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Hunger knows no borders

Pupils eat food donated by WFP in a classroom in Eva Orango school in Orango Island of Bijago Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau Feburary 2008. According to World Food Program (WFP) intellectual levels rise when children are fed properly.
Pupils eat food donated by WFP, Eva Orango School, Guinea-Bissau. (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

West Africa can meet its food needs through regional trade, most agricultural experts say, if countries keep their borders open for the free flow of staple grains, especially in times of heightened stress, whether climatic, economic, or brought on by conflict.

In the fourth and final part of the series "Are we heading for another food crisis?", we take a brief look at West Africa, where prices have begun to rise and failed rains have left 10 million people across the Sahel food insecure, after barely recovering from the 2007/08 food price crisis.

After three years of good harvests, in 2009 Niger was again in the food security headlines after poor rains let it down. It was last in the news in 2004, when a combination of poor rains and one of the worst locust infestations in 15 years left more than two million people in need of food aid.

What aggravated the crisis - which spilled into 2005 - was the closure of borders, a decision that hampered the free flow of food, said a paper commissioned by the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS-NET).

"In 2005 the situation was made worse when neighbouring countries closed their borders with Niger. This limited the availability of food and increased inflation," said the UK-based aid agency, Oxfam, which called on countries in the region to keep their borders open.

''In 2005 the situation was made worse when neighbouring countries closed their borders with Niger''

Niger and neighbouring Nigeria - the "giant" in the region, "accounting for 57 percent of total grain production in West Africa" - both had bad harvests In 2004/05, the FEWS-NET paper said. Nigeria banned the export of cereals as well as "imports that Nigeriens depended on for cash incomes". Burkina Faso, another neighbour, banned exports in 2004, "blocking another potential source of grain for Niger".

Although prices fell slightly after the 2009 harvest, in most West African countries they remained higher than two years before, and have again started climbing in several countries in 2010, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"Sahelian cereal markets are highly integrated among themselves and with coastal countries in West Africa; hence, prices in any individual Sahelian country are influenced by production results, changes in demand, and changes in price throughout West Africa; this particularly true for coarse grains [cereals other than wheat and rice], as they are rarely imported into the region," the FEWS-NET paper said.

Ousmane Badiane, director for Africa at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute, said high prices were here to stay, as the costs of agricultural inputs had increased enormously.

He pointed out that if the global prices of wheat and rice were to rise, this could aggravate the situation in many cereal-importing countries in West Africa. Failed rains in some of the world's largest rice producers in Asia are causing global concern about the price of rice.

The FEWS-NET paper noted that rice and wheat were important to many people in the urban areas of West Africa, and rarely substituted them for cheaper locally available staples.

Humanitarian agencies have appealed for US$370 million to fund various initiatives in West Africa, of which only 3.1 percent has been covered.

Here is a snapshot of eight West African countries in need of food aid, based on information sourced from FAO and other agencies. 

Type of food insecurity Lack of access to food.
Reason Slow recovery from a 14-year civil war that destroyed agriculture and infrastructure, affecting food production and access to drinking water.
Change since November 2009 Unchanged. The country is a net importer of food and depreciation of its currency has pushed up food prices.
Nutrition A Demographic and Health survey in 2007 found that 20 percent of children aged below five were severely stunted.

Type of food insecurity Lack of access.
Reason Several years of drought followed by unusually heavy rains in August and September 2009 have led to food price hikes.
Change since November 2009 The situation is deteriorating. Cereal production dropped by 24 percent in 2009. The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS-NET) said the usual deterioration of pastures has been heightened by poor rainfall; social protection programmes have been suspended.
Nutrition A nutrition survey in 2008 found 13 percent of children older than six months and up to five years old were severely stunted.

Sierra Leone
Type of food insecurity Lack of access to food.
Reason Slow recovery from a 10-year war that affected infrastructure development, including roads for easier access to produce markets.
Change since November 2009. Unchanged. The country is in a transition period and the rehabilitation of agricultural infrastructure has been slow.
Nutrition A UNICEF-supported survey in 2005, which was re-analyzed in 2007, found 21 percent of children aged less than five years were severely stunted.

Type of food insecurity Pockets of food insecurity.
Reason A high burden of refugees, ongoing conflict, and inadequate rainfall have all impinged on food security. Since 2001 Chad has seen a flood of refugees from neighbouring conflict-torn Darfur and northern Central African Republic. Ongoing tension between armed opposition groups, as well as ethnic clashes in the east, have affected local markets.
Change since November 2009 The situation has deteriorated. Insufficient rains have affected cereal production and pastures.
Nutrition Malnutrition rates are as high as 20 percent in the worst affected areas according to UNICEF's Humanitarian Action Report 2010.
Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) funding More than $455 million has been requested, of which only four percent has been covered.

Cote d'Ivoire
Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Political instability and conflict have affected livelihoods and access to agricultural land in various parts of the country.
Change since November 2009 Unchanged. Lingering effects of the civil war continue to constrain agricultural production and there is shortage of labour on farms in the north.
Nutrition A UNICEF-led survey in 2006 found 19 percent of children younger than five were severely stunted.

Type of food insecurity Localized food insecurity.
Reason In spite of a good harvest in 2009, high inflation and rising prices are negatively are making access to food more difficult. Anti-government demonstrations and strikes deepened political instability in 2009, affecting food security. The country was also hit by floods.
Change since November 2009 Deteriorating. Insecurity has continued because of the political crisis; the local currency has depreciated, driving up food prices.
Nutrition A national survey in 2008 found 21 percent of children aged below five were severely stunted.

Type of food insecurity Localized food insecurity.
Reason Insecurity in parts of the country. Drug trafficking and organized crime threaten the national security, according to government. The president was shot dead in 2009. Lack of agricultural inputs and poor infrastructure hamper food production.
Change since November 2009 Unchanged. Insecurity persists and low food production capacity is affecting food availability.
Nutrition A UNICEF-led survey in 2006 found 25 percent of children aged under five were severely stunted.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Adverse weather in parts; pastures have been very seriously affected. Cereal prices are high in the world's poorest country.
Change since November 2009 Almost half the population is need of food assistance. Niger appears on the FAO list in 2010 for the first time since 2004, when it needed external food assistance. Food production improved in subsequent years and it was removed from the list. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET), citing experts, said the 2009/10 per capita gross cereal production was likely to be the lowest in 20 years.
Nutrition status A national survey in 2008 recorded 20 percent of children aged less than five but more than six months as severely stunted.
Funding appeals The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an appeal for more than $932,000 to help people facing food shortages.



This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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