Beating the Lean Season in Mali

Below-average rainfall in 2013 brought meager harvests and food stocks have run out early this year. Malian farmers who planted in May must now wait until October for the next harvest, and vulnerable communities are feeling the pressure. 

BAMAKO - Some 80 percent of people in Mali rely on farming to feed themselves. When the lean season hits and stocks run dry, families often have few options and may resort to selling their livestock or tools to buy food.

This year, WFP-Mali is using a new tool, known as a forward purchasing facility (FPF), to get food to people who need it more quickly. Thanks to the efficiency and effectiveness of FPFs, they are quickly becoming the norm in big emergencies.

Forward Purchasing in Brief
As the world’s largest provider of humanitarian aid, people often assume WFP has the resources to keep food at the ready. However, as a 100-percent voluntarily funded agency, WFP cannot purchase food without confirmed donations—at least not without FPFs.

Romain Bouveau, Head of Procurement for WFP-Mali, explains how this mechanism works:

“Basically, the FPF gives us an advance so we can buy a specific amount of food—before we have confirmed contributions from donors—and get it delivered to our warehouses ahead of the lean season. With the food already here, we can practically start loading-up the trucks the moment a donation is confirmed.”

Supporting the Local Economy
With forward purchasing, WFP has time to source what it needs locally, injecting money directly into the local economy.

 For Agounon Ongoiba, a member of a farmers’ organization that sold cereals used for the FPF, the extra income has made a big difference.

“Thanks to my profits from this year’s sale, I have enough money to buy more fertilizer and I plan to increase my production next year.”

So far this year in Mali, WFP has bought US$14.7 million in cereals from local producers, a third of which was made possible thanks to the FPF.

Stretching Money Further
Helen Elangwe, who manages WFP’s resources in Mali, explains that forward purchasing also means donor investments go further.

“When we have the power to purchase ahead of time in large quantities, we are not at the mercy of the market. We can choose the best time of year to buy what we need—for the best quality and the best price.”

This year, WFP-Mali has already saved US$765,000 thanks to the FPF.

Reducing Delivery Delays
Without the FPF, getting stocks ordered and into WFP’s warehouse can take up to four months.

According to Ms. Elangwe, without forward purchasing, WFP would likely have faced a shortfall of about 5,000 tonnes of food at the height of the lean season in Mali.

Thanks to quick action by USAID and the European Union, however, this year WFP was able to distribute all 10,000 tonnes of cereals from the FPF ahead of the lean season.

On average, FPFs cut lead times by 60 percent.

Up Next
Next year, WFP plans to increase its forward purchasing and buy more stocks locally, including food other than cereals. Beans—traditionally grown by women—can also be purchased locally, putting money directly into women’s hands.

WFP-Mali already surpasses WFP’s global goal of purchasing 10 percent of food locally and continues to aim higher.

“Over the past five years in Mali, we’ve bought an average of 30 percent of our stocks locally.” says Mr. Bouveau.With the success of the FPF this year, I expect we will continue to buy more of what we need from local farmers to feed local communities.”