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Number of Hungry Soars in Mali

French soldiers patrolling the streets of Gao, Mali, walk past a boy carrying canisters on Dec. 4, 2021.

Aid groups say drought and conflict in Mali have more than tripled the number of people going hungry in the past year. Rising prices of staple foods forced the government this week to halt exports of millet, corn, and rice and food shortages are expected to spread.

Twenty-two non-governmental organizations signed a press release this week highlighting the rapidly worsening food crisis that has left 1.2 million people facing hunger amid widespread insecurity and drought.

The Malian government halted all exports of millet, corn, and rice in an official letter published on Monday, signed by Mali’s minister of industry and commerce, Mahmoud Ould Mohamed.

Speaking to Reuters, he said, “the suspension aims to anticipate the cereal crisis which is looming on the international market, to protect national production and the most disadvantaged segments” of the population.

The effects are already being felt by citizens in Gao, one of Mali’s largest northern cities. Ousman Maiga, a Gao resident and the secretary general of the Gao region’s civil society, told VOA that oil, sugar, millet, and rice prices have risen sharply in recent months.

He says the poor condition of roads between the capital and Gao has further complicated the situation.

Maiga says that a large family in Mali, where multiple generations often live under the same roof, can easily consume 100 kilos of rice in a month.

That, he says, can now consume most of the family’s income.

He says, for example, if you have a monthly salary of 100,000 West African francs, and you’re in a house – because, you have to also know, even rent is expensive here because of the crisis and all that – if you’re in a house that’s 50,000 per month, and a sack of rice is 45,000, you have only 5,000 left over. It’s done, he says. You’ve paid your rent, and you’ve bought a sack of rice, but you don’t have any money left.

But 100,000 West African franc -- the equivalent of about $172 -- is more than many Malians will see in a month. According to USAID, nearly half of Malians live in extreme poverty, and most Malians work in agriculture.

The press release said 3 million people have been affected by recent drought.

Mali is also home to 400,000 internally displaced persons driven from their homes by ongoing violence, who are all vulnerable to food shortages.

Tom Peyre-Costa of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says his group’s projections are even worse for next year, forecasting a 58% increase in the number of people facing hunger.

“What is needed now for sure is of course also more support from the international community,” he said. “Basically, right now the food security response is only funded 25% and we are in December. And it’s for the whole year, so it’s not going to improve. It means that it’s lacking 75% of the money to make sure that people have enough food to eat. So that’s something that needs to be addressed. Because you can escape from violence, you can escape from climate change, but you cannot really escape from international neglect.”

Mali is currently under military rule, and elections were scheduled to be held in February. The prime minister said in September that elections may be delayed.

Mali’s current leaders now have to manage a food crisis in an addition to the ongoing security crisis in the country’s central regions.