Food crisis in Niger - update 22 Jul 2005

Current Situation in Niger

After a faltering start (which cost many growers a failed first sowing yet again), the rains are now progressing well and there are high hopes that they will continue. In areas where there was still seed available, the millet is growing well, but there are many areas where nothing was sown. In addition, many fields were sown but later abandoned as families were forced to send all their effective labour force away to look for work, leaving only the elderly and children. Many women are tending the fields alone for the first time.

The price of millet in the local market remains very high (30-40,000 cfa($60-$70) a sack, compared with normal prices around 8,000 cfa), and some markets are virtually empty. It is not known how much stock is being held back by traders to keep the price high. Most people interviewed say that they are eating only one meal of diluted millet porridge a day. Many people are subsisting increasingly on the traditional "famine foods" of collected wild roots, leaves and grass seeds, which tend to be need a lot of work and use a lot of firewood to prepare.

Routine screening of children appearing at health centres points to a worsening situation.

Concern's Response

After Concern assessments in June, that confirmed severe food shortages and recommended emergency response to malnutrition rates. Due to the initial loss in crops, from poor rains and locust infestation, Concern's education team, on the ground, undertook a rapid seed distribution. This was a temporary measure while preparing for the arrival of the emergency programme team. Seeds were purchased with government approval and distributed in two phases.

The first phase worked closely with MSF, providing 2kg of seeds to the family of each child registered in their centre. This was an extremely effective mechanism for distribution as it meant

a) that distribution was quick and efficient

b) the most vulnerable households were targeted.

The second phase was implemented with the supervision of a local consultant, which involved a larger distribution, to vulnerable families in the agricultural region surrounding Tahoua.

The nutrition team has selected the first two sites to open food distribution centres and are in the process of constructing shelters and latrine units, and are preparing for the first staff training sessions.

Two local partner organisations (IDELA and ADECOR) have been identified, and it is their members who will be making up the bulk of the first field teams. The Ministry of Health will be providing staff and equipment to provide immunisations at the distribution sites.

Concern's first air shipment of food, medical supplies and equipment arrived in Niamey on Tuesday 19th July. It held 30 metric tonnes of CSB (enriched food for moderately malnourished children), 5 tonnes of Plumpynut (enriched peanut butter paste for severely malnourished children), medical kits specifically for nutrition programmes, plastic sheeting, blankets and two cars. .

The World Food Programme currently has a limited stock of cereal in Niger. Unfortunately it is mostly comprised of rice and some sorghum (grain) and the staple diet of Niger is millet.

Concern Logistics staff have started procuring locally available products such as oil and sugar. They are also busy sourcing food on the local and international markets, and pricing air freight and shipping options. The food needed includes both specialised therapeutic preparations for the treatment of child malnutrition and bulk cereals and pulses for family rations.