15 Jun 2022

Niger activates its EAP for Drought to help tackle food insecurity

Niger is currently facing a severe food insecurity crisis, with 4.4 million people needing immediate humanitarian assistance. Almost 44 per cent of children under 5 are suffering from chronic malnutrition, and 12.5 per cent from acute malnutrition.

The IFRC launched a Food Insecurity Crisis Emergency Appeal to support the Red Cross Society of Niger as it scales up its humanitarian assistance in the affected regions. As part of this appeal, Niger activated its Early Action Protocol (EAP) for Drought on 19 April 2022.

Niger is often afflicted by dry spells and many regions regularly experience water scarcity during crucial stages of the growing season. This leads to low agricultural and livestock productivity, crop damage and reduced yields – which in turn contribute to recurring food and nutritional insecurity in the country.

The activation of the EAP for Drought in April was not linked to a forecast of low rainfall, however. Instead, it was activated due to observed levels of food insecurity – and the expectation that these will worsen in the coming months. Contributing factors included:

  • a drop in agricultural production following poor rainfall in some regions, such as Tillabéri
  • a significant deficit of fodder in all regions (around 15 million tons of dry animal feed) with subsequent difficulties in moving livestock seasonally to grazing grounds (known as transhumance)
  • the deteriorating security situation in the wider Sahel region, which causes population displacement and exacerbates food insecurity
  • increases in food prices at markets, which are up to 40 per cent higher than the five-year average.

“There is a tendency to over attribute rainfall deficits when considering the drivers of food insecurity in the Sahel region,” says Dr Meghan Bailey, social protection and health manager at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. “In fact, a lot of the stress in the system is caused by non-weather-related phenomena – but is attributed to drought. This is dangerous because it risks obfuscating the types of intervention that might actually help people.”

The current food insecurity crisis in Niger has not simply been caused by rainfall deficits. In fact, the upcoming rainy season (May to October, with a peak in July and August) is likely to be above average rainfall. There is even a risk of floods, and humanitarian actors in the country need to start preparing for this. This press release (in French) includes forecasts for the 2022 rainy season in the Sahel region.

Early actions to tackle food insecurity

The EAP for Drought in Niger includes triggers with two successive phases.

  • The first set of early actions replenish the reserves in cereal banks, which are then sold at a subsidized price (50 per cent reduction). This enables 4,000 households to buy cereals in sufficient quantities to meet their needs.
  • The second set of early actions is cash transfers, which will be provided either as vouchers for cereals at banks or shops, or as cash. These enable 1,000 of the most vulnerable households to buy the subsidized cereal to avoid using their own reserves; it also means they can build up reserves before prices rise or cereals become unavailable.

Due to the severity of the situation, the activation in April 2022 triggered both sets of early actions at the same time. These will be implemented in Damagaram-Takaya and Gouré departments. These are both in Zinder region, which is Niger’s most populous province and the region covered by the EAP for Drought.

“The actions are expected to start in the third week of June,” confirms Romain Laïyabe Lare, the forecast-based financing delegate for the French Red Cross’s sub-delegation in Zinder. “The choice of beneficiaries will be based on the degree of vulnerability, for example villages in deficit after the last agricultural season. This will be done in collaboration with the local authorities. The Red Cross, together with the authorities and the agriculture department, are also working to decide which cereal banks will receive support.”

Zinder is actually experiencing lower levels of food insecurity (both observed and projected) than other regions of the country. However, this region is the focus of the EAP for Drought for a number of reasons.

  • It has a historic vulnerability to food and nutrition crises.
  • The security context in Zinder is relatively calm, making the implementation of early actions more feasible.
  • The French Red Cross, a key project partner, was already present in this region.

“This first EAP for Drought is experimental,” explains Romain. “The aim is for this to be scaled up after an evaluation, by seeking additional sources of funding or working in synergy with other actors.”

Thanks to Romain Laïyabe Lare, Meghan Bailey and Kiswendsida Guigma (technical advisor, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre) for their help with this article.