Nigers food crisis is potentially more serious than
the 2005 famine, international agencies warned this week
while agriculture experts called for a focus on raising small
Elizabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, which oversees UN
international aid efforts, told Emerging Markets that
the Niger crisis appears to be worse than that of
OCHA is seeking to raise $190 million for Niger. But the
proportion of humanitarian appeal commitments that are funded
had fallen from 51% in 2008 to 37% in 2009 and 36% this year,
Byrs warned, chiefly due to the financial crisis, the Haiti
disaster, and donor fatigue.
A National Rapid Household Survey conducted in Niger in
December last year indicated that 7.8 million people, or 58.2%
of the population, are at risk of food insecurity. Of these,
2.7 million are classified as severely vulnerable
meaning they have exhausted normal coping strategies,
are regularly eating less, and are eating last-resort
Nigers former president Mamadou Tandja, who was
removed by a military coup in February, suppressed discussion
on food security issues. Researchers hope for better from the
new authorities, who are now preparing elections.
We hope there will now be a focus on food security by
the government, said Ephraim Nkonya, senior research
fellow at the US-based International Food Policy Research
Improving water harvesting and irrigation is crucial for
food security in Niger, which has a dry, predominantly desert
Farmers in Niger have pioneered the Zai rainwater harvesting
technique, in which water is retained in pits, Nkonya said.
But development of small-scale irrigation lags far behind
areas with similar geography and social structure just across
the border in Nigeria.
Government action is essential to create conditions to
improve yields, Nkonya said.
Over the longer term, only investment that raises
productivity among the poorest farmers can prevent food crises,
experts believe. Andrew Dorward, professor of development
economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in
London, said: What is needed is a reinvigoration of
investment in research and development in agriculture.
An important debate concerns whether investment should
focus on large farms in middle income countries, such as
Brazil, or whether it should be used to address the problems of
small farmers in Africa producing staple foodstuffs.
It is much more difficult to invest in small farms in
Africa. Not only new methods, but systems that allow people to
use those new methods, have to be put in place. But many of us
argue that for living standards to be raised and, ultimately,
for some people to move off the land, those people first have
to be raised up from subsistence farming levels.