FAMILIES in Niger are facing another food crisis this year after grain production fell by a quarter, warns children’s charity Plan International.
The poverty-stricken West African country is expected to be short of more than 500,000 tonnes of food, about one-seventh of its annual consumption.
Aid workers for Plan are drawing up food distribution and school feeding work in Tillabéri, northwest Niger - one of the worst hit areas.
“Rainfall has been extremely low and poorly distributed both in terms of geography and seasonality,” says Plan’s country director in Niger, Rheal Drisdelle.
“Some families are already saying that they will either have no crops at all or just a tiny amount of cereals for the family until next year’s crop.”
Early signs are that the grazing lands in Tillabéri will produce little feed for the huge herds of animals that normally migrate in the months to come.
“Another reason for the deficit has been the attacks of locusts, flower insects, leafhoppers on millet and sorghum, as well as other predatory birds, insects and rodents,” says Mr Drisdelle.
The country has experienced frequent food shortages in recent years triggered by unusually poor and sporadic rains in the wet season from July to September.
That causes staple cereal food crops of millet and sorghum to fail, worsening an annual shortage that normally reaches its peak in May, June and July.
More than a fifth of children aged under-two in Tillaberi and Dosso are severely malnourished.
And analysts are predicting that greater demand for food will lead to a hike in prices over the next three months.
A national survey will establish where the most vulnerable families live by the end of December, with about six million people thought to be affected.
Plan’s relief work in the New Year will include school feeding, food distribution and resupplying cereal banks across Tillaberi and Dosso.
“Our priorities will be to build communities’ resilience through reinforcing existing livelihood support,” says Mr Drisdelle.
“We’ll provide assistance to affected children and their families and help communities recover from the crisis, building further resilience.”