DROUGHT, DESERTIFICATION AND FAMINE: CHALLENGES FOR FOOD SECURITY IN NIGER REPUBLIC

DROUGHT, DESERTIFICATION AND FAMINE: CHALLENGES FOR FOOD SECURITY IN NIGER REPUBLIC

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ABSTRACT

1.      The food crises in Niger are structural, mainly related to the performance of the agricultural sector. The agricultural sector is dominant and is characterised by stagnation in production due to natural, human, technical and political obstacles. This often lead to food crises even famine and starvation. . In recent years, several occurrences of their resurgence were recorded. Measures taken and strategies implemented so far have failed to prevent or mitigate these food crises.   

2.      The paper aims firstly at assessing the policies conducted to achieve the goal of food security. The analysis is based on historical data covering the period 1967-2007. The second goal was to identify the factors of food crises. The result highlights several factors of food crisis: lack of investment, climate, population, grain prices and productivity. These variables are tested to measure the impact of actions aimed at attaining food security. The results establish a strong correlation between famine and deficit of grain production. Diversification, irrigation, land regeneration techniques among other actions have been shown to mitigate the effects of low production due to rain fall uncertainties. 

3.      The paper proposes to adopt a comprehensive food security policy to be implemented on the short, medium and long terms. The short term component will endeavour to give the state the means to intervene in emergency situation. In the medium term the accent should be on increasing food production by mean of irrigation. In the long term issues of environmental degradation shall be addressed to reclaim land lost to desertification.   


CHAPTER ONE

1.1.           INTRODUCTION

The inability of man to meet his food needs has continued to pose challenges to his livelihood and survival. This could be as the result of harsh natural conditions or due to social and economic factors. Governments’ role is to provide an environment conducive for citizens to meet their food demands. Failure to achieve that goal can lead to social disturbances and economic crises. The consequences of these crises are deterioration in living conditions and the advent of poverty and sometimes hunger.

Poverty and hunger, when occurring at a large scale and for an extended period of time, lead to famine.  Recurring onsets of famine are a serious food security threat for Niger. The issue concerns the larger portion of the population living from agricultural activities. In Niger, as in other African countries especially those in the Sahel, agriculture is suffering from climate instability, lack of adequate infrastructure and bad economic policies. Other obstacles to rural economic progress include; Increase in food demand by a growing population, urbanization which is emptying rural areas from workforce, absence of bank credit support for agriculture, reluctance by, or inability of, the State to invest in agriculture.

Succession of bad crop years prevents farmers from generating a stable cash flow and substantial savings to finance productive investment. The immediate consequence is the increased dependency on food imports on one hand(GON Annual report, 2008:29) and international emergency aid on the other hand. In Niger, deficits can reach record levels of 600,000 tons corresponding to 80% of deficit (Ibidem, 29). Over the period between 1980 and 2010, the gap between demand and supply indicates an average rate deficit of 22% per year (Ibid 29).The gap is thus wide and permanent. By weakening the nutritional status of the population, the recurrence of deficits reduces the ability to produce. The drop in productivity leads to even larger deficits, making savings impossible at a moment when health problems due to nutritional deficiencies increase financial needs.

1.2.           NIGER’S GDP STRUCTURE

The analysis of the structure of Niger's GDP in this chapter is destined to show why the country is always in the throes of famine and food insecurity: The facts are simple: The economy of Nigeris dominated by agriculture (INS, 2008: 35) which is feeding close to 80 per cent of the population (INS, 2008: 37). The agriculture is characterized by low productivity and a heavy dependence on rain fall.Uncertainties created by this situation are at the heart of food crises in Niger and constitute the subject of this research.

Agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and forests are the main sector of activity for the primary sector. The primary sector’s contribution to the GDP is estimated at 44, 5% from 1998 to 2008. The primary sector is closely followed by the tertiary sector (trade and services) whose share has remained stable at around 40 per cent on average during the period 1998-2008. In the third position is the secondary sector (mining and industrial activities) that has fluctuated between 16 per cent and 12 per cent of GDP during the same period (INS, 2008).

       The weak share of the secondary sector reflects the low level of industrialization. The sector is constrained by the liberalization policy, the difficulties of supply of raw materials, high cost of isolation, competition from industrial products from Nigeria and the narrowness of the market. Yet, there exist huge potential. Comparative advantages in the area of livestock mean that an agro-pastoral industry of transformation and processing could contribute to food security and job creation. The mining sector dominated by uranium does provide substantial contribution to the coffer of the Government but remains isolated from the rest of the economy (RGP, Ministry of Planning, 2008).

       Despite the present poor state of agriculture, economic development of Niger is inevitably in the dynamics of agricultural sector. Only agro-pastoral industries possess the potential for growth needed to pull the rest of the economy and create the conditions for the development of a genuine food security. In total, the negative underlying trends of the Nigerien economy have serious consequences on efforts to improve the economic and social wellbeing of a population ravaged by poverty. The weakness in human capital and poor educational status of the population are also key determinants of poor economic performance of Niger (Institut des Statistics, 2008: 29).

1.3.           STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

       The predominance of the primary sector which depends heavily on weather conditions, is poorly diversified and has low productivity is at the core of the structural food insecurity in the country. The food insecurity, that is, the daily fight for subsistence, means that the peasant population is unable to break the cycle of poverty. The poverty compounds the effects of food crises and turns them into famine.

       This paper aims to understand the mechanisms that lead to famines and the characteristics of food crises in Niger. It will review agricultural policies and assess their impact on food security. It will look at mechanisms of prevention and management of outbreak of famines. To do this, the research shall seek to answer the following questions:

a.     What are the influences of the economic international environment on agriculture development in Niger?

b.    What are the effects of Niger successive Governments policies on agriculture development and hence on food security?

c.     What are the strategies put in place to respond to food crises in the country?

d.    What are the factors of the food crises and what to do to remedy the situation?

1.4.           OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY

        The Objectives of the study stems from these questions and are as follows:

a.     To examine the global context impacting agricultural development in Niger.

b.    To review government’s policies,put in place since the independence, destined to achieving food security.

c.     To assess the mechanisms of management of food crises and the responses of various actors to food insecurity.

d.    To identify factors and variables leading to food crises and famines.

e.     To proffer solutions for an effective agricultural policy aimed at addressing the root causes of food insecurity in Niger.

1.5.           RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS AND ASSUMPTIONS

       Economists agree on the hypothesis that crises and economic downturns are determined by a wide range of variablesincluding the role and mode of intervention of the state. They differ on the causes, interpretations of these variables. But most economists believe today that crises are rooted in a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors. Joseph Stiglitz made an important contribution to this debate by showing that inadequate skills and weak capability of economic agents to anticipate crises often account for the fluctuations in economic activity (Making Globalisation work, Stiglitz, 2006).

       In the case of Niger, poorly or not at all anticipated fluctuations of agricultural activities can turn into crises. Crises that start in one sector quickly become systemic, combining economic, social and political characteristics. Food crises in Niger are systemic and have had serious political and social consequences on the fabric of the society.





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