The United Nations agriculture agency is implementing nine projects worth nearly $18 million in Niger in support of farmers and pastoralists who are facing an alarming food crisis as a result of the prolonged drought in the Sahel region of West Africa.
The projects, to be implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in partnership with the Government and civil society groups, focus on the immediate purchase and distribution of 14,000 tons of animal feed, 3,000 tons of cereal seeds, and 1,500 tons of fertilizer for use during the current planting season. An estimated 2.8 million people will benefit.
According to FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the food situation in parts of the Sahel is of grave concern, with more than 10 million people at risk of hunger.
“In Niger alone, almost half the population, or an estimated 7.1 million people, is facing hunger,” said FAO emergency operations expert Fatouma Seid.
Last year's poor rains have led to a 30 per cent decline in cereal production in Niger compared with 2008, while forage production is some 62 per cent below requirements. Food prices remain high, despite a decline from their peaks in 2008.
“Our first priority is to supply farmers with seeds and fertilizers for the current planting season and to get feed to animals,” Ms. Seid said.
Funding for the projects has been provided by Belgium, the European Union (EU), Spain, the United Kingdom and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
Vulnerable families will be involved in cash-for-work activities to rehabilitate pastures and carry out soil erosion control work.
Meanwhile, FAO continues to provide additional, longer-term support to farmers under the EU Food Facility (EUFF), the EU’s aid response to rising world hunger. In Niger, €3 million is being used to build or rehabilitate agricultural input stores and warehouses, rehabilitate lowlands for vegetable production, improve seed production and spread knowledge through farmer field schools.
The EUFF funds are also being used to scale up an innovative financing scheme to allow smallholder farmers in Niger to make more money. Under the “warrantage” system, groups of farmers can access credit from a rural microfinance bank providing part of their agricultural production as guarantee.
The credit gives the smallholders the means to buy essential inputs for the next planting season and also allows them to hold on to the produce until the lean season when food stocks start to run low and prices rise.