Preventing Malnutrition During the Hunger Season

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14/03/2013 – In Niger, population growth outpaces food production and two-thirds of the population lives in extreme poverty: the smallest choc, such as a drought or a failed harvest, can tip the vulnerable over the edge. WFP, with the support of the European commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department (ECHO), is providing support so that the poorest can make ends meet, especially during the lean season, when resources are scarce. See in this story how WFP, with the help of the European Commission, pays special attention to the most vulnerable and protected close to 1 million children under 2 from malnutrition in 2012.

The small village of Assakaram is located over 1,000 km north east of the capital Niamey, somewhere between the cities of Agadez and Zinder. To get there, you have to leave the main road and drive for at least an hour on unmarked desert trails. Assakaram is a cluster of simple mud brick houses, often surrounded by straw fences. Saying that life here is difficult is an understatement. People grow food on parcels of land that have more in common with sand pits than agricultural fields.

“This is millet,” a farmer and his wife proudly say of tiny green shoots emerging from the sand. Assakaram is isolated, extremely poor, and also representative of many communities the World Food Programme works with in Niger. “All we have left to eat is this,” says Nana Aboubacar as a member of her family shows a handful of maize. Like everyone else in the village, her family are farmers. And like everyone else, last year’s harvest was bad so they make do with whatever food they can get. Maize is not her favorite food and she knows that eating only this day after day won’t give her all the vitamins and nutrients she needs to properly breastfeed her baby.

Two days earlier, WFP distributed Super Cereal, a fortified blend of corn and soya flour that is used to prevent malnutrition. Each household with children below the age of 2 or with breastfeeding mothers received a monthly ration of the highly nutritional product.

“Preventing and treating acute malnutrition is at the core of our response in the country,” said Darline Raphael, head of WFP’s nutrition unit in Niger. Malnutrition has always been a concern in the country, especially during the lean season.

Outside her house, with her baby in her arms and her other children watching, Nana Aboubacar demonstrates how to cook a porridge with the fortified food she received. “When I eat this, I have a lot of milk for my baby,” she said. Her little girl wears a few “gris-gris” –charms given to her by the local marabout- to protect her from diseases. Aboubacar is convinced this helps keep her baby healthy, but she also knows that eating the Super Cereal every day is at least equally as important.

Author: Stephanie Tremblay, WFP Public Information Officer