its scope in an effort to help mitigate the effects of climate change, particularly as insufficient rainfall becomes a problem across the whole country, according to Mamy Coulibaly, a food crisis specialist with the service.

Several studies commissioned by Mali’s government over the past decade or so suggest food insecurity patterns in the Sahel-region nation have shifted, explained EAS head Mary Diallo.

“(It) is no longer a rural … problem only. It’s now a matter of general poverty affecting rural and urban regions,” she said. “This is why we expanded the scope of the Early Alert System to all parts of Mali.”


Among other issues, the service looks at how people are migrating within the impoverished country’s borders, a growing trend that some national experts link to climate change pressures. Rural farmers in drought-hit areas are finding it harder to produce enough to feed their families, and moving – temporarily or permanently - can be a way to generate additional income.

As highlighted by the EAS, young people increasingly are moving to big cities and traditional gold mining areas in hopes of earning money to sustain relatives back home in their villages.

Migration within national borders is increasingly recognized internationally as a form of adaptation to climate pressures.

Landlocked Mali is one of the world’s poorest countries. About 75 percent of the population earns less than $2 a day, and about 50 percent earn less than $1.25 a day. While only around 4 percent of the country’s land area is used for crops, four-fifths of the workforce is involved in small-scale farming, herding or fishing.

The bulletins produced by EAS, usually on a monthly basis, are now available on the internet, and are distributed to many agencies, including Mali government offices and NGOs. The service’s bulletins cover a range of activities connected with food and nutrition.

According to a bulletin in January, which covered the period between late November and early December, many families were bringing in food from the first harvest, and some cereal banks were having trouble selling their remaining stocks of grain.

Listeners were also told that the World Food Programme distributed 409,579 tonnes of grain in the northern regions of Timbuktu, Kayes and Gao, where some people were in need of food assistance.


Users say the radio and television tipoffs are crucial to helping them make good decisions.

Sali Samake, a farmer from Tamala village in the south of Mali, said she particularly valued the Early Alert System’s warnings about crop dangers.

“When the swarms of grasshoppers or birds which destroy crops appear somewhere in the country, we are informed through the bulletins, and we prepare to protect our crops”, she said.

And Bassa Diane, a food security expert at the country’s Food Security Commission, said the reports were vital for her agency’s planning efforts.

“Every year we supply with grain many communities facing food shortages in Mali. The Early Alert System forecasts allow us to achieve that mission”, Diane said. “On the basis of the bulletins we plan food distribution throughout the country.”

The Early Alert System also provides news relating to medical issues, a reflection of how food insecurity can harm people’s health. And it focuses heavily on cattle rearing, which a large share of Mali’s 14 million people depend on for their livelihood. Bulletins regularly report on the availability of fodder and water, and the movement of herds around the country.

Information is gathered from public services, local authorities and civil society organisations, and then processed in Bamako.

The EAS reports, broadcast on public media, are also distributed to national authorities, aid groups and international agencies like the WFP, so they can act quickly to prevent food emergencies and malnutrition in areas where harvests have been poor.

In 2010, Mali’s Food Security Commission used the EAS forecasts to distribute grain in more than 30 municipalities affected by food shortages. The commission also distributed fodder and water to animals in northern regions where livestock were dying, said Ogoyo Dolo, an internal evaluator for the EAS service.

Soumaila T. Diarra is a freelance journalist based in Mali. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.


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