Niger is a landlocked, least-developed, low-income, food-deficit country in the Sahara–Sahel belt, with a population of over 16 million. Niger ranks last on the 2013 Human Development Index (186 of 186 countries), and life expectancy at birth is 55 years. The fertility rate is among the highest in the world, at 7.6 births per woman, and the maternal mortality ratio is 590 per 100,000 live births.
It is estimated that 2.5 million people in Niger are chronically food-insecure and unable to meet their basic food requirements even during years of average agricultural production. During periods of constrained access to food, millions more can quickly fall into acute transitory food insecurity. Over-reliance on subsistence rain-fed agriculture and animal husbandry, widespread poverty, limited infrastructure, low levels of education, and limited effective coverage of basic services, aggravated by high population growth, high levels of indebtedness, and recurrent crises, have weakened the resilience of the most vulnerable people.
In 2012, an accumulation of shocks, including cereal and pasture deficits; high cereal costs and limited work opportunities in Niger and the region; and high levels of household debt exacerbated the already fragile situation. By the peak of the lean season, 22 percent of the population was estimated to be severely food insecure. Even during good harvest years, the food and nutrition security of poor and very poor households is extremely fragile as a result of limited production capacity compounded by high indebtedness, low purchasing power, and high dependency.
The situation of children is of particular concern: one in eight children never reaches the age of five and 42 percent of children are chronically malnourished. During the peak of the 2012 crisis, the national prevalence of global acute malnutrition among children 6-59 months reached 14.8 percent nationwide, exceeding the emergency threshold of 15 percent in four of eight regions of the country. Historic trends indicate that even during non-crisis years, rates of acute malnutrition can rapidly peak beyond emergency thresholds during the lean season period, when food access is most constrained.