Niger’s government said on Tuesday it was setting up a food security reserve of 100,000 tonnes and seeking a switch to modern methods of farming to avoid a repeat of the food crisis that has ravaged the country this year.
As farmers begin to bring in the harvest following a crisis that affected almost a third of the country’s 12 million people, Prime Minister Hama Amadou said the government had set aside five billion CFA francs (US $9 million) to reconstitute its food reserve.
This year’s food stocks ran dry earlier than usual following a poor 2004-2005 harvest, sparked by a locust invasion and poor rains.
Announcing the new planned reserves, the prime minister also said that the worst was now over for Niger.
"Thanks to uninterrupted rains, which are likely to bring good harvests, we can say the food crisis is literally behind us,” he told a news conference.
To avoid a repeat of a crisis that saw people forced to scavenge for wild grass and bone-thin children hungering for food, Amadou said the vast desert nation needed to make a leap forward in time.
“The rural world must change its thinking, we must stop depending on rains,” he said. “We must modernise agriculture and farm irrigated land.”
The Niger River offered the country plenty of potential for irrigated land, which once developed could produce more than 300,000 tonnes of food per year, Amadou said.
The nation this year registered a grain deficit of 223,000 tonnes.
Once it finds the funding, the government aims to begin farming on 80,000 hectares of irrigable land capable of producing three harvests a year.
It also planned to launch a scheme to put youngsters on entirely mechanised medium-sized farms and to set up a rural banking system.
“A huge percentage of farmers rely each year on rain to fall from the sky,” World Food Programme (WFP) information officer Marcus Prior told IRIN. “So any drive to make food production more predictable will obviously help bolster people against the kind of experience they have had this year.”
Even in a good year Niger struggles to feed itself. Its farming and pastoral systems have remained unchanged for hundreds of years despite desertification and climate change and it was ranked the world’s poorest nation this year by the United Nations Human Development Index.
As Niger’s farmers work to bring in the harvest, UN agencies next month are going to begin tapering off widespread distribution of food relief to avoid disrupting the market and destroying the livelihoods of its many subsistence farmers.
The UN’s food agency WFP had planned a first round of free food distribution before the harvest to 1.8 million people and a second pre-harvest round to Niger’s most vulnerable 1.7 million people.
“We have all but completed a first round of free distribution and nearly half the food necessary for the second round has already been dispatched,” Prior said.
“Distribution to those worst affected by this year’s crisis will continue after the harvest,” he said, referring to sectors of the population who may still be in dire need of food - nomads who have lost their livestock, farmers whose harvests were poor or who were forced to mortgage their harvests.
The head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Niger, Michele Falavigna, said last week that the UN had received just 50 percent of the US $80 million it requested from donors for its overall humanitarian aid programme for Niger.
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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions