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FAO steps up aid to Sahel pastoralists

Poor rains impact food production in Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Nowhere to pasture in Niger
21 April 2010, Rome – FAO is stepping up aid to herders and pastoralists in Niger and Chad amid a growing food crisis caused by last year’s poor rains that have resulted in a steep decline in agricultural production and dried out livestock pastures.

An estimated 9.8 million people are now vulnerable to severe hunger in the two countries, with thousands more under threat in the north of Burkina Faso and northeast Mali.  

UN and government surveys in most of the east Sahelian countries indicate a prevalence of global acute malnutrition higher than 16 percent. These rates exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) critical threshold. 

In addition, food prices remain high, making it even harder for poor farmers and pastoralists to buy food.    

Very worrying

The situation in the region is very worrying indeed,” said Fatouma Seid, FAO Coordinator for West Africa. “Poor livestock herders are being forced to sell their only assets and an important source of nutrition, their animals, at discount prices in order to buy enough food for their families while farmers have no seeds to plant,” she said. 

“The priority for FAO is to get feed to animals and to supply farmers with the seeds for the June planting season”. Cereal production in Niger in 2009 was 30 percent lower than in 2008, while production of cowpea, an important source of protein for the population, dropped by 37 percent. 

Emergency assistance is also needed to enable herders to feed their animals, which are suffering due to scare pastureland for them to feed on following an erratic rainy season. 

Almost 70 percent of livestock are at risk if they do not receive food soon.  

Niger response 

In response to the deteriorating situation in Niger — which already went through a major food crisis in 2005 — FAO is rolling out eight new projects worth $12.7 million that will benefit an estimated 2.6 million people. The projects are funded by the EU, the UK's DFID, Spain, Belgium and the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). 

The programmes include the immediate purchase and distribution of 7 850 tons of animal feed, 2 500 tons of cereals and vegetable crops seeds, and fertilisers for the main June planting season as well as the October dry one.

FAO estimates that a $35 seed and fertiliser kit in Niger produces around five sacks of food, enough to feed a family of seven for four months. 

Greening pastures 

An FAO cash-for-work programme for vulnerable households to restore pasture land through the improvement of soil quality and retention of water to produce fodder has now started.

FAO is also implementing a $4.1 million EU Food Facility Programme for rehabilitation of medium-term improvements to the country’s agricultural system such as quality seed multiplication, strengthening farmers’ organizations and improving farmers’ access to credit by allowing them to borrow against their crops.  

Chad distributions 

In Chad, food production has decreased by 11.5 percent compared to the previous season’s output and is the lowest since 2006, according to the government. However, this fall was much steeper in some regions over the past year due to the serious humanitarian situation on the border with Sudan, which has compounded the problem of lack of rain for farmers and herders.  

The influx of refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region and the Central African Republic, estimated at over 300 000 people, places additional demand on already limited food supplies.

FAO is planning to supply agricultural inputs, seeds, fertiliser and animal feed worth $4.5 million in time for the May planting season in Chad, funded mainly by the EU and CERF. Distributions of animal feed and veterinary products to pastoralists in Mali and Burkina Faso are also under way.