According to FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the food situation in parts of the Sahel is of grave concern, with over 10 million people at risk of hunger.
"In Niger alone, almost half the population, or an estimated 7.1 million people, is facing hunger," said FAO emergency operations expert Fatouma Seid.
Last year's poor rains have led to a 30 percent decline in cereal production in Niger compared with 2008, while forage production is some 62 percent below requirements. Meanwhile, food prices remain stubbornly high, despite a decline from their peaks in 2008.
"Our first priority is to supply farmers with seeds and fertilizers for the current planting season and to get feed to animals," Seid said.
To do this, FAO has launched nine new projects in Niger worth $17.7 million, funded by Belgium, the European Union (EU), Spain, the United Kingdom and the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
Activities, implemented with the government and civil society, focus on the immediate purchase and distribution of 14 000 tons of animal feed, 3 000 tons of cereal seeds, and 1 500 tons of fertilizer for use during the current planting season.
Vulnerable families will be involved in cash-for-work activities to rehabilitate pasture land and carry out erosion control works.
Adressing the root cause of the problem
Meanwhile, FAO continues to provide additional, longer-term support to farmers under the EU Food Facility (EUFF), the EU's aid response to rising world hunger. In Niger, €3 million is being used to build or rehabilitate agricultural input stores and warehouses, rehabilitate lowlands for vegetable production, improve seed production and spread knowledge through farmer field schools.
EUFF funds are also being used to scale-up an innovative financing scheme to allow smallholder farmers in Niger to make more money. Under this warrantage system, groups of farmers can access credit from a rural microfinance bank providing part of their agricultural production as guarantee.
The credit gives the smallholders the means to buy essential inputs for the next planting and also allows them to hold on to the produce until the lean season - when food stocks start to run low and prices climb.