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Record rise in cereal prices undermines household food security

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Niger
  • April - September 2013
Record rise in cereal prices undermines household food security

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  • Key Messages
  • Nationwide Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Increasing millet and maize prices, already well above-average in April, will overshoot seasonal norms between now and the height of the lean season and the end of Ramadan in late August due to market disruptions triggered by last year’s floods in Nigeria. Central and Eastern Niger will be most affected. 

    • Despite anticipated price increases, household incomes are generally considered average to good this year, and should allow households to purchase sufficient cereal to meet food needs. Thus, even without assistance, most poor households should be able to meet their basic food and nonfood needs and will experience only IPC Phase 1 Minimal levels of acute food insecurity.

    • In Diffa, higher prices, the destruction of pepper crops, and affect of conflict in Nigeria on cross border livestock trading are likely to expose poor households in agropastoral and farming areas of this region region to IPC Phase 2 Stress levels of acute food insecurity between July and September.

    Nationwide Overview
    Current situation

    The final results of the harvest assessment for the winter growing season released by the Statistics Department of the  Ministry of Agriculture estimate available cereal output at 4.5 million metric tons, which is 27 percent above-average and 48 percent above the figure for 2011. Cereal availability is estimated at 5,055,315 metric tons, including initial stocks, commercial imports, and food assistance, versus estimated apparent consumption needs of 4,084,854 metric tons, which leaves a marketable surplus of 970,462 metric tons and puts apparent per capita cereal availability at 300 kg (and national cereal availability at over 2,950 kilocalories per person per day).  The Maradi, Tahoua, Zinder, Dosso, and Tillabéri regions had production surpluses and, as usual, the Niamey, Agadez, and Diffa regions showed deficits.

    Most agricultural activities across the country in April involve the growing of vegetable crops. The good ongoing harvests of these crops are attributable to favorable water availability and the delivery of timely, sizeable assistance by the government and its partners. Adding to the good cereal harvest, the harvest forecast for the 2012/2013 market gardening season puts output 167 percent above-average, the majority of which (80 percent compared with the usual average of 30 percent) is earmarked for sale. Sales of market garden crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, and onions are bringing in the equivalent of between one and two kilograms of millet, compared with an average of 1.6 to 3.0 kg, or 12 to 23 percent less than the average cereal equivalent. Despite below-average terms of trade for these crops vis-à-vis millet, the volume of sales should be large enough to guarantee above-average purchasing power. Ongoing harvests of irrigated rice crops are bolstering food availability in riparian areas of the Tillabéri and Dosso regions, along the Niger River.

    Cereal demand on markets across the country is slightly below-average and supplies are down sharply due to the reduction in imports from Nigeria, which typically account for a major share of market supply during this time of year. Imports (maize, millet, and sorghum) currently account for only a very small percentage of market supplies, particularly on the Maradi, Zinder, Tahoua, and Diffa markets, due to the lack of export incentives since January with the equally high price of cereal in Nigeria, which is being used as a substitute for tuber crops in areas severely damaged by flooding last year. In spite of these circumstances, there are not yet any signs of cereal shortages in the market. Most trade is domestic, involving shipments of marketable surpluses of domestic crops to deficit areas.  Currently, domestic supply is able to meet demand, which is still relatively weak in surplus areas of the Maradi and Zinder regions.

    Institutional procurements amounting to 60,000 metric tons of cereal by the government for subsidized sales programs and distributions of free food rations scheduled for 2013 are in progress.  Approximately 20,000 metric tons of this total amount has already been purchased directly from farmers between January and March/April.  Some 20,000 MT was purchased through calls for tenders issued in February/March and is currently in the process of being delivered.  An additional 20,000 MT will be solicited in calls for tenders to be issued in April.

    Low cereal supplies in Nigeria have driven millet prices in particular to approximately 30 percent above the seasonal average. Data furnished by SIMA (the Agricultural Market Information System) suggest a surge in cereal prices in general and millet prices in particular both on retail markets in Niger and on markets along the border with Nigeria. The extremely small price differentials on markets in Nigeria and Niger could explain the unusually small flow of cereal between wholesale and retail markets. The Maradi, Zinder, and Diffa markets, which normally rely on this flow of trade from Nigeria, are feeling the effects of increasing in millet prices, which were already anywhere from 34 to 52 percent above the five-year average as of March of this year.

    A comparison of trends in admissions of malnourished children to therapeutic feeding centers shows smaller than usual seasonal spikes due to screening programs. The abnormally sharp rise in admissions in Keita is due to the unusual screening activities in that area for this time of year. Thus, the nutritional data corroborates the generally positive data on household income and purchasing power, which does not currently suggest any evidence of a food consumption gap at this time.

    Food assistance efforts by the WFP and NGOs as part of the government’s social assistance program continue, in the form of food-for-work and cash-for-work activities serving a food-insecure population of approximately one million individuals, in keeping with the top-priority programs scheduled for the period from January through June of this year.


    The most likely food security scenario for the period from April through September 2013 is based in the following underlying assumptions with respect to future developments in the nationwide situation:

    • Though downgraded between March and April, the rainfall outlook is still calling for average levels of precipitation. FEWS NET is assuming that the rainy season will get off to a normal start as it did in 2010, with an average distribution of rainfall through the end of September (ECMWF, IRI).
    • There will be no change in the status quo with regard to the civil insecurity in Nigeria or the socio-political crisis in Mali.
    • There will be normal levels of cereal demand in April/May, followed by a sharp rise in June-July-August due to demand from Nigeria and for the observance of Ramadan.
    • Trends in cereal prices will put them above the seasonal average, particularly between June and August. Millet prices will be anywhere from 20 to 60 percent above the five-year average, depending on the area, stabilizing or coming down between August and September, though staying high.
    • There will be a sustained demand for livestock and favorable prices for pastoralists in the central and western reaches of the country with the return of transhumant herds to pastoral areas in May/June and a high consumer demand during Ramadan in July/August and demand for the fattening of sheep for the celebration of Tabaski in August/September. In the East, particularly in Diffa, the persistent insecurity in Nigeria has stemmed the outward flow of livestock and reduced income from livestock sales and will continue to do so throughout the outlook period
    • Though increasing slightly (the daily bulletin by the UNHCR showed 485 new arrivals since January 11th of this year), the refugee presence will not exceed the 100,000 mark, which was the figure used as basis for the planning of humanitarian assistance.
    • The desert locust threat will be brought under control and will not cause major loss or damage to cereal crops in July/August/September. The government will take measures against any potential locust infestations during the 2013-2014 growing season, including regular surveillance.
    • Based on the promising outlook for the rainy season, there will an average to good demand for labor for the tending of crops. A day’s wages will buy an average of six kg of millet, which is considerably better than the norm of only approximately four kg of millet.
    • Nutritional conditions will deteriorate in line with normal seasonal trends, particularly in normally nutritionally-challenged areas (Maradi and Zinder), but also in what are usually more nutritionally sound areas such as urban and peri-urban areas.
    • The replenishment of government food stocks will fall short of their optimal levels. However, with the help of its partners, distributions of free food rations, blanket feeding programs, and subsidized sales programs will be implemented as usual, with the government mobilizing 50,000 to 60,000 metric tons of cereal for free food assistance and sale at subsidized prices, particularly between June and August.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    A good growing season for irrigated crops will help diversify household food sources and enable households to sell or use their market garden crops as a cereal substitute. The combined effects of these favorable circumstances and of humanitarian assistance programs in the form of food-for-work and cash-for-work activities will keep acute food insecurity at IPC Phase 1 Minimal levels between April and May-June. In July-August-September, approximately 80 to 90 percent of households will be dependent on the market, where there will be a high demand for cereal from Nigeria and from local households for the observance of Ramadan, driving prices 50 percent above-average. There will also be a high local and foreign demand for meat during this period for Ramadan, as well as for farm labor, fueled by what should be average rainy season conditions. The higher prices commanded by poultry-owning households and income from on-farm labor, plus religious gifts of food and food assistance will help maintain adequate household cereal access and intake, holding acute food insecurity at “Minimal” levels between July and September of this year, except in areas with poor harvests of cash crops (particularly cowpeas in the south and peppers in the east) and in the East, where demand for livestock in Nigeria is faltering and cereal prices are being driven up by the conflict in that country.

    Areas of Concern

    Farming and agropastoral areas of Diffa

    Current situation
    • Below-average levels of pepper production.
    • Near or above-average herd size (cattle and small animals). Sharply lower than usual demand for livestock from Nigeria due to civil insecurity and below-average prices.
    • Cereal prices at levels 13 to 34 percent above-average.
    • Significantly above-average levels of income from poultry sales, sales of hand-made goods, construction work, etc.
    • Near or above-average herd size (cattle and small animals). Sharply lower than usual demand for livestock from Nigeria and below-average prices.
    • Rise in cereal prices, particularly for millet, putting them slightly above seasonal averages through May/June and well above-average between June and July, by approximately 50 to 60 percent. Poor households will be primarily dependent on market-buying for their food supplies between April and September.
    • The usual subsidized cereal sales programs will be conducted between July and September.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The average to good incomes of poor households will not suffice to fill the gaps created by shortfalls in harvests of key cash crops (peppers) and in income from livestock sales and the sharp rise in cereal prices. Poor households will, most likely, be unable to meet their basic livelihood protection needs between April and September and will experience  Stress levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 2) through the end of September.

    Farming areas of southern Maradi (southern market gardening areas)

    Current situation
    • Food availability from what were actually good levels of on-farm production is currently extremely poor to nil for very poor and poor households (approximately 65 percent of the department’s total population), which is normal for this time of year.
    • Cowpea production was well below-average and down 56 percent from 2008/09 (the baseline year). Even the high price of cowpea crops could not make up for the resulting shortfall in income, putting it at only 77 percent of the figure for the baseline year.
    • Nigeria’s poorer than usual 2012 harvest and the good harvest in Niger are responsible for the small price differential between Kano/Maradi and Niamey since January, which has been an anomaly since March and is inhibiting trade flows to Niamey and agropastoral and pastoral areas of central and eastern Niger with a net demand for cereal as of March/April, particularly for millet.
    • There are more than usual irrigated crops, and the growing season is still underway in this part of the country. The main activities are harvesting and marketing. Terms of trade for these crops, particularly potatoes and tomatoes, bought growers 1.5 to 2.0 kg of millet in March, compared with an average of two to three kg.
    • There is good cereal availability on local markets, though millet prices are more than 40 percent above the five-year average. Income from millet sales between October and December, was also 40 percent above-average.
    • According to joint field surveys and surveys by FEWS NET, major sources of household income are more lucrative than usual. The main sources of income are currently:
    • On-farm labor, for land preparation and the tending of market garden crops, with terms of trade for wage income/millet up by 100 percent from the baseline year 2008/2009 and by 25 percent from last year;
    • Sales of bricks and adobe home construction, generating 50 to 150 percent larger than average amounts of income;
    • Migration to Nigeria between December and May/June, which is down from 2011/12 is more limited than usual due to the two consecutive years of good harvests and the conflict in Nigeria, which is restricting cross-border movements of travelers and goods. Migration flows for 2012/13 are comparable to or down slightly from 2008/09 (another good crop year) figures. Migration income from Nigeria through April is presumed to be near-average;
    • Sales of livestock at seven  to 50 percent above-average prices for male sheep and goats;
    • Motorbike taxi service, generating 50 percent more income than in the baseline year, 2008/2009.

    Thus, in spite of the high price of millet, household purchasing power for the month of April was better than usual due to well above-average levels of income and terms of trade.


    The most likely food security scenario for the April through September period in this area is based on the following underlying assumptions:

    • Beginning of the growing season in June and normal levels of rainfall in July-August.
    • Increasing cereal prices, particularly millet prices, to slightly above seasonal averages through May/June and to well above-average between July/July, or from 30 percent above-average in March to approximately 50-60 percent above-average in June /July.
    • Normal plant health conditions.
    • Normal demand for farm labor for land preparation and weeding/field clean-up between April and September.
    • Normal access to credit for very poor and poor households.
    • Normal levels of small-scale trading activities, producing average amounts of income.
    • More than usual charitable gift-giving (socio-religious assistance) in July-August (Ramadan).
    • Above-average consumer cereal demand between July and September for the observance of Ramadan.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The impact of the rising price of staple cereals will diminish overall food and income availability in this area, particularly with the poor terms of trade for labor income versus cereal. However, the gap should not exceed the critical livelihood protection threshold, since other sources of income should suffice to meet basic needs. The area will experience « Minimal » levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) between April and June and from July through September. This analysis is based on expected average prices between May and September. July prices could exceed the livelihood protection threshold for a short period of time. However, this will not last long and its impact will be mitigated by religious gift-giving during Ramadan and the start-up of subsidized cereal sales programs.

    Agropastoral areas of Tillabéri/Ayorou                                                                                       

    Current situation
    • The final results of the harvest assessment for the 2012-2013 crop year show a 19,572 metric ton cereal deficit, which is 45 percent more than the average deficit of approximately 13,600 MT.
    • On-farm food stocks which, on average, last for four to five months, have been depleted for the past one to two months, two months sooner than usual. However, harvests of irrigated rice crops in April/May/June are a good potential source of cereal for household consumption or sale or of labor income for very poor and poor households paid in kind and in cash for their work in the harvest.
    • Though still below-average, these terms of trade are a large improvement over figures for the same time last year, when these same crops were trading for the equivalent of a mere 0.15 to 0.30 kg of cereals (for one kg of tomatoes, onions, and potatoes). Extensive assistance, allowing for the planting of larger than average areas in crops, helped put this year’s local vegetable harvest 50 percent above-average,  making for better than average final purchasing power.
    • Last season’s reportedly good rainfall conditions helped ensure a good availability of raw materials for hand-made goods such as mats and sékos (woven straw fences) selling at unit prices of between 3,500 XOF and 4,000 XOF in March of this year, compared with the baseline price of 2,000 XOF to 2,500 XOF per unit. Income from the sale of these hand-made goods bought 13 to 15 kg of millet in March 2013, compared with an average of nine to 11 kg.
    • The share of Nigerian crops, particularly millet, on area markets is below-average. The main source of cereal availability is cereal imports, mainly from Benin, Burkina Faso, and Mali, which account for over 90 percent of all crops for sale, which is unusual. Cereal prices are above the five-year average by 16 percent for millet, 14 percent for sorghum, and nine percent for maize and are comparable to or below 2012 prices.
    • In spite of the losses of livestock in 2009/10 and 2011/12, herd size is more or less fair to good. Cattle herds are at least six percent larger than last year and 11 percent larger than in 2009, the baseline year. According to data furnished by the government and from joint field missions, the sheep/goat population is four percent larger than last year. The relatively good supply of pasture has helped improve the physical condition of livestock and boost their market value. Terms of trade for March of this year showed a 12-50 percent improvement over March of last year and were 10 percent above-average.
    • Relief programs (particularly distributions of free food rations), which have not yet started up in other parts of the country, are already underway in certain parts of this area, which was given priority due to the refugee presence.

    The most likely food security scenario for the period from April through September 2013 in this area is based on the following underlying assumptions:

    • Based on region-wide conditions, movements in cereal prices should stay in line with normal seasonal trends between April and May. Increasing millet and maize prices will exceed seasonal averages between June and August, with prices stabilizing between August and September.
    • There should be an average to good harvest of irrigated rice crops as a source of income generation in May/June.
    • There should be a normal demand for farm labor for miscellaneous farming activities between June and September.
    • A more sustained than usual demand in July/August/September from Nigeria (diverted demand from eastern Niger and western Chad), plus consumer demand and demand for the fattening of sheep for the celebration of Tabaski, will keep livestock prices above-average.
    • There will be normal donations of charitable gifts of cereal (zakat).
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Local purchasing power will be close to average, with the increase in income from on-farm labor offsetting the expected rise in cereal prices. These favorable conditions could extend through May/June and, combined with average to good household livelihoods, will keep acute food insecurity at « Minimal » levels (IPC Phase 1) between April and June. As of June, household assets will consist of crops from local rice harvests for the second rice-growing season, income from sales of poultry at higher than usual prices due to Ramadan, and income from on-farm labor. With these assets, which will be supplemented by the gathering of wild plant products in August/September, local households will experience only « Minimal » levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) throughout the months of July, August, and September.

    Extrapolation of the most likely food security outcomes in agropastoral areas of Tahoua.

    Unlike the case of agropastoral areas of Tillabéri, these latter areas will be among the areas most affected by the unusually steep rise in prices between April and July/August, peaking in June/July. This rise in prices will offset any advantages for local households from an average 2012/13 cereal harvest and excellent harvest of cash crops commanding lucrative prices. Nonetheless, poor households are expected to be able to meet their basic nonfood needs throughout the outlook period.  

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security conditions


    Locust infestation, significantly affecting crop and animal production OR poor start and earlier than usual end of the rainy season

    • Lower than expected levels of crop and animal production
    • Lower than expected demand for labor
    • Sharper than expected rise in prices
    • Weaker than expected purchasing power, with possible livelihood protection deficits or small survival deficits in certain areas

    Post-electoral problems in Mali in July, spurring population movements

    • Larger than expected numbers of refugees
    • Closing of the country’s border with Mali
    • Heightened demand for cereal, larger supply of labor, and higher than expected prices
    • Weaker than expected purchasing power, with possible livelihood protection deficits, particularly between July and August

    Niger River and western rivers and streams

    Floods, causing severe damage to crops in July-August-September

    • Lower demand for labor in irrigated rice-farming schemes like in 2012/13 and less farm income in July-August-September

    Western and central Niger in particular

    Significantly larger than expected demand for cereal from Nigeria OR

    poor growing season in Nigeria OR new surge in civil insecurity in Nigeria

    • Limited trade in crops and sharper than expected rise in cereal prices
    • Likelihood of livelihood protection deficits or small survival deficits in certain areas


    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    Comparison of projections of the most likely prices and livelihood protection and survival thresholds in southern market gard

    Figure 3

    Comparison of projections of the most likely prices and livelihood protection and survival thresholds in southern market gardening areas

    Source: FEWS NET/FEG

    Comparison of most likely prices projections and livelihood protection and survival thresholds in agropastoral areas of Tahou

    Figure 4

    Comparison of most likely prices projections and livelihood protection and survival thresholds in agropastoral areas of Tahoua

    Source: FEWS NET/FEG

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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