Millions of people in West Africa could be protected from a serious food crisis if preparations are scaled up across the region according to Oxfam.

Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam Humanitarian Lead in West Africa, said, “The situation is looking extremely worrying for millions of people in West Africa, but the worst is not yet inevitable. The crisis has been identified early, and we know that there are cost-effective measures that can be taken now to protect those most vulnerable. This time we can act before the emergency hits.”

Early indicators point to a likely food crisis in 2012, with people at particularly high risk in Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad. According to national early warning systems, cereal production is down compared to the five-year average, with Mauritania and Chad showing deficits of over 50 percent compared to last year.

Biteye said, “People are still recovering from the last crisis in 2010 and are incredibly vulnerable to any extra shocks such as rising food prices, poor harvests or the death of their animals. These people need help now to build their resilience before next year. Acting early could make a huge difference.”

Early reports suggest six million people in Niger and 2.9 million people in Mali live in areas vulnerable to the coming crisis. The statements from Oxfam followed a similar warning by the United Nations, which on Friday appealed for urgent action to save a million children at the risk of malnutrition.

Oxfam also warned that preventing future crises would require action to address the root causes and provide longer-term support for the poorest people.