These measures complement and fit into the development programmes run by the SDC's Cooperation Office in Niger and thus have a resolutely durable aspect. Firmly anchored in the local pastoral and agricultural communities, the measures are implemented in close collaboration with local NGOs and local partners, and are coordinated through the efforts of the government and the United Nations system.
Niger experienced a crisis in its food situation in 2004 when the early arrival of the rainy season last summer led to the hatching of swarms of locusts. The devastation of crops by the locusts was compounded in the autumn by the abrupt end to the rain which wiped out fodder production in large areas of the country. This resulted in a sharp increase in the price of grain and serious declines in cattle and goat herds. The situation left 3.5 million people - 35% of Niger's population - extremely vulnerable. However, such circumstances are by no means exceptional in the Sahel region of Africa and it is this prevalence that lead the SDC to take immediate measures at the first warning signs of impending famine
To offset the continuing rise in the price of grain and the fall in the price of cattle, and to try to prevent a new mass exodus of people, the SDC took the initiative at the beginning of 2005 by increasing emergency assistance to Niger. Through financial allocations to its nongovernmental Nigerien partners, Swiss and local personnel have contributed to the implementation of several programmes in the following sectors:
- Increasing the security of vulnerable groups;
- Stabilizing the numbers of cattle and goat herds;
- Groundwork in preparation for the next harvest.
Concretely, the money contributed by the SDC to support the measures by the Nigerien authorities will enable:
- an easing of the living conditions of rural populations by enabling them to acquire staple foodstuffs at favourable;
- a part of the cattle herds to be saved by providing cattle feed in order to reduce the need to sell them extremely cheaply;
- work to be started in order to restore eroded earth (by planting yams and cassava), and thus inject the financial resources needed to purchase supplies;
- work to proceed on improving communication routes which are impassable during the rainy season.
At this stage, the SDC operation has already provided assistance to some 70'000 people in the pastoral zones of Filingue and Dakoro. It has also helped save part of the livestock population and initiated the transhumance of herds towards the north, thus freeing areas of land for culture for the benefit of 17'000 families. A further 5000 families in the agricultural zone of Guidan Roumji were able to purchase grain at a reduced price.
In Mali, in the regions of Timbuktu, Kayes and Mopti, food distribution to populations is underway since December 2004. Via its development programmes, Switzerland is able to ensure the provision of cereals to some 50'000 people. In March, a CHF 306'000 food aid project was launched under the impulse of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Bamako, in close cooperation with local partners. This action was completed by a contribution of CHF 55'000 to the emergency food aid programme run by Caritas. As a priority country for Switzerland's development aid, Mali also receives CHF 55'000 worth of dairy products.