Niger faces cereal deficit due to poor rain


Niger, one of Africa’s poorest nations that is struggling to cope with the impact of Libya’s conflict, faces a deficit of 519,000 tonnes of cereals after poor rains and pests affected this year’s crops, the government said.

The deficit amounts to about 14 percent of the annual food needs of its population of about 16.3 million people, who mostly rely on subsistence farming in a nation that sits on the edge of the Sahara.

The West African country faces recurrent food crises but this year’s deficit is bigger than the gap left by poor rains in 2009, which led to a food shortage in 2010 that left some 7 million people hungry, according to the government, Reuters reports.

Fighting in Libya, Niger’s northern neighbour, has cut off millions of dollars in remittances from migrant workers and seen thousands return home, some of whom are armed. This has added to insecurity.
“The early end to the rains and attacks (on crops) by worms and grasshoppers have not allowed this year’s (farming) campaign to satisfy our needs,” the government said in a statement.

Tillaberi in the west, Agadez in the north and Diffa in the far east were the three regions identified as most at risk.

However, Dosso in the west and Maradi in the centre-south would see grain surpluses, the statement said. Pastures for grazing animals across the country were likely to be poor, it said.

The United Nations said last month that Niger risked the destabilising impact of thousands of migrant workers returning from Libya, themselves seeking food and jobs in a country heading into a food crisis.

Niger has sought aid from foreign donors since August.

Some 80 percent of Niger’s population depends on rain-fed agriculture. The country has one of the fastest-growing populations in Africa, putting extra strain on food supplies.