Niger may not be the first country to spring to mind when you think about hunger in Africa, but the food security situation there is actually among the worst on the continent. Conditions there were especially dire in 2012, when the hunger crisis that stretched across West Africa’s Sahel region made news headlines across the world.
Although the situation has improved within the last several years, there are still approximately 2.5 million people in Niger that lack secure access to food. Here are five facts you should know about hunger in Niger:
1. A Problem of Geography
Niger is land-locked, and land-locked into the middle of the Sahara Desert at that. Over 80 percent of the country consists of arid land that is nearly impossible to farm. What arable land that exists is often plagued by extended periods of flooding during Niger’s short rainy season and drought throughout the rest of the year. Farmers are already facing an enormous challenge of climate in simply trying to grow food. However, with few outlets for access to seeds and tools, farmers in Niger fail to make enough food to support even a fraction of Niger’s population.
Fortunately, international organizations are stepping in to increase the resources available to these farmers. Though simply increasing agricultural output is not enough to solve the problem of hunger in Niger, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
2. Poverty, Fertility and Their Consequences
Niger is no stranger to poverty; according to the World Bank, “Niger’s per capita income and development indicators are among the worst in the world.” Whether hunger is a cause or an effect of poverty is a complicated question, but there is no doubt that the two are intimately related.
Niger is also home to the highest fertility rate in the world, with each woman on average giving birth to 7.6 children. With so many mouths to feed and limited money to do so, it’s no wonder that so many in Niger go hungry.
3. A Struggling Economy
About 80 percent of Niger’s economy is based on agriculture and livestock. How can an economy thrive when it depends on an industry that is suffering? With little capital to work with, hunger in Niger is a problem that is proving difficult to solve from the inside. Niger’s economy is also dependent on the world market for uranium, a natural resource it has in abundance. When uranium prices fall, so does the economy.
4. Taking Care of Refugees
The population of Niger is already high, at around 17 million people. Yet with refugees from countries like Mali and Nigeria, which have recently experienced conflict, flooding into the country for the past few years, the population of Niger continues to swell.
With the existing population already struggling to eat enough, how can refugees possibly afford food? Refugees receive a food voucher upon entering Niger, which allows them to purchase U.S. $14 worth of food. Though the voucher may not seem worth very much, refugees prefer it to a standard grain handout because it allows them to customize their diet and keep their families fed while they adjust to life in Niger. The cereal handout traditionally given to refugees in Niger failed to meet human nutritional requirements, so the voucher is a step toward making sure that refugees and their children are properly nourished.
5. Why There is Still Hope
The people of Niger have banded together with the help of aid from international organizations to lessen the effects of recent droughts. By removing dead vegetation from lakes, Nigeriens are creating jobs for themselves while at the same time preventing the lakes from flooding land that could be used for farming. The dedication of the people of Niger to preventing the next hunger crisis has captured international attention and drawn donations from around the world. Hunger in Niger is certainly no quick fix, but that has not stopped the Nigeriens from getting started.
– Elise Riley