offered for sale after the rains because herds have not returned to their home from far-away
pastures. Observers may see a glut of animals and very low prices in the later dry season, as
people try to sell off animals because they cannot find pasture or afford fodder for them, or
because they desperately need the money for food. Livestock prices can fall to extremely low
levels. A crucial part of market surveillance is therefore the trend in terms-of-trade of live-
stock for grain.
Seasonal variability in grain prices contributes to the insecurity of highly vulnerable pasto-
ral communities during times of poor rains, where they are forced to sell their animals when
food prices are their highest due to lack of pasture ( Figure 2.5 ) (Brown et al ., 2008). FEWS
NET focuses on livestock prices because they represent savings, enabling access to food when
times are poor. When a poor farmer sells his last goat to buy an amount of grain that would
not last the family for ten days (less than 50 kg), then a food security crisis is imminent. Early
warning needs to pick up on these trends well before this moment (FEWS NET, 2011c).
Data for food security analysis
The example given above shows how detailed and specific information has to be for useful
and actionable food security assessment. The data and analysis that form the basis for
West Africa index
FIGURE 2.5 Average monthly price in CFA per kilogram of millet (benchmarked to the year 2006)
in Niger from 2002 to 2012, from 13 markets, plotted with the West Africa price index
(source: data from FEWS NET, analysis derived from Brown et al. , 2010 and 2012).
The figure shows the increase in prices in the pre-harvest season of July and August, followed by a decline
during the harvest during October and November in this semi-arid region.