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Results BriefsMay 10, 2022

Responding to the Food Crisis in the Sahel by Addressing the Food Emergencies and Structural Challenges of the West African food system

Food and Nutrition Security in West Africa

Beneficiaries receiving agricultural equipment and input kits in Chad.

Photo: FAO

Nearly 2 million people in the Sahel have benefitted from the World Bank financing that provided emergency relief to support food and humanitarian assistance, as well as to promote investments in the next season’s production, thus ensuring a post-shock recovery.


For the third consecutive year, West Africa is facing a major food and nutrition crisis, with 14.4 and 23.7 million people in need of food assistance in 2020 and 2021, respectively (Figure 1). In addition, a projected 33.4 million people are in crisis or worse during the lean season that has characterized 2022 thus far. The deteriorating situation is caused by multiple factors including climate change, land degradation, conflict, and the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank has responded to the food crisis by addressing food emergencies and structural challenges in the West African food system, thus contributing to international objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, specifically SDG 2) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Thus, the World Bank has scaled up its efforts to fight the rising number of food insecure people world-wide. As such, it has quadrupled its financial support to fight hunger and malnutrition from $4.1 billion in 2006/2008 to $17.3 billion projected for the fiscal year 2021-22. 

Figure 1: Food and Nutrition Security Situation in West Africa

Food and Nutrition Security Situation in West Africa
Source: FEWS NET. (


The World Bank is addressing food and nutritional security in the short-term by activating emergency response to support food and humanitarian assistance. Over the medium- to long-term, it is supporting smallholder farmers as follows:  

In Burkina Faso, the World Bank supported the government’s emergency response through governance, social development, and agriculture projects. Support was focused on strengthening the country’s social safety nets (with $156 million in financing), as well as on building the resilience of its food system (with $100 million in financing). Activities related to the food system include the support of cash transfers to the poorest communities, income-generating activities, as well as access to seeds and fertilizers by farmers. 

In Chad, the World Bank activated the emergency response components of the Climate Resilience Agriculture and Productivity Enhancement and the Rural Mobility and Connectivity Projects in support of the government’s COVID-19 Emergency Action Plan. The $30 million helped 430,000 people through food distribution. It also supported 20,000 smallholder farmers with seeds and equipment. 

Food and Nutrition Security in West Africa
Food assistance for persons affected by the socioeconomic impact of COVID-10. Province of Wadi Fira, Chad - Photo credit: World Food Programme

Food and Nutrition Security in West Africa
Beneficiaries of the food assistance program in Wadi Fira, Chad. Photo credit: World Food Programme

In Mali, to the World Bank is supporting the government’s Emergency Response Plan and the Mali Drylands Development Project, thus activating its emergency response component. The emergency operation was implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP), which distributed food vouchers to 153,000 households, thereby covering 4 months of basic food needs.

In Niger, the World Bank is supporting various programs to help address this crisis through the Agriculture and Livestock Transformation and the Climate-Smart Agriculture Support Projects. Project activities include : (i) increasing food production and enhancing food system resilience to climate change (with climate-smart agriculture, irrigation, access to inputs and services) ($111 million); and (ii) improving farmers’ access to finance and markets ($100 million). 


The following results were achieved: 

Burkina Faso: 

  • 700,000 beneficiaries received 30,000 tons of cereals from the strategic food reserves. 
  • More than 93,000 vulnerable households received cash transfers (including 26,056 households of internally displaced people) between June and August 2020.
  • 30,000 vulnerable farmers received digital vouchers to access seeds and fertilizers during the 2021 agricultural season.
  • 3,450 households that were particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were enabled to purchase livestock and cover other livestock production-related needs in 2021. 


  • 433,056 people received food rations covering 45 days. Some 20,000 vulnerable producers received seed and tillage equipment kits.


  • 153,000 households, including 700,000 people, received food vouchers covering four months of basic food needs.


  • 295,000 households received 9,000 tons of improved seeds and cassava cuttings.  
  • 14,500 tons of animal feed were distributed to pastoralists.
  • 73,500 people, of which 32,500 were women, were provided with temporary jobs through land restoration activities during the 2020 and 2021 lean seasons. 

World Bank Group Contribution

  • Burkina Faso: The World Bank supported the government’s emergency response by focusing on social safety nets (with $156 million in financing), as well as on building the resilience of the country’s food system (with $100 million in financing).
  • Chad: An amount of $30 million was provided through the Climate Resilience Agriculture and Productivity Enhancement and the Rural Mobility and Connectivity Projects.
  • Mali: $12.5 million in International Development Association (IDA) financing mobilized through activation of the Mali Drylands Emergency Response component. 
  • Niger: Financing was mobilized through the Niger Agriculture and Livestock Transformation Project emergency response ($39.5 million to support victims of the 2020 floods) and the Niger Climate Smart Agriculture Support Project ($21.26 million to support the COVID-19 response in 2020 and the Food Insecurity Crisis in 2021/22).


The Bank is working with a diverse coalition of partners on the food security agenda, including United Nations (UN) agencies and other humanitarian and development organizations, such as the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); regional organizations, for example, the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS); research institutions such as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); and representatives of civil society. 

Looking Ahead

The food security crisis in the Sahel is expected to be  a protracted one. The war in Ukraine is expected to further exacerbate the situation by increasing global food prices, thereby driving an additional 7 to 10 million people in West Africa into a situation of food insecurity. This poses an exceptional challenge for countries that are already fiscally stressed and heavily indebted. To prevent the recurrence of food insecurity episodes, it is imperative to invest in resilience. Further short-term relief and medium-term measures are planned, including cash and food transfers, nutritionally balanced rations through food distribution programs, as well as investments in the next season’s production. However, in the long-term, the Bank will help the Sahelian countries address the underlying causes of food and nutritional insecurity in the Sahel by taking a broader food-system approach. Key elements include generating jobs and raising incomes in food systems; building effective early warning systems and capacity for prevention of crop and livestock pests and diseases; and improving agricultural markets and natural resource management. 

Beneficiaries Story/Quote 

Amadou Diallo is a pastoralist raising about 100 cows, goats, and sheep in Mali. During the 2020 lean season, he faced several challenges that threatened the survival of his herd, as well as the livelihood of his family. He was forced to buy food and fodder on the market, which had become increasingly expensive due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. "I had to sell some of the cattle to ensure the survival of the rest of the herd. […] I had to sell ten oxen, that's more than usual," says the pastoralist.” 

In Amadou’s village more than 100 vulnerable families received cash transfers allowing them to freely choose food from a local market. “With this help …, [I] bought food for my family for several weeks.” he concluded.