A serious food shortage is affecting more than 3.6 million people in Niger. A double jeopardy of last year's vegetation-devouring locusts and devastating drought has virtually destroyed food production across much of this agricultural country.
CRS estimates that as many l 3,815 villages have lost 50 percent or more of their food production. Country-wide, Niger is short of at least 223,487 metric tons of food. As a result, people are eating leaves and grass, selling personal items, removing their children from school, and migrating to neighboring cities and countries to find work or food.
In addition to providing emergency food distributions and seeds, CRS' response includes "Food for Work" programs, designed to provide the necessary nutrients during the hungry season to allow people to concentrate on planting and growing the seed they purchase at the seed fairs.
Specifically, CRS is working with its local partner and through the support of its donors to facilitate and carry out the following relief efforts:
- Distribution of 4,000 metric tons of food in Tanout, Dogondoutchi, Tillaberi and Ouallam
- Seed vouchers and fairs to address the need for seeds in Ouallam, Tillaberi, and Tanout (three of the poorest regions)
- Distribution of 3,000 tons of food for work activities for 22,500 individuals (and 135,000 indirect beneficiaries) in Dogondoutchi and Tanout
- Collaboration with the UN's World Food Programme to deliver 1,000 tons of food aid as part of "Food for Work" activities benefiting approximately 10,000 locust-and drought-affected households in Ouallam and Tillaberi
- Facilitation of "Food for Work" activities targeting a total of 24,000 heads of households in Ouallam, Tillabéri and Tanout, with an additional 144,000 indirect beneficiaries
CRS is also facilitating four- and five-year programs for agriculture/health in the Zinder region; education in Maradi; and micro-finance programs forwomen in 100 village banks.
Why is Niger experiencing a food shortage?
Areas of Niger remain critically food insecure despite interventions by multiple relief organizations and the Government of Niger. Confronted with crop-devouring locusts and drought as a result of inconsistent rainfall, Niger has experienced a loss in cereal production 11 of the past 22 years. The combination of these locust attacks and poor rainfall in Ouallam, Tanout, and Tillabéri has resulted in severe crop damage and the loss of seed that would have been harvested for use in the 2005-planting season. It has also led to increases in food prices.
Why are Locusts so dangerous?
Locust progressively attacked approximately 1.8 million hectares of land across all pastoral zones and the northern portion of Niger's agricultural zones. A desert locust eats its own body weight or two grams of food everyday. One ton of locusts, a very small portion of an average swarm, can eat as much food in one day as 10 elephants, 25 camels, or 2,500 people, and traveling more than 100 km a day locusts can destroy huge swathes of crops in its path.
In addition to the invasion of locusts, parts of Niger experienced erratic rainfall throughout 2004. In the districts of Ouallam and Tillabéri, the growing season began with inconsistent rainfall in June and July, followed by deluges in August, and a sudden and early halt of rain in September. According to FAO and WFP, in 2004 while the locust account for one-third of production losses, drought completed the devastation of the remaining two-thirds.
What's to come?
The seriousness of the food security emergency in Niger is not to be underestimated or doubted, and CRS/Niger continues to closely monitor the food security situation throughout the country, particularly in its zones of intervention. Through regular monitoring, food for work programs, off-season gardens, seed fairs and voucher programs, and close collaboration with the government and other partners, CRS is responding rapidly and appropriately. CRS will continue to address the underlying issues of chronic food insecurity through its long-term development programs.