Blog Post

Climate Change and Household Food Access: The Case of Senegal

Throughout the Sahel region of West Africa, the majority of crops and livestock are produced during one main rainy season. Any disruptions to this season—like those caused, for example, by climate change-induced drought—can have significant negative impacts on incomes, food availability, and food security for both producers and consumers. A new article in Global Food Security  examines these impacts at the household level in Senegal. The article aims to determine which households are most threatened by climate shocks and what types of policies and interventions can help increase their resilience.

The study draws on several years’ worth of rural household surveys; the data were collected in 2013, 2014, and 2016 (regarding the previous wet season; 2012, 2014, and 2015, respectively) and covered several thousand rural households. The authors conducted a cluster analysis using three specific household-level variables: the Food Consumption Score (FCS), the Food Expenditure Share (FES), and the Reduced Coping Strategies Index (rCSI). By using these variables, they aimed to examine year-to-year variations in households’ food access and relate that measure to the occurrence of climatic shocks.  

Households were separated into five clusters. The least food secure households are characterized by low mean FCS, high mean FES, and extremely high rCSI; the study divided this cluster further into those with extremely high rCSI and those with intermediate rCSI. The most food secure households are characterized by high mean FCS and low mean FES and rCSI; this cluster was also further split into two categories characterized by higher or lower FES. The fifth (and most frequent) cluster represented an intermediate group of households with mean FCS and FES similar to less food secure households but mean rCSI similar to more food secure households.

Among the three wet seasons covered by the household surveys, 2012 and 2015 were among the wettest of the previous two decades. 2014, on the other hand, saw significant rainfall deficits across the entire country. Survey households’ responses were in line with these trends. In 2013, 4 percent of rural households overall (across all clusters) complained about insufficient rains, while 39.7 percent complained about rising food prices; in 2016, these numbers were 5.9 and 42.2 percent. In 2014, however, 84.3 percent of all rural households surveyed, across all food security clusters, complained about insufficient rains and 70.9 percent complained about rising food prices. Interestingly, rates of complaints about food prices rose most for the two most food secure clusters in 2014, suggesting that food prices increased significantly during that period.

The study also found that in 2014—the drought year in the sample—mean and median rCSI increased in clusters where it is typically lowest. In other words, households that do not normally resort to potentially negative coping strategies to maintain their food security needed to do so during that year.

Findings regarding the geographic distribution of more or less food secure households were somewhat unexpected, according to the authors. The least secure households were located mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the country, which have a longer rainy season and generally receive higher rainfall. This suggests that while climate shocks such as drought may impact households in these regions on occasion, food insecurity is driven more by long-term socio-economic constraints such as high food prices, lack of access to agricultural inputs, and conflict. Similarly, the most food secure households were found in the northwestern region of the country, which was notoriously hard hit with drought in the 1970s and 1980s. The authors posit that households in this region have moved away from climate-sensitive economic activities since those decades, thus increasing their resilience to such shocks.

Households in the intermediate cluster were found throughout the country as a whole. This suggests that the average rural household in Senegal falls into this cluster, which achieves minimal nutrition and spends a large portion of its income on food but does not generally need to rely on potentially negative coping strategies except in times of crisis.

By identifying the populations most vulnerable to food insecurity and climate shocks can help policymakers and development practitioners better target and prioritize interventions, the authors conclude. Such interventions could include general and targeted food distribution to less food secure household clusters, home-grown school feeding programs, weather index insurance schemes, and improved access to credit, savings, and insurance programs. Such interventions can have wider ranging impacts on development goals other than food security as well, such as education, health, and conflict mitigation, helping to improve households’ overall wellbeing in Senegal and in the Sahel more broadly.