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Food Security: Security of supply, come rain or come shine

By Pierre Boisselet
Posted on Friday, 13 April 2012 08:21

While international experts predict more shortages to come, the government wants to avoid future crises and has launched a five-year $2bn investment programme.

Niger is used to food insecurity crises, but it has rarely faced such a conjuncture of difficult shocks. After the conflict that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya forced Nigerien workers to return home and thus shrank their remittances, the Tuareg rebellion in Mali in February pushed tens of thousands of refugees to settle on Nigerien soil.

On top of that, imports from Nigeria, Niger’s principal supplier, have become more expensive due to higher transportation costs and the closure of border posts in response to attacks carried out by the Boko Haram Islamist group. The final component of this season’s food crisis is a shortage of rainfall that has created a cereal deficit of some 700,000tn, about one-fifth of national demand.

Under previous circumstances, these elements would have led to a repeat of the 2005 famine. For now, such scenes have been averted. There is still a long period before the next harvest, but analysts are not calling for panic. “We are fairly calm because this year the government raised the alarm bell early, which allowed its partners the time to prepare,” says Olivier Lefay, the director in charge of food security programmes at the European Commission’s office in Niamey.

We consider non-governmental organisations as partners, and we do not hesitate to lobby donor institutions

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President Mahamadou Issoufou first warned of the coming shortages in August 2011. Farmers had not yet completed the harvest, but weak rainfall already suggested a serious risk of insufficient production in a country where more than 70 percent of land under cultivation relies upon rainfall.

This attitude is radically different from the one adopted by former president Mamadou Tandja, whose refusal to address emergency situations inhibited the early delivery of international humanitarian assistance.

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“We have a totally different approach,” says one of Issoufou’s advisors. “We consider non-governmental organisations as partners, and we do not hesitate to lobby donor institutions.”

Sowing hope

It is too early to say whether the government has handled the crisis effectively, but it is now looking to prevent future shortages from developing. In its 50 years of independence, Niger has found itself with a production deficit at least one out of every two years. To break this cycle, the government launched the 3N Initiative – Les Nigériens Nourissent les Nigériens (Nigeriens Feed Nigeriens) – in October 2011. One of its principal objectives is to reduce dependence on climatic conditions. The project envisions 1trn CFA francs ($2bn) in investments over five years, with an accent on irrigation, the collection of rainfall and the use of fertilisers and other inputs.

“For example, in the Dallols region there is subterranean water at a depth of only three to seven metres. By financing wells and pumps, we can irrigate crops,” explains Amadou Allahoury Diallo, director of the 3N Initiative. And the completion of the dam at Kandadji, being built by the Russian firm Zarubezhvodstroy, will permit the irrigation of tens of thousands of hectares.

In the meantime, the government has already released 100bn CFA francs for emergency projects. “It is a bit like a rehearsal period before the launching of the 3N Initiative,” says Diallo. Will it be a conclusive solution? The answer will be known at the next harvest.

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This article was first published in the 2012 April edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

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