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Hunger Looms In Niger As Food Prices Spike

A poor harvest in the West African country of Niger has caused food prices to shoot up at a time of year they would normally be at their lowest. Concerned that the bad harvest could lead to a full-blown hunger crisis, WFP is planning an urgent scale-up of operations to reach as many as 3 million people with food aid.

NIAMEY—Prices at Niger’s food markets are spiking in the aftermath of a patchy harvest, causing concern among food security experts that many could soon go hungry.

“The unusually high food prices are affecting vulnerable people who are facing growing difficulties to feed themselves and their children,” said WFP Niger Country Director Denise Brown.

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“I am extremely worried about the food situation deteriorating in the coming months. We cannot sit back and wait for the worst to come,” she said.

Unseasonal prices

Niger is currently in the immediate post-harvest period, a time when the price for staples like millet ought to be coming down. Instead the failed harvest, brought on by drought, has driven them up.

In October, a 100 kg bag millet cost the equivalent of US $29 at the market in Maradi, Niger’s third-largest city. Today, it costs more than US $41. Food security experts say that right now, people in Niger are paying 37 percent more for millet than they were last year.

Harouna Ibrahim, a small farmer and father of six, says that the situation is already so bad that he would probably migrate in search of work.

“What we harvested is only enough to last us for two months,” he said. “Food is expensive and we don’t have money to buy anything. I am ready to leave for Nigeria.”

Urgent response

According to the Government of Niger, some 750,000 people across the country are severely insecure, a number expected to reach one million by early 2012 as the country moves towards its traditional lean season in March and April.

In response to the looming food crisis, WFP is aiming to support some 3.3 million people over the coming year with life-saving food assistance.