Food Security: Hunger and Drought in Niger
This week, USDA and USAID hosted the International Food Aid and Development Conference. The event addresses policy and operational issues related to food aid and development and aims to improve cooperation among government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and agricultural and transportation sector companies. IRD has been highlighting stories, photos, and videos on our Facebook and Twitter channels this week to further the discussion on food security. We also polled our Facebook followers to see which world region they believed had the biggest food security challenges. While 83% of those who responded thought Sub-Saharan Africa was the hungriest and 17% thought Asia & the Pacific, the correct answer is Asia & the Pacific. Of the estimated 925 million people in our world who are hungry, 62 percent live in Asia & the Pacific, and 26 percent live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Continuing this week's theme of food security, we wanted to share a personal blog post from one of our staff. Scott Webb, Program Officer for IRD's Sustainable Food and Agriculture Systems Office, traveled to Niger in April to visit IRD's feeding programs, which are funded by the World Food Program (WFP). Scott, who worked as an agriculture extension agent as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger from 1997-2001, has worked for IRD since 2008 and manages IRD’s agriculture programs in Niger. The following is an excerpt from his personal blog.
Prepping the field for planting It was great to be back in Niger. My French is getting better since I was last there in 2010. And it’s still nice to make groups of people light up when I would greet them in Zarma or Hausa. Nigeriens can look so serious while they watch you walk around observing things, but (at least in some instances) then you greet them colloquially and they just beam happiness at you and are so appreciative that you learned some of their language. That never gets old.
I was involved in my NGO’s World Food Program activities, which include blanket feeding and therapeutic/supplemental feedings for malnourished children. [Blog post on Niger by WFP, whose Executive Director was visiting the same programs this week.]
On Conditions in Niger…
The last rainy season was terrible, they couldn’t produce enough food, and Niger still has one of the highest birth rates in the world, at almost 7 children per woman. Niger is having a tough year to say the least, and the outlook for 2012 doesn’t look much better. They’re facing a possible famine, instability in Mali has sent many refugees to the border areas, and the collapse of the Qadafi regime sent thousands of remittance making Nigeriens back home. However, the Issifou government is being extremely responsive and helpful to the aid community.
IRD’s programming in Niger is funded by a World Bank loan and the World Food Program. The World Bank is funding the Onion Value Chain Project, known by the local acronym PRODEX. IRD has built the capacity of local agriculture organizations to assist small, medium and large scale gardeners, primarily for onion production. Niger has a competitive advantage in onions; they are the second largest agriculture export from Niger, after livestock (in a good year).
For WFP, IRD has managed blanket feeding and therapeutic feedings for children suffering from Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM), cash/food for work, and targeted general food distributions. Even in a good year, malnutrition rates can exceed 10%. The threshold for a famine is 17%. In 2012, IRD will be working in 7 different localities to distribute almost 700 metric tons of food for approximately 140,000 children under 5. Blanket feeding is also targeted to households in regions where malnutrition rates are elevated.
This trip, I attended the opening ceremony of IRD’s blanket feeding program in Ouallam. More than 150 women with their children were trained in preparing the food rations that they received. A ration is fortified corn-soy blended flour, oil and sugar. They are given enough rations to feed themselves (especially if they are nursing mothers) or all their children under 5. While it was heartwarming to see the joy and hope in the eyes of these women, it is equally heartbreaking to remember the hundreds of thousands who are still suffering and in need of food. Through it all, Nigeriens never seem to lose their hospitality and friendliness, always remaining hopeful and grateful for what they still have left.
(Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, IRD could not implement the project mentioned above, "working in 7 different localities..." IRD continues to work for Nigerien's food security through the PRODEX Onion Value chain project and through pursuing other opportunities to improve livelihoods for the local population.)