- Title: NIGER: Almost half of Niger's 15 million people face food shortage
- Date: 26th June 2010
- Summary: BERRIES ON BUSH THE WOMEN PICK UP THE BOWLS OF COLLECTED BERRIES AND LEAVE WIDE OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN UNDER TREES OUTSIDE VILLAGE WOMAN CARRYING BOWL OF BERRIES HOME, FILMED THROUGH THE BRANCHES OF A DRIED TREE
- Embargoed: 11th July 2010 13:00
- Location: Niger
- Country: Niger
- Topics: International Relations,Nature / Environment
- Reuters ID: LVA8Y5TT11XASH071UOOEHBVZ9E5
- Story Text: The village of Gomgom isn't easy to find. It's a small place in the middle of Niger's southern desert, more than an hour's drive off the nearest tarmac road linking the towns of Zinder and Tanout.
It's in one of the areas worst-hit by the food crisis that's currently sweeping the Sahel.
It's hot, dry and dusty and its only source of water is a deep well a small distance away from the village. Men and their animals rely on this water to survive; when the well runs dry, which it's in danger of doing if it doesn't rain this year, finding food will be the least of their worries. With no water, Gomgom will become inhabitable -- its people refugees of a humanitarian emergency that aid agencies have seen coming since last year.
And yet the people of Gomgom, like millions across Niger, have adapted their way of life over centuries to survive in one of the world's hottest countries, where rain is irregular and only 10 percent of the land is arable.
The staple food, millet, is harvested and then kept in specially-built granaries safe from insects and vermin, where it will feed the village through the dry season. The millet stalks will feed the livestock when the grazing runs out.
But it's a strategy that only works when there is a harvest. And with Niger ranked among the lowest countries in the world in the UN Development Index, most people have nothing else to fall back on when there isn't, which is why a late or insufficient rain season can so quickly become a food crisis - as it did in 2005 and again this year.
At the moment, over 7 million people are estimated to be facing a food shortage; that's nearly half of Niger's entire population.
The villagers in Gomgom planted millet as usual this year, but there wasn't enough rain for it to flower so all they harvested were the stalks for the animals.
The village chief, Adamou Ousmane, can now only feed the members of his household thanks to the generosity of others.
"I went to visit a relative of mine in another village because we had nothing to eat here at all," he said, opening a sack of grain that he estimates will last anywhere between 10 and 20 days, depending on whether he, as the village chief, has to show hospitality to any strangers in the coming weeks.
Most of the village's livestock has already been sold to buy millet.
"I have three cows left," said Ousmane.
"Two fully-grown and one calf. That's not going to last us very long. And the millet we have is what I have shown you. Really, we have nothing. We're not going to be able to keep eating until the rain comes."
About 90 percent of Niger's people are farmers, and although most plant crops and keep livestock to feed their families, they also plant cash crops like cow-peas or black-eyed-peas, which should, in theory, improve their food security.
At a food depot in the town of Tanout, a consignment of black-eyed-peas is loaded onto a truck headed for neighbouring Nigeria.
Lage Canta Koukari from Niger's Office of Food Products or OPVN explains that this crop was already bought two years ago and that the locals in this region don't generally eat black-eyed-peas, even when they're available.
"Here we receive orders from traders who come with their pre-paid vouchers to pick up their product," he said as he supervised the truck being loaded.
"I think that this consignment is going to [the northern Nigerian town of] Kano."
In Gomgom meanwhile, the villagers have resorted to picking a wild berry known locally as 'Anza', which also isn't eaten under normal circumstances - but as it isn't poisonous, it will serve to fill the children's stomachs at suppertime so that they don't go to bed hungry.
"We don't know when it will rain," said Abibawa Saliou, as she picks the wild green fruit.
"God decides whether we will get sufficient rain, or whether there will be no rain at all. All we can do is wait and see. But whether it rains or not, we will eat these berries, because we have nothing else to eat."
Last year's failed rains in the Sahel belt stretching across the south of the Sahara from Mauritania to Sudan have left an estimated 10 million people at risk from food shortages, according to the United Nations.
Shortages of staples in markets have sent prices out of reach of millions of households on less than a dollar a day.
Humanitarian agencies have been predicting the crisis since last year and say that they are much better prepared than in 2005, but they haven't been able to raise the amount of money they'd hoped to deal with the emergency.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said just 57 percent of Niger's 191 million US dollar emergency appeal had been covered by mid-June.
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