Famine grips Niger as 8.8 million people lack food

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Few countries in the world grapple with as many burdens as Niger. The arid state of the Sahel is the poorest country in the world according to the United Nations Human Development Index.

It faces bloody extremist insurgencies on two of its borders. And now he is plagued by hunger. Life is seldom easy for its farmers, but this year they have been hit by a terrible combination of factors.

Drought, insects and caterpillars ravaged crops of millet, beans, corn and sorghum, the country’s staple crops, and this was followed by torrential rains that wiped out the newly sown fields.

Extreme weather conditions have multiplied the impact of extremist massacres which have forced thousands of families to abandon their fields and seek safety. This results in food shortages, higher prices and hunger.

“The harvest time is over,” said Abdou Hamani, a farmer in his sixties, who lives in a hamlet near the town of Simiri in Tillabéri, a western region which has been hit hard. double food and security crisis.

Dressed in faded gray robes, with a white beard and wearing a straw hat, Hamani grimaced as he looked at the grain warehouses at the back of his farm.

“My harvest was so bad that we ate everything in about 10 days,” he said. In years when “the harvests were good, we had enough to eat for at least eight months,” observes his neighbor Ali.

Exodus

According to figures recently cited by President Mohamed Bazoum, of the 12,474 “agricultural villages” in the country, 6,430 suffer from a deficit of at least 50% of cereal production. Of Niger’s rapidly growing population of around 24 million, 8.8 million are starved of food, up from 3.6 million in 2020, of which 2.5 million suffer from severe food shortage.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said areas targeted by jihadists have seen increased food prices, exacerbating Niger’s nutrition problem.

Nigerien Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou last week urged donors to step up aid, saying “the food situation this year looks much worse” than before.

The mayor of Simiri, Moussa Adamou, said he had seen in recent weeks a wave of hungry rural people heading for the cities “because of this famine”, their vehicles loaded with people and goods.

“If nothing is done quickly, the devastation will be total. 50% to 60% of schools will close because parents leave with their children,” he warned.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) spoke with a farmer named Seydou Haoudji, who had traveled 80 kilometers in a donkey cart from the village of Zontondi, near Simiri, in order to sell hay in the Niamey capital.

“I earned a little money, I bought a bag of rice, a little salt, some spices,” says Haoudji. a father of five. He criticized the drought for “ruining everything”.

Help push

The authorities hope to mobilize 160.3 billion CFA francs (280 million dollars, 244 million euros) in emergency aid. It will focus on areas where farmers have been unable to grow crops due to “terrorist attacks”.

Food aid will be free or at low cost. The government has also pledged to help with irrigation to enable more than 4.7 million people in rural areas to grow crops other than grains. Cattle ranching, another pillar of Niger’s fragile agricultural economy, has also been hit by a 50% drop in the production of raw materials.

The prolonged drought has reduced vegetation to tinder, causing nearly 500,000 hectares (1.25 million acres) of grassland to be destroyed by forest fires this year.

More than 64,000 tonnes of fodder were consumed by the flames in the western region of Abala alone, “enough to feed nearly 19,000 adult cattle for six months,” Environment Minister Garama Saratou Rabiou said.

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