Monday, May 03, 2010

The root causes of Niger's food shortage

For years, Niger has been at the bottom of the United Nations Development Index. The food shortage it is experiencing now has actually been a continuing problem for the country. The lack of agricultural policies and infrastructure has led to year after year of small harvests, leading up to the failed harvest of last year.

From Reuters Alert Net, George Fominyen looks into how extreme poverty has helped to contribute to the problem.

About 80 percent of Niger's population lives in rural areas, depends on subsistence agriculture and breeding livestock and faces high levels of poverty, with little access to food, water, healthcare and education, according to the U.N.

"Such poverty among people whose incomes don't permit them to afford their food needs in the case of sudden shocks - including droughts, locust attacks, floods - is the other most important cause of the food crises in the country," Alpha Gado told AlertNet in Niger.

"This means that 2 years in every 5 there is a food crisis and this will become even more recurrent due to degrading climatic and environmental conditions," he added.

International aid groups operating in Niger say that although this year there is a deficit of 400,000 metric tonnes of cereals and crops failed in remote villages, accessibility rather than availability is the major concern and has always been the problem.

"Basically the population is not able or does not have the financial capacity to purchase this food which is largely available in the market in many parts of the country coming from within and from the coastal parts of West Africa," Malik Allaouna, the regional emergency manager for the U.K.-based relief group Save the Children told Alertnet.

"We think cash programmes, social safety programmes should be prioritised at this stage (of the unfolding crisis)," he added.

Some Nigerien experts are advocating that these so called safety net projects such as "cash-for-food" and "cash for work schemes" used in emergency situations to provide financial support to people going through a shock should become permanent in Niger.

"We should not wait to set up these programmes during the lean season (in April or May) when hunger is at its peak, they should run from January to December," Alpha Gado said.

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