Speculators add to the scale of Niger\’s worsening food crisis


More than 300,000 Nigerien children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition. Yet the problem is not one of food availability – the markets are well-stocked. Instead the food is inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of people because they are unable to afford it.

Continuing food price rises in Niger have seen the price of staples like millet and sorghum increase by another quarter since 2008, when international food prices were at their highest. While some of the increase is due to erratic rains and last year\’s failed harvest, a significant role is being played by food traders.

Josh Leighton, food security and livelihoods officer at Save the Children, said: \”Local and regional traders buy grain directly from farmers when it\’s most plentiful and cheaper. But they don\’t sell it on until May – months after the harvest – when the supply of grain in the country is at its most limited. That way they can charge far more than they paid and reap large profits. Poor farmers find themselves buying back their own crops at highly inflated prices.

\”The vast majority of Nigeriens are subsistence farmers who live a hand-to-mouth existence.They have no option but to sell their grain as soon as it is harvested in September or October so they have money to live on as well as pay off debts for things like seeds and fertiliser. By the time May comes, they are desperate for grain to feed their families.

\”These traders are using market fluctuations to make a profit at the expense of ordinary people. They are helping to fuel the current food crisis and are putting hundreds of thousands of children\’s lives at risk.\”

The vast majority of Nigeriens are subsistence farmers who live a hand-to-mouth existence

Save the Children is working with farmers to develop a system whereby they can avoid having to sell their grain for little or even no profit. They stock their grain in community granaries while receiving loans at low interest rates from local credit agencies to tide them over until they can sell the grain for a higher price later on in the year. This not only gives them a chance to end the cycle of poverty by earning enough to make a profit – it also lets them use their own grain to feed their families during the \’hunger gap\’, the period of the year when many children go hungry. This year, due to the poor rains in 2009, the gap for some families began in February, and may not end for another two months.