Food security in Niger

Who are these vulnerable populations?

A mediocre agro-pastoral year left 7.8 million people severely or moderately vulnerable (i.e. 58.2% of the population). According to the annual survey conducted by the National Statistics Institute published on 25 January 2010, the past year has seen a shortfall of 25% in agricultural products and 67% in animal fodder.

The populations most affected live in rural areas and areas used for agro-pastoral production (26.8% of severely and moderately vulnerable people in agro-pastoral areas compared to 16.3% in agricultural areas). The regions of Tahoua (north-east of Niamey) and Diffa (on the far eastern side of the country) are the hardest hit, with 33.9% and 32.0% of their respective populations in a severely vulnerable situation.

What about urban households with low incomes who clearly suffer from escalating food prices?

Prices for staple grains (millet and sorghum) have increasing over the past weeks (5% increase in the price of a sack of millet in February 2010 over the same period of 2009). The support plan will address the entire vulnerable population in Niger, both urban and rural.

How is aid being organised to respond to this emergency?

To address this situation, the government has drawn up a response plan which will serve as template for the action that will be taken. The overall cost of this plan amounts to 104 billion CFA francs (around 158.8 million euros). A shortfall of 75.8 billion CFA francs (around 115 million euros) still needs to be secured.

The government is taking the lead in providing assistance through a national food crisis prevention and management system placed under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s private office. This system has sub-divisions at both regional and departmental levels which are responsible for implementing actions under the response plan, in collaboration with actors from civil society, national and international NGOs and agencies from the UN system.

The rural populations of northern Nigeria (notably the border villages in the States of Katsina and Daoura) have also been affected by this food insecurity. Is there co-operation with the Nigerian authorities?

There is a certain level of co-operation between the two countries in the northern states of Nigeria and the border regions in Niger (Diffa, Zinder, Maradi) with regard to information-sharing, preparing herders’ transhumance and livestock vaccination. A cross-border mission was established in Nigeria in January 2010 by OCHA, with the participation of regional authorities and technical departments in Niger. Actions are currently under way, in the form of food distributions, to support the population suffering from food insecurity in Daoura (State of Katsina).

What aid is being co-ordinated?

Through the National Food Crisis Prevention and Management System, the Niger government plays a leading role in terms of aid provision under the national response plan. The implementation of the response plan takes in to account the impact of different operations on local and regional markets through the Agricultural Market Information System, which is one of the components of the National Food Crisis Prevention and Management System. The government is making a major effort to co-ordinate and harmonise the supply of aid and this effort deserves to be supported.

The United National Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) is helping the Nigerien government co-ordinate the response made by NGOs and agencies from the United Nations system to meet the needs of vulnerable people. OCHA helps produce regular updates on the humanitarian situation in general and on food and nutritional security in particular. OCHA is also helping to mobilise resources in support of UN agencies and NGOs to provide rapid and effective aid to those most in need.

Are we on the brink of another crisis like that in 2005?

Lessons have been learned from the situation in 2005 for which the government and its partners were not properly prepared. Since then monitoring and response mechanisms have been put in place or strengthened and the co-ordination of aid has been vastly improved.

Since Niger's agro-pastoral production is primarily dependent on rainfall, it will continue to be subject to the vagaries of the weather which are increasingly influenced by the climate change already seen in this sub-Saharan country. The structural problem is compounded by other factors which are themselves governed by the economic climate (price increases, development aid reduction, etc.).

Alternatives to rain-fed crops such as irrigation will have to be developed, as well as short-cycle varieties and land reclamation. At the global level, the fight against climate change needs to be stepped up.

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Interview with: 
Modibo Traoré, Head of the UNOCHA mission in Niger