Hunger Alleviating hunger and ensuring equitable access to healthy and balanced nutrition are a major global challenge and a key issue for the SDC.
815 million people are currently going hungry worldwide. One in every nine people goes to bed with an empty stomach. Every ten seconds, a child dies of the consequences of malnutrition. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger has increased for the first time since the food crisis in Ethiopia in the 1980s.
The world’s population is growing steadily
and dietary habits are changing. Smallholder farmers are an important driving
force for employment and rural development in most of the world’s regions.
In Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, 80% of
agricultural land is cultivated by smallholder family farms. Smallholder farms
are, therefore, the most important food producers.
Due to cyclical and structural problems Niger
suffers repeatedly from food insecurity. Since the 1970s the country has
experienced seven major food crises; the root causes are complex and varied.
Approximately 80% of the population live in rural areas with over 60% living
below the poverty line.
In order to respond to acute emergencies and tackle the root causes of
food insecurity in a lasting and comprehensive way, it is vital that
humanitarian aid, development cooperation and peacebuilding work in lockstep.
Efforts in Niger show how Switzerland’s instruments of international cooperation are able to achieve effective results on the ground thanks to this ‘nexus approach’.
Acute food crises
There are many reasons why food crises are a
recurring phenomenon in Niger. They range from severe droughts and floods to
conflicts and the resulting displacement of the population.
Droughts and flooding are causes
of food crises. The effects of climate change and strong demographic growth
further heighten the situation. Conflicts, whether natural resource-induced or
sparked by cross-border terrorist attacks, exacerbate food crises.
Every year over three million people in Niger – nearly one fifth of the population – are affected by food insecurity. The situation is particularly acute during the lean season: the period when the last of the previous year’s harvest has been consumed and the new season’s plantings are not yet ready to be picked.
In addition to emergency relief efforts, measures must be taken that
build the capacities of the local population to withstand future shocks and
crises (resilience). Supporting local farmers will likewise bolster long-term
food security. For example, the SDC funds the construction of water supply
infrastructures, and provides seed and fertiliser.
The more resilient vulnerable communities become, the better equipped they will be to weather future crises.
Fostering peaceful co-existence
Violent conflict and war are one
of the main drivers of food crises and hunger. Peacebuilding is therefore an
important instrument in the fight to alleviate food insecurity.
In Niger, livestock farming is practised by almost 90% of the population, either as their primary activity or alongside other farming or trading activities. Most livestock farmers are pastoralists and their livelihood depends almost exclusively on rearing animals. Food insecurity therefore hits this section of the population particularly hard.
In this village in the
south of Niger, a large number of
goats died as a result of the drought.
To recoup their losses, the goat farmers were forced to sell off most of their remaining flock. However, the animals fetched much lower prices than usual given their poor state of health.
AREN – the Association for the Revitalisation of Livestock in Niger – runs a number of programmes that seek to break this vicious cycle by providing local farmers with support. AREN gave two goats to every member of a local women’s group. Thanks to a rotation system, every single woman in the village will eventually become a beneficiary of this programme.
Many livestock farmers in Niger are nomadic
or semi-nomadic. Every year, at the start of the dry period, they drive their
herds from the north of the country to more fertile lands in the south. Climate
change means that dry periods arrive ever earlier and force these pastoralists
to head South even before harvesting begins, causing severe damage to sedentary
farmers’ crops and fields in the process.
This situation is exacerbated by greater
demand for farmland due to the fast-growing population. In response, sedentary
farmers sometimes go as far as growing their crops along transhumance corridors
traditionally used by nomadic pastoralists and in herding areas reserved for
shepherds and their animals. Violent
clashes are therefore not uncommon between the two groups.
Over the last 20 years, the SDC has supported the development of
pastoral livelihoods in Niger. It leverages local, regional and national
structures so that transhumance practitioners share the same vision when it
comes to land use. This vision has been incorporated into our land use plans,
which were drawn up with Swiss support.
The programme has also strengthened the legal
framework by supporting the drafting, adaptation and circulation of legal texts
Since the programme was launched, a total of 4’000km of transhumance
corridors have been mapped and signposted, and 2 000 hectares of grazing land
have been restored. Both of these measures foster peaceful co-existence between
the sedentary and nomadic farming communities.
Substantial progress has been made in the fight to end hunger thanks to the fact that conflicts between crop and livestock farmers have been brought under control and that support for the development of pastoral farming has proved successful. Nonetheless, the goal of food security in Niger is still a long way off.
In another village, AREN supports livestock farmers by helping them to
set up and manage a fodder bank.
The principle is simple: the bank purchases animal feed when market
prices are low.
During the lean season, when animal feed is at a premium, members of the cooperative can stock up on supplies at knock-down prices. In some cases, fodder is sold for as little as one-third of the going market rate.
Cash for work
Droughts and flooding cause crops to fail,
leaving the farmers with nothing to sell on the markets and therefore no money
to buy food for their family.
Given that a lack of income is a major cause of malnutrition, the SDC, together with its local partners, runs a ‘cash-for-work‘ programme targeted specifically at the most vulnerable households.
As part of this programme, farmers build semicircular-shaped
anti-erosion structures that collect rainwater and channel it back into the
soil rather than letting it run off.
As well as facilitating the regeneration of grazing and agricultural land, this measure provides farmers with an income that will tide them over the lean season.
Another recipient of SDC support in Niger is
the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Management of Food Crises. This government-run system
coordinates and finances prevention measures, as well as humanitarian and
rehabilitation efforts in response to recurring food crises.
Action against Hunger (ACF) ensures that volunteers are trained in order to inform the local population about causes of malnourishment.
When a child is diagnosed with severe
malnutrition, the mother is asked to her child to an outpatient nutritional
Children who present with complications brought on by severe malnutrition are transferred to intensive nutritional rehabilitation units based in the district hospitals.
Action against Hunger supports these government-run centres by funding the salaries of the nursing staff and additional doctors, and by covering the costs not only of meals for mothers who stay with their children during treatment but also some of the medication used to treat malnutrition.
Action against Hunger also runs a dietary
diversity project which promotes the cultivation and use of moringa.
This small tree is a precious source of nutrients, making it an excellent food supplement. It is also easy to grow and harvest, is extremely hardy and drought-resistant.
Every part of the plant – leaves, fruit, bark and roots – has a use, making moringa a highly beneficial and valuable plant, both economically and nutritionally. Selling moringa at market provides women with an additional source of revenue.
The project provided 10 moringa plantations
to various women’s groups living in areas of Niger where malnutrition is above
the national critical threshold.
WFP - World Food Programme
In response to this crisis and to mitigate the risk of famine, the SDC provides funding for operations run by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The UN agency focuses its efforts on two fronts: providing emergency aid to alleviate the most urgent needs and adopting measures to increase the resilience of people facing future shocks.
In the Diffa region on the border with Nigeria, 250 000 people currently suffer from malnutrition and acute food insecurity. The armed conflict between the Boko Haram terrorist organisation and the government has driven them from their homes
The SDC provides funding for operations run by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) as well as an Action against Hunger (ACF) project. The priorities for both organisations is providing emergency aid to alleviate the most urgent needs and strengthening resilience. Here, emergency aid takes one of two forms: the distribution of food or cash transfers to allow members of the affected community to purchase vital supplies.