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Sharp reduction in the scale and magnitude of food insecurity

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Niger
  • October 2012 - March 2013
Sharp reduction in the scale and magnitude of food insecurity

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Possible Scenario-Changing Events
  • Key Messages
    • Generally, food security is characterized by  significant improvements given the good to very good agricultural campaign and pastoral season this year. This improvement should reduce the size of the 2011-2012 food-insecure population (close to six million people) by half, according to the findings by the joint assessment of vulnerability to food insecurity.

    • Food insecurity is generally classified at IPC Phase 1: Minimal levels between October and December and, in most parts of the country, should remain at this level between January and March of next year. At least 80 percent of the population of all livelihood zones should have sufficient cereal access to meet their food needs.

    • Continuing regular rainfall through October helped produce generally average to good harvests in most departments in Tillaberi, Ouallam, Tera, and Filingue.  However, continued monitoring is necessary in some localized deficit areas where the growing season did not end with a production surplus and where the lean season could begin early, possibly putting these areas in IPC Phase 2: Stress without timely implementation of the government assistance plan by January.

    • Excess rainfall riverine areas along the Niger River is responsible for the failed to mediocre harvests in these areas. Poor households dependent on rice-farming are currently in IPC Phase 2: Stress due to these crop failures and resulting losses of income. Conditions are expected to improve to IPC Phase 1: Minimal food insecurity with the harvesting of dry-season crops between December and next March.

    National Overview
    Current situation

    The current food security situation is marked by significant improvements in many parts of the country thanks to harvests of cereal and cash crops and generally good pasture production and availability. Historical rainfall distribution estimates for 2012 and other ground and satellite data are comparable to figures for 2008, a year where cereal production levels were close to five million metric tons of millet, sorghum, corn, and fonio, with a per capita gross output of 347 kg and gross yield of approximately 500 kg per hectare. Thanks to the sizeable amounts of seed aid made available to food-short households, regular rainfall, and generally stable plant health conditions, the size of the area planted in crops this year should be at least 10 percent larger than the 2008 figure of approximately 10 million hectares.

    Based on preliminary estimates by the Statistics Bureau attached to the Ministry of Agriculture, this year’s growing season is expected to produce over five million metric tons of coarse cereals (millet and sorghum), well above last year’s production level and comparable to the 2008 and 2010 harvests of five and 5.3 million metric tons of local cereal crops, respectively. Production forecasts for cowpeas, groundnuts, sesame, and chufa nuts are also good compared with last year’s figures and near-average, at an estimated one to two million metric tons. Aside from small purchases by pastoralists and food-short households, as usual, the main source of food for household consumption in farming and agropastoral areas is currently on-farm production.

    Poor households have higher than usual levels of debt due to last year’s cereal deficit. Lending to the poor is a strategy used by traders to unload their inventories (by making loans) and quickly restock (through in-kind loan payments) in the event the growing season appears to be going well, as was the case this year. Thus, in spite of generally good levels of gross cereal production and cereal availability, the repayment of household debts through unpaid work in the fields of better-off households or from household reserves will reduce household food availability. In fact, with this year’s lean season getting off to an early start in April/May instead of in June/July, as is normally the case, the debts incurred by very poor and poor households could be as much as twice as large as usual, and settlement will require both unpaid farm work and in-kind payments drawn from household cereal reserves. However, this year’s harvest is above-average in all parts of the country except for a few pockets in potential problem areas of Tillabéri, Ayorou, Filingué, Ouallam, and Téra and income from sales of cowpea crops is 56 to 100 percent above the five-year average. Thus, the production surplus from the above-average harvest and high market value of cowpea crops should help mitigate the effects of the repayment of household debts on the duration of food reserves expected to last three to four months, which is more or less normal.

    A review of market conditions shows a normal increase in cereal supplies from surplus-producing farmers and traders in the face of the good harvest outlook. At present, there are no anomalies affecting the smooth operation of markets, where supplies are bolstered by the favorable exchange rate for the Naira against the CFA franc, attracting imports from Nigeria. Spreads between prices in Niger and neighboring countries are also attracting imports. Thus, current market supplies, mostly of millet and corn, are coming from Nigeria and Benin.

    The demand for cereal from pastoral and agropastoral households and traders for restocking purposes is not that strong and prices are down from previous months by five to 13 percent, in line with normal seasonal trends, though prices on most markets are still 12 to 45 percent above the nominal five-year average. With the good harvest of cash crops, even in what are regarded as deficit areas, there is a very small farmer presence in cereal trading activities. Sales of cash crops such as cowpeas, which are commanding above-average prices, are strengthening household purchasing power, even for very poor and poor households, enabling farmers to save their cereal reserves and pay off their debts.

    Heavy rains and ensuing flooding in August and September of this year affected close to 600,000 people, compared with the 300,000 disaster victims in 2010, which was also a year marked by flooding problems. The majority (60 percent) of flood affected households are in rice-growing areas of the Niger River Valley, mainly in the Tillabéri and Dosso regions. According to damage assessments by FUCOPRI this past September, the flooding of close to 10,000 hectares of lands planted in rainfed and irrigated rice crops destroyed an estimated 27,000 metric tons of crops from an expected average harvest of 80,000 MT, with a cash equivalent of five billion CFA francs. Since rice is a cash crop normally traded for coarse cereals such as millet, terms of trade for rice/millet are likely to be higher than usual between October and December. In the aftermath of the flooding, a significant humanitarian relief program was mobilized for flood-stricken populations, particularly in the Niger River Valley. The humanitarian aid furnished by the government and its partners has been sufficient to meet the food needs of the 511,000 flood-affected people targeted by the program in August and September. Very poor and poor households currently living with host families or in makeshift dwellings have been receiving humanitarian aid, whose positive effects should enable them to meet their food needs through December, though they will be facing a housing need over the next two to three months.

    High rates of malaria and cholera have affected the state of child nutrition, particularly in Tillabéri and Tahoua. As of September 30th of this year, the  epidemic surveillance and response system had reported 869 cases of cholera and 850,485 cases of malaria, compared with figures of 728 and 650,260, respectively, in September of last year. The combined effects of the poor quality of drinking water supplies in the aftermath of the floods, poor health practices, and high rates of seasonal illnesses have affected the malnutrition trends, more than doubling the usual number of admissions of malnourished patients to treatment facilities, even in nontraditional outbreak areas.

    The findings by a seasonal assessment mission by experts with the Ministry of Livestock-Raising in September of this year show good levels of pasture production reflecting an improvement over last year in all parts of the country. Demand for livestock is up and prices are 16 to 24 percent above-average, particularly for small animals (male sheep), whose market value has increased sharply with the positive trends in demand for the celebration of Tabaski at the end of October and the year-end offerings in November/December.

    Food aid programs mounted under the government assistance plan were closed down at the end of September, according to schedule, but 16,000 metric tons of cereal crops have been available for sale since September as part of the eighth and last round of subsidized cereal sales scheduled for the period from February through September of this year. Normally, food aid programs for 2013 should start up by February-March of next year, following the food security vulnerability assessment and formulation of the new assistance plan in December/January. The government’s procurement program for 2013 for the rebuilding of the national food security reserve involves 75,000 metric tons of cereal, with the first purchases scheduled to begin in January/February.

    Ongoing emergency food aid programs serve an estimated current population of approximately 61,406 Malian refugees in Niger. These food aid programs operated by the UNHCR in conjunction with the government of Niger and humanitarian organizations like the WFP are scheduled to run through the end of December of this year and to be complemented by a follow-up program beginning as of January of next year covering the remaining needs of 60,000 Malian refugees to be more precisely targeted by means of a biometric survey scheduled for this November.

    Desert locust activity is marked by the resumption of canvassing operations in Aïr and Tamesna, where low-density populations of mature and immature winged insects, mature and immature locusts in the transiens phase (the intermediate phase between solitary and gregarious), gregarious winged insects, and breeding locusts in the transiens phase were reported in different monitoring sites in October, and the treatment of an infested area of over 6,000 hectares in Aïr, Tadress, and Tamesna. However, though there is still a possibility of mating and egg-laying by solitary locusts, the deterioration in environmental conditions makes it more likely that they have begun migrating to more favorable ecological conditions in North Africa.


    The most likely food security scenario for the period from October of this year through March of next year is based on the following fundamental assumptions with regard to future trends in conditions across the country:

    • According to monitoring indicators, the assessment of the growing season puts the harvest forecast at a record five to six million metric tons of cereal, plus another one to two million metric tons of cash crops, matching if not exceeding
    • figures for the 2008/09 season. This level of production should enable households to rebuild their cereal reserves and should mitigate the impact of household debts incurred in 2011/12.
    • On-farm inventories will be depleted by December, driving up market demand for cereal between January and March.
    • The desert locust threat is diminishing and there will probably not be any major damage to or losses of crops in an advanced stage of desiccation.
    • There will be a normal to high demand for labor for the cereal harvest and the tending of irrigated crops in crop-producing areas between October-December and January-March, given the good harvest outlook and expected large supplies of aid for the growing of irrigated crops.
    • There will be better than usual gainful employment opportunities in areas adjacent to flood-stricken departments between January and March of next year for the repair and replacement of infrastructure and equipment destroyed by the heavy rains and construction work on hydro-agricultural development projects and irrigated farming sites. Poor households in these areas will have food access on local markets in spite of the loss of their rice crops.
    • As usual, the national food security reserve will be depleted by October and there will be normal restocking activities by cooperatives in January/February. These procurements will boost demand on provisioning markets and could contribute to driving up prices during this period.
    • In general, the usual increase in cereal imports (millet and corn) from Nigeria and Benin between January and March will ensure regular market supplies throughout the outlook period.
    • The nutritional situation will deteriorate between January and March in traditional problem areas (Maradi and Zinder), in line with normal trends, as well as in areas where nutritional conditions are usually better, such as urban and peri-urban areas.
    • Demand for small animals for the celebration of Tabaski and the year-end holidays is expected to increase sharply, peaking in October-November, with extremely favorable terms of trade for pastoralists.  Income from livestock sales should cover the expenses of poor households and, in particular, the repayment of household debts. 
    • Boosts in the income of households along the Niger River from the second growing season for irrigated rice crops between December and next June should help give poor households normal food access.
    • Good water availability will allow for the planting of 100,000 hectares of land in crops (10 percent more than last year) and boost production of irrigated cash crops by 500,000 metric tons of cereal equivalent in 2013, which would be a 40 percent improvement over last year.
    • There will be normal demand for wood and straw in urban areas throughout the outlook period.
    • The government will keep its commitment to lower the price of fuel from 579 to 540 francs per liter beginning this coming January, which could help bring down the price of food and transportation. 
    • The meningitis and measles season between January/February and April will increase household spending and drive up malnutrition rates. The peak outbreak period for measles begins in March and is expected to be more severe next year with the poorerr than usual nutritional situation.
    • The government assistance plan for February-March of next year will be implemented on schedule and without any funding gaps, providing average amounts of food aid to populations at risk of severe food insecurity. The government normally mobilizes 50,000 to 60,000 metric tons of cereal for distributions of free food aid and sale at subsidized prices.  This coming year, it will likely furnish an average of 75,000 metric tons of food aid.
    • The emergency assistance program for Malian refugees in Niger mobilized by the humanitarian community will be extended. In other countries (Burkina Faso and Mauritania), biometric surveys revealed a sharp reduction in the size of the refugee population.  Thus, even in the event of a new influx of refugees between October and next March, there are adequate provisions for needed assistance to meet their food needs, as long as the flow of new arrivals is staggered over time.  The biometric survey data will be available sometime in November/December.
    • Reports of flood damage to market gardening sites and to infrastructure and equipment point to larger than usual expenditures and a higher than usual demand for labor during the outlook period for rebuilding the infrastructure and equipment destroyed by flooding this year.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    With the favorable harvest outlook, in general, there should be good cereal availability all across the country between October and March of next year, allowing for adequate food consumption in just about all areas between October and December. Estimates for this year put the size of the food-insecure population near-average, or at approximately three to four million individuals concentrated mostly in the Ayorou and Tillabéri areas. As usual, food insecurity levels in Tillabéri will peak after the end of March, in the three-month period between July and September, due largely to the two consecutive years of crop production deficits.

    Areas of Concern

    Agropastoral areas of Tillabéri, Téra, Ouallam, and Filingué

    Current situation

    After getting off to a slow start between May and July, growing season conditions visibly improved in August and September, with the regular heavy rains through the end of September or the beginning of October helping to significantly improve crop growth and development, which had been lagging behind schedule. According to estimates by the joint assessment mission conducted by the government and its partners this past September, in general, the combined effects of these improvements in crop growth and development and of generally stable plant health conditions helped produce average to good harvests of millet and sorghum in Ouallam, Téra, Filingué, and Téra departments. The mediocre harvests in Tillabéri and Ayorou departments, where the condition of crops showed no significant improvement, are a result of the problems with planting delays and poor soils marking the 2012 growing season in these areas. The localized flooding problems had no major effect on crops and should not undercut expected production levels in these areas.

    In general, the outlook for harvests of cereal and cash crops and pasture production is good, except in Tillabéri and Ayorou departments. However, the time spent working off debts in the fields of better-off households and the resulting reduction in the size of cropped areas will mean smaller harvests for very poor and poor households in food-short areas. According to farmers’ organizations, there are options for deferring the settlement of debts until after the harvest with interest-free in-kind payments from household cereal reserves. However, any such payment options for the short-term debts of very poor and poor households only end up reducing the size of net cereal reserves earmarked for household consumption in areas without the benefit of production surpluses. The current food security situation is marked by regular market supplies and a steady improvement in on-farm reserves with the expansion of harvesting activities. Most market supplies consist of cowpeas, which are the first crops sold. There are effective social assistance networks for very poor and poor households, which generally have access to interest-free loans, depending on their creditworthiness, and to in-kind gifts from better-off households. An examination of conditions for livestock shows adequate pasture resources and animal watering holes and a significant improvement in their physical condition, engendering favorable prices and terms of trade for pastoralists and good levels of milk production and consumption. While the poor have no animals of their own to sell, the good terms of trade for livestock are strengthening their sources of social assistance.

    • Food reserves in certain parts of the Tillabéri region will be depleted two to three month early, by December/January, making poor households market-dependent between January and March.
    • Cereal prices are expected to come down in line with seasonal price trends, but seasonal prices between October and December will be higher than usual.
    • There will be a normal flow of seasonal migration between December and next March, with a normal volume of cash remittances.
    • Good availability and sales of crop residues will provide a larger than usual source of income between October and next March.
    • The availability and sale of wood and straw between October and next March will generate average amounts of income for poor households.
    • This year’s good rainfall conditions are expected to produce above-average harvests of irrigated vegetable crops between December and next March for household consumption and sale.
    • There will be a larger than usual demand for farm labor for the cereal harvest between October and December and for the tending of irrigated crops and the rebuilding of infrastructure and equipment destroyed by flooding paying above-average wages between January and March.
    • Wage rates for farm labor between October and December and between January and March for the tending of irrigated crops will be at normal levels.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    In general, due to the seed aid furnished by the government and its partners allowing for the planting of larger areas in crops, income from this year’s good harvests of cash crops such as cowpeas, which are still selling well on markets around the country, will enable very poor and poor households to build up their food reserves and enjoy an adequate supply of cereal in November-December without depending on outside assistance, thereby putting them in IPC Phase 1:  Minimal acute food insecurity. However, food security among the small minority of very poor and poor households with no cash crops and who are thus forced to pay off their debts from their millet reserves, sharply reducing their duration, is a source of concern. On the other hand, these debt payments should not significantly affect the levels of the reserves or coverage of the consumption needs of very poor and poor households generating income from the sale of cowpea crops, which are commanding higher prices this year and enabling them to settle their debts without drawing on their cereal reserves, which should meet their food needs for the period from October through December. Thus, food insecurity levels between October and December will be in IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity).

    Good pasture production will reduce local demand and prices for straw, but a corresponding increase in sales volume will prevent this from affecting the regular level of total income generated by these sales. The favorable conditions created by good water availability bode well for a sustained demand for local and migrant labor and higher wage rates throughout the period from January through March/April. These good water conditions will extend the availability of market garden crops, improving household income and diets between February-March and April of next year. 

    As usual, food reserves will be depleted by January, making very poor and poor households market-dependent for their food supplies between January and March. Increased sales of wood and straw and gainful employment in irrigated farming sites, combined with normal migrant remittances and assistance in February-March, should ensure adequate food consumption by very poor and poor households between January and March of next year. Food security levels classified in IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity) between October and December will remain unchanged between January and March. However, the settlement of household debts will reduce the duration of the food reserves of the small minority of very poor households without any cash crops to sell and, thus, forced to pay off their debts from their meager reserves or by working for better-off households. Without the timely start-up of government assistance programs by January, the depletion of these household food reserves could create food shortages and hasten the start of next year’s lean season. Thus, the situation in these areas will require constant monitoring.

    Rice-growing areas of Tillabéri, Dosso, and Niamey

    Current situation

    The population of these areas lives from rainfed and irrigated rice-farming and market gardening activities, which generate over 80 percent of their income and approximately 30 percent of their food supply. Moreover,  households all across Niger depend on the rice harvest in these areas, which are not normally deficit areas, to diversify their diet. Local populations are basically dependent on rice-farming activities, though most poor households also grow millet or sorghum in interdune areas and raise a small number of livestock. The poor, who account for over 70 percent of area households, find rice more reliable (thanks to irrigation) than rainfed cereal crops due to the erratic rainfall in these areas. However, heavy rains destroying ricelands without protective levees and vegetable-growing sites are a contributing factor in heightening household vulnerability to food insecurity. Normally, the main sources of income are rice sales between October and December, sales of vegetables, and sales of livestock. Production deficits are normally not a problem.

    According to farmers’ organizations, the flooding in August and September of this year as the Niger River overflowed its banks onto lands planted in rice and vegetable crops destroyed over 50 percent of the nationwide harvest, resulting in the loss of over five billion CFA francs worth of income, compared with the 600 million CFAF loss in 2010. There were also losses of infrastructure and equipment, with very limited self-financing capacity for the rebuilding of homes destroyed by the floodwaters. However, there is good water availability for the second growing season for irrigated crops and expected assistance from FAO should help maximize this potential.

    The production shortfall is tightening local supplies and has driven up prices for vegetable crops (lettuce, cabbage, and tomatoes) on the Niamey market by 40 to 50 percent since September. Vegetable consumption by poor households is down and, more importantly, their sources of income have narrowed since August with the flooding of rice crops, which normally generate income for the poor. Thus, poor households lost over 80 percent of their annual income from vegetable crops but received 100 kg of cereal and pulses per household per month in August and September under food aid programs and 25,000 francs per household in October.

    • There will be no major difference in harvests of dry-season rice crops, with yields of five to six metric tons per hectare. The total area covered by irrigation schemes is estimated at 7,500 hectares, with an average annual output of 40 MT.
    • Humanitarian assistance programs in flood-stricken rice-growing areas are not expected to be extended between October and March, but social programs will resume after the end of January.
    • Very poor and poor households will be market-dependent and dependent on outside assistance between October and December, though these areas are normally food-secure. 
    • Markets should run smoothly between October and next March but are reporting unusual  five to 10 percent hikes in rice prices due to the failure of rainy season crops.
    • There will be little demand for labor in rice-growing areas between October and December, with sharp reductions in the incomes and cereal purchases of very poor and poor households, limiting their food access.
    • Labor demand will rebound between January and March with the start of the growing season for irrigated dry-season rice crops and vegetable and market garden crops, with a normal increase in income between January to March compared with income levels between October and December with the growing of irrigated crops and the steady improvement in fishing activities between January and March.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The good food security outlook for agropastoral areas does not extend to rice-growing areas such as Tillabéri, Ayorou, Téra, Kollo, and Gaya, where poor harvests in rice-farming areas affected by the severe flooding which destroyed both rainfed and irrigated rice crops have made very poor and poor households dependent on humanitarian aid to meet their food needs between October and December. There will be a sharp drop in demand for labor and in wage levels in October, November, and December, but very poor and poor households are finding gainful employment in farming activities for millet and sorghum crops. Their income is being supplemented by deliveries of humanitarian aid to flood victims by the government and its partners. Thanks to these resources, food insecurity levels, which could have risen, stayed in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) in October, with this trend expected to continue through the end of December.

    The recession of the floodwaters and the freeing up of fields planted in cereal (which are generally located in irrigated farming sites) in December, combined with good water availability and supplies of inputs, should normalize conditions for the growing of dry-season rice and vegetable crops between December/January and May/June.  Starting in January and with the beginning of the off-season rice harvest, good water availability and supplies of inputs from the government and its partners should produce a good harvest of irrigated crops and strengthen food availability and income in rice-growing areas, where farming conditions should stabilize, promoting normal levels of rice production for the growing season for dry-season crops between January and March. The availability of these cash crops, combined with cereal availability between January and March of next year, should allow for adequate food consumption. As a result of these good conditions, the size of dry-season vegetable harvests, which normally account for 30 percent of annual production, will be increased by 20  to 50 percent of the expected normal production figure.  Income from irrigated rice-farming and market gardening activities, from jobs rebuilding protective levees, and from sales of vegetables and fish, and food aid furnished as part of the government assistance plan beginning as of next February should provide the necessary means of food access without relying on external assistance. These are income-generating activities, as well as a means of diversifying the diets of young children, whose health and nutritional status should visibly improve between January and March of next year.  Thus, very poor and poor households will be in IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity) between January and March.

    Possible Scenario-Changing Events



    Impact on food security conditions


    Escalation in the scale and magnitude of the conflict in Mali

    • Limited flow of food trade
    • Larger than expected increase in the number of refugees
    • Stronger market demand
    • Higher cereal prices
    • Inadequate food access for poor rural and urban households
    • Abnormally high rates of malnutrition as of March

    Limited employment opportunities between January and March with smaller areas equipped for the growing of irrigated crops

    • Lower incomes
    • Food deficits for poor households highly dependent on outside gainful employment
    • Abnormally high rates of acute malnutrition as of February


    Agropastoral areas of Tillabéri, Téra, Ouallam, and Filingué

    Delay in the delivery of assistance programs (after January)

    • Mass sales of wood and straw between January and March, resulting in below-average prices
    • Rapid depletion of the cereal reserves of poor households in November-December, food shortages for poor urban households beginning in January and continuing throughout the outlook period

    Unusual sharp drop in prices for cash crops between January and March

    • Mass cereal sales by poor households between October and December, resulting in below-average prices
    • Rapid depletion of the cereal reserves of poor households in November-December, food shortage as of January

    Niger River area

    Record rise in the level of the Niger River between November-December and February-March due to an abnormally high local peak flow

    • Flooding of irrigated farming sites
    • Large shortfalls in irrigated fruit and vegetable and irrigated rice production and rise in the prices of these crops
    • Lower incomes for farmers engaged in market gardening activities
    • Less demand for labor in irrigation schemes and lower wages for seasonal migrant workers
    • Food insecurity for households dependent on market garden crops


    Inadequate aid in the form of farm inputs and implements

    • Smaller areas planted in crops
    • Smaller vegetable harvest and less income from crop sales
    • Moderate to high levels of food insecurity for poor households
    Figures Standard Seasonal Calendar

    Figure 1

    Standard Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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