- As the food security crisis in the entire Sahel region steadily deepens, fresh funds are being diverted to Niger and Chad to assist estimated 2.6 million people engaged in livestock herding.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) today said it was "boosting assistance" to herders and pastoralists in Niger and Chad, where by now nearly 10 million people are considered vulnerable to severe hunger. The food crisis is due to poor rains last year, which severely impacted food production.
The lack of rainfall led to a steep decline in agricultural production and dried out livestock pastures, according to a news release issued by the Rome-based agency, which noted that thousands of people are also under threat in the north of Burkina Faso and north-east Mali.
"The situation in the region is very worrying indeed," said Fatouma Seid, FAO Coordinator for West Africa, as the crisis is extending to the entire Sahel region.
"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," Ms Seid said.
Surveys carried out by affected Sahelian governments and the UN had shown a prevalence of global acute malnutrition higher than 16 percent, which exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) critical threshold. Poor farmers and pastoralists are also having difficulty buying food since food prices continue to be high.
Ms Seid said FAO's priority was to get fodder to animals and to supply farmers with the seeds for the June planting season. Almost 70 percent of livestock in drought affected Niger and Chad were found to be at risk if they do not receive food soon.
To assist Niger, which already experienced a major food crisis in 2005, the UN agency is rolling out eight new projects worth US$ 12.7 million that was set to benefit an estimated 2.6 million people, including purchasing and distributing animal feed, seeds and fertilizers for the upcoming planting season.
In addition, FAO said it also had started a cash-for-work programme for vulnerable households to restore pasture land, and was implementing a US$ 4.1 million European Union food aid programme for rehabilitation of medium-term improvements to the country's agricultural system. "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," Ms Seid explained.
The situation in Chad, where food production was at its lowest since 2006 according to the government, was further compounded by the influx of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region and the Central African Republic, which had placed additional demand on already limited food supplies.
FAO said it was planning to supply agricultural inputs, seeds, fertiliser and animal feed worth US$ 4.5 million in time for the May planting season in Chad. Currently, the UN agency is also distributing animal feed and veterinary products to pastoralists in Mali and Burkina Faso.
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