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Steadily improving grain availability to meet demand

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Niger
  • March 2012
Steadily improving grain availability to meet demand

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • The post-harvest period was marked by rising prices and high, roughly 20-40 percent above-average price levels. Prices have been stable since December/January given better food availability and less demand pressure with the last of the institutional procurements and purchasing by traders. 

    • With the high price of grain, at least 20 percent of households in certain areas, particularly in the Tillaberi, Tahoua, and Diffa regions, are facing food access and food consumption deficits for this consumption year without the mobilization of food aid programs (Figures 1 through 3). 


    Updated food security outlook through September 2012

    The period between October and December/January was marked by strong demand, emanating largely from traders and the government for the rebuilding of institutional grain reserves.

    In most cases, with the releasing of inventories by traders and surplus-producing farmers and the sale of 20,000 metric tons of grain at government-subsidized prices, supply and demand are in a state of equilibrium. In spite of the theoretical closure of the country’s border with Nigeria, there is a continuing flow of informal trade and markets in all parts of the country are well-stocked, even if the Diffa region supposedly hurt by the closing of the border between Niger and Nigeria. In fact, livestock prices on markets in Diffa have generally been stable due to the presence of traders looking to export livestock to Nigeria. There is average grain availability on markets dependent on Nigerian imports for over 80 percent of their supplies at this time of year.

    This year’s larger than usual flow of out-migration in December/January sharply reduced the size of households, the main source of grain demand, by 30 to 60 percent. However, Niger had counted close to 20,000 Malian refugees in northern Tillaberi as of March 20th of this year. In general, the refugee count is less than half the size of the local population, if that. Thus, the influx of refugees is not yet large enough to drive up grain demand on local markets. Dependent on food aid, the refugees have not yet turned to the market in large numbers. Their food security situation is satisfactory given the assistance provided by the host population, the government of Niger, and its humanitarian partners.  However, there are reports of major sanitation and hygiene problems, which make them highly vulnerable to epidemic outbreaks and a sharp deterioration in the state of child nutrition.

    According to observations by members of FEWS NET field missions, this time of year is also marked by draw-downs of household reserves from on-farm production by households with carry-over reserves and reserves of this year’s crops spared these past months by the purchasing of grain with income earned from sales of livestock and cash crops. 

    Good country-wide grain availability should help ensure a sustained supply of grain through the end of June. The current state of supply, sufficient to meet effective demand, is keeping prices stable, though still above seasonal averages.

    With the sharp decline in crop production in certain parts of the country, market purchase is the main source of food for most households. In the face of the exceptionally high prices on grain markets and relatively low levels of earned income compared with crop prices, the food security situation is marked by food consumption deficits. Nevertheless, this has not yet translated into the implementation of crisis strategies (with adverse effects on livelihoods) or sharp rises in school drop-out rates or already high rates of malnutrition.

    In fact, the numbers of new cases of malnutrition reported between December and January and between January and February are not necessarily indicative of an acute food crisis. A comparison of yearly nutritional data shows a sharp increase in admissions to therapeutic feeding centers between 2010 and 2011, though the size of the food-insecure population in 2011 was less than half as large as in 2010 (Table 1). Certain large reported increases are actually the result of active screening in areas without health facilities (the case of Kollo and Tillaberi in the Tillaberi region). According to the workers charged with collecting data, some of whom have had no training in the treatment of malnourished children, other reported increases in the number of cases of malnutrition (in Diffa for example) can be explained by discrepancies in the collected data. Hiatuses in distributions of therapeutic foods also oftentimes lead to omissions or overestimates of admissions data (the case of February 2012 data for Magaria compared with January data). Delays in the transmittal of data can also result in large fluctuations in malnutrition data from one month to another (the case of February 2012 data for Mirriah compared with January data).

    The members of FEWS NET field missions have not observed any major deterioration in conditions in pastoral areas. Most animals are concentrated in the north, where generally average levels of pasture production are helping to keep animals in reasonably good physical condition in spite of localized pasture deficits caused by shortages of water. The positioning of supplies of animal feed (cotton cakes and wheat bran) in anticipation of eventual shortages in the coming months with return migration by transhumant animals and perhaps even earlier, with the return of transhumant herds from Niger ensconced in Mali threatened by civil insecurity problems triggered by the armed rebellion in that country, is bolstering pasture availability.

    With the high demand for exports, livestock prices are still generally average, except on certain markets such as Diffa, where prices are down by 20 percent from the same time last year due to the absence of Libyan buyers. Some livestock markets posted large (20 percent) increases in February 2012 prices compared with the same time last year (the case of the Ouallam market). Comparable rises in the prices of grain and livestock are keeping terms of trade for livestock/grain stable and close to the average for this time of year.

    An assessment of other livelihoods shows above-average harvests of market garden (fruit and vegetable) crops. According to data from specialized units within the government of Niger, the production target of 400,000 metric tons of grain equivalent (the projected gross grain deficit as of September 2011) was over 90 percent met as of the first dekad of March of this year. However, with the good harvest and this year’s large supply of market garden crops compared with demand, prices are below-average. The amount of grain affordable with income earned from market garden crops (2 to 4 kg of grain for 1 kg of market garden produce) was cut by roughly 20 percent between January and February, particularly in the case of vegetables, as large supplies continue to outstrip demand. However, the sharp decline in February prices (by more than 20 percent) from previous months in the wake of a significantly larger harvest does not necessarily mean a reduction in the normal income of farmers growing market garden crops, which could be sustained simply by selling larger than usual quantities of crops.

    Prices for rainfed cash crops and cowpea and sesame crops in particular have actually risen by 15 and 20 percent, respectively, since last month. These prices, particularly cowpea prices, are benefiting even poor households still holding small quantities of these crops spared by their replacement by market garden crops in this year’s business dealings. Fluctuations in terms of trade for cowpeas and sesame versus millet in February of this year in the Maradi region were proportionate to movements in their prices.

    There is currently a high demand for straw for use as an animal feed. A bundle of straw from the brush was selling for 1500 XOF on the Ouallam market in March of this year, compared with 500-800 XOF last March. Though there is very little straw production in fallow fields, it is still available in large quantities out in the brush, where land reclamation programs have produced large amounts of new vegetative growth.  

    The food security outlook between now and September of this year assumes:

    • normal start-of-season conditions for the upcoming agropastoral season;
    • a 30 to 60 percent boost in consumer demand from current levels with the return of migrant workers in April/May;
    • nationwide subsidized grain sales and targeted distributions of free food aid between March and September at the rate of approximately 20,000 MT per month, in the former case, at a sales price of 13,000 XOF per 100 kg sack of millet, corn, and sorghum, and per 50 kg sack of rice;  
    • a sharp deterioration in sources of household income with the unavailability of straw, market garden produce, and cash crops in May, June, and July.

    Based on these assumptions, in general, food insecurity levels should coincide with Phase 2 (stress) on version 2.0 of the IPC acute food insecurity scale. At least 20 percent of households, mainly in the Tillaberi, Tahoua, and Diffa regions, will face larger deficits between April and June and in July, August, and September, putting them in IPC Phase 3 (crisis).

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Yearly numbers of malnourished children admitted to therapeutic feeding centers in Niger

    Figure 2

    Yearly numbers of malnourished children admitted to therapeutic feeding centers in Niger

    Source: National Health Information System (SNIS)

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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