KANO, 1 August (IRIN) - Thousands of farmers have lost precious grain harvests in northern Nigeria where a massive invasion of birds from neighbouring Niger are stripping fields, officials and farmers have warned.
Some 8,000 hectares of crops in northern Zamfara State alone have been decimated, Tukur Maru, permanent secretary in the Zamfara agriculture ministry said on Friday.
The tiny quela birds are swooping in in their thousands from neighbouring Niger where millions of people are threatened by famine following drought and a plague of locusts last year.
"Most of the birds came from Niger Republic where they could not find food to eat. They flocked here with indigenous ones to cause this appalling damage," said Maru on Radio Nigeria.
A tour of the most affected areas of Maradun, Mafara and Bakura in northern Zamfara, which abuts the Niger border, showed that at least 42,000 farmers have lost their crop.
Though rice farms have been hardest hit, maize, millet and sorghum crops are also threatened, said Maru who warned that the birds could fly on to destroy crops in other regions.
Northern Nigeria falls in the arid Sahel region of West Africa, where successive years of drought combined with last year's locust invasion - the worst seen in the region for 15 years - devastated crops and grazing land putting millions of lives in danger.
Niger is the worst hit with 3.6 million people - one third of the country's population - facing food shortages and possible famine.
Children are the most at risk. The UN children's agency UNICEF has launched an appeal for US $14.6 million to care for 32,000 children suffering from severe under-nutrition and 160,000 children suffering from moderate under-nutrition in Niger.
Though Nigeria has been spared the worst of the effects, international NGOs are reporting higher than usual incidents of child malnutrition, and even deaths, there too.
Health NGO, Medecins Sans Frontiers, has set up a therapeutic feeding camp in Katsina State, which also borders Niger, where it has treated more than 800 malnourished children in the past month.
"But it's nothing compared to what is happening in Niger," Fabien Schneider of MSF-France told IRIN.
Last week Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, announced the donation of 1,000 metric tonnes of food aid to Niger and promised more would be sent in the coming weeks.
Four Nigerian states that border Niger had earlier provided food assistance worth 115 million Naira (US $871,212).
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