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Posts Tagged ‘Sahel’

Minister highlights kidnap threat in Sahel and North Africa

Posted by African Press International on December 10, 2013

LONDON, United-Kingdom, December 6, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ – FCO Minister Robertson met travel industry representatives to emphasise the continuing threat of terrorist kidnap in Sahel and North Africa.

Mr Hugh Robertson said:

“Despite the success of military intervention in Mali, there remains a very real threat of kidnap to westerners in areas of the Sahel and North Africa.

“Our travel advice provides a detailed assessment of the threat in individual countries. This allows individuals to make informed decisions about where they travel.

“The British Government takes the threat to British nationals overseas extremely seriously. The Prime Minister has made the security of British nationals in high threat countries a priority. The UK, along with G8 partners, has committed to reducing terrorist groups’ access to funding by rejecting ransom payments. It is a very tough policy to follow, but we believe that this is the only way to prevent further kidnappings.”

During the meeting, Foreign Office officials underlined that the threat makes some areas, which may appear to be attractive destinations, unsafe for tourism.

The threat from groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M) and Al Murabitun has been demonstrated by a number of recent attacks including in In Amenas in January this year. Groups like AQ-M rely on kidnap for ransom as their major source of funding and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to secure hostages.

 

SOURCE

United Kingdom – Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 

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UN SECRETARY-GENERAL IN NIGER, 6 NOVEMBER

Posted by African Press International on November 15, 2013

NEW YORK, November 13, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Niamey, from Mali early in the morning of Wednesday, 6 November. This was the second leg of a four-country joint visit to the Sahel region with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim; the Commissioner for Development of the European Union, Andris Piebalgs; and the President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka.

That morning, the delegation had a meeting with the President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, and inspected the Guard of Honour. They then held a larger meeting with the President, the Prime Minister, Brigi Raffini, as well as members of the Cabinet. Speaking at the meeting, the Secretary-General said that the delegation was in Niger and the region to show its solidarity and to coordinate its actions with the countries of the Sahel. The Secretary-General also underlined Niger’s contribution to peacekeeping, including in Mali, and noted the assistance given by the country to the thousands of Malian refugees in Niger during the presidential elections. S

After briefly speaking to reporters in a joint press briefing, the Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank answered a “Call for Action” for improvements in women’s reproductive health and girls’ education by President Issoufou. The Secretary-General said that throughout his visit to the Sahel, he was calling on leaders to listen to girls and women, to hear their needs and concerns and give women a voice in decision-making. He also asked men to speak out for gender equality. (See Press Release SG/SM/15445.)

 

After attending a State lunch hosted by the Government, the Secretary-General met in the afternoon with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hama Amadou, and then addressed a plenary session of the National Assembly. He told the Parliamentarians that the United Nations was in the country to help Niger in its efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and underlined Niger’s role in addressing the challenges of the Sahel. He also offered his condolences to the families of the migrants who died in the Sahara a few days before, saying we must bring their traffickers to justice and address the problems that pushed them to leave.

The Secretary-General left Niamey, Niger, for Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the third leg of his trip to the Sahel, in the early evening of 6 November.

 

SOURCE

UNITED NATIONS

 

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SECRETARY-GENERAL IN BURKINA FASO, 6-7 NOVEMBER

Posted by African Press International on November 14, 2013

NEW YORK, November 13, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, from Niger, on Wednesday evening, 6 November. This was the third leg of a four-country joint visit of the Sahel region with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim; the Commissioner for Development of the European Union, Andris Piebalgs; and the President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka.

Shortly after his arrival, he attended a state dinner at the Presidential Palace hosted by the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré.

The following day, Thursday, 7 November, the Secretary-General held a joint meeting with the Prime Minister, Beyon Luc Adolphe Tiao, and members of his Cabinet. The Secretary-General said that he was encouraged to see that the region was coming together to solve its problems. He underlined three of the current United Nations priorities: accelerating efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015; defining sustainable development goals for after 2015; and having a legally biding agreement on climate change. (See Press Release SG/SM/15451.)

The Secretary-General then held a meeting with President Compaoré in which they discussed, amongst other subjects, Burkina Faso’s progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as well as regional efforts to address the serious security, humanitarian and development challenges facing the Sahel.

Before departing Ouagadougou, the Secretary-General held a press briefing. He said Burkina Faso was an active player in the Sahel region and underlined its role in forging solutions to the many challenges facing the Sahel and West Africa. He said it was essential to work together to find solutions to the problems of the Sahel.

The Secretary-General left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, for N’Djamena, Chad, at midday on 7 November.

 

SOURCE

UNITED NATIONS

 

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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Africa tour

Posted by African Press International on November 14, 2013

NEW YORK, November 13, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in N’Djamena, Chad, from Burkina Faso, in the afternoon of Thursday, 7 November. This was the last leg of a four-country joint visit of the Sahel region with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim; the Commissioner for Development of the European Union, Andris Piebalgs; and the President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka. Before arriving in Chad, the delegation had visited Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Early that evening, the Secretary-General had a meeting with the President of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno. At the beginning of the meeting, he congratulated Chad on its election to the Security Council and also thanked the country for its contribution to peacekeeping. He noted Chad’s role in regional stability and said that the United Nations was determined to assist the region and strengthen coordination at all levels. He added that this joint visit to the Sahel by five institutions symbolized their commitment. (See Press Release SG/SM/15455.)

Following that meeting, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters, telling them that challenges in the region did not respect borders and solutions should not either. He said progress had already been made in many areas and noted he was leaving Chad and the Sahel with hope and optimism.

Before departing, the Secretary-General attended a state dinner hosted by the President.

Having completed his four-country joint visit to the Sahel, the Secretary-General left N’Djamena late on 7 November to return to New York.

 

SOURCE

UNITED NATIONS

 

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SUPPORT EFFORTS FOR WELL-COORDINATED SOLUTIONS

Posted by African Press International on November 10, 2013

NEW YORK, November 7, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the National Assembly of Niger, in Niamey, 6 November:

It is a distinct privilege to address the Members of the National Assembly of Niger. It is particularly meaningful to do so with Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group. We are joined by Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, Andris Piebalgs, Commissioner for Development of the European Union, and my Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi.

Together, we are on a journey of solidarity with the people of the Sahel. We are here to listen — and we are here to act.

Our message is simple and clear. It is drawn from many years of experience around the world. Peace is not sustainable without development. Development is not sustainable without peace. The two challenges must go hand in hand. And so, we have come to Niger to join hands with you.

The United Nations is proud to have worked with the people of Niger over the years to forge sustainable solutions. We are teaming up to accelerate progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals — including through the ambitious agricultural transformation plan, the 3N Initiative — Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens.

We are committed to assisting in your efforts to advance good governance and build effective, trustworthy institutions. We are partnering to support your initiatives to expand opportunities and sustainable livelihoods, particularly for young people. We are resolved to do all we can to open doors for the women and girls of Niger — to quality schools, good jobs, safe communities, decent health care and greater political participation, including here in this parliament.

Earlier today, I was pleased to join President [Mahamadou] Issoufou’s call to action on demographic issues. I am doing my part at the United Nations to empower women. For the first time in history, five UN peacekeeping operations are led by women. I selected a distinguished daughter of Niger, Aïchatou Mindaoudou Souleymane, to head our mission in Côte d’Ivoire — one of the largest in the world. She is doing an outstanding job. I am proud of her and I know you are, too.

Niger is contributing to global peace and security in so many other ways. I pay tribute to the almost 2,000 brave Nigerien citizens serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations — from Mali to Haiti, from the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond. I honour the memory of the 19 who lost their lives serving under the UN flag. I also appreciate Niger’s continued assistance to thousands of Malians who have taken refuge in your country.

Throughout the Sahel, we see instability and unrest, more people being displaced, rising food and fuel prices, severe drought and people sacrificing everything to migrate for greater opportunity.

I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those who so tragically perished in the Sahara last week. Even had they survived the desert crossing, we know their journey would have remained treacherous. Their hopes for a better life may have remained simply a mirage.

Our debt to them must be a solemn commitment to prosecute the human smugglers who stole their lives, to address the food crises that plague Niger, to improve conditions in the communities from which they came so that others do not feel compelled to leave, and to create safe opportunities for willing migrants to work abroad. The United Nations is devoted to protecting human rights, and the rights of migrants are of urgent concern to me.

Across these complex and difficult challenges, the people of Niger and the Sahel are teaching the world something very important. You are proving that problems can no longer be confined within borders, and so solutions must also rise above dividing lines — across borders and bureaucracies, across communities and cultures, across politics and parties.

This is our twenty-first century test. We must dig deeper to get at the root causes of conflict. In the Sahel, those roots can be traced to scarcities of water and food, pressures on land, the lack of development and rampant insecurity. We must deal with these issues in a comprehensive way — not merely as isolated, unrelated problems of armed conflict, political instability or economic development.

That is why our United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel is based on identifying crucial connections — and supporting your efforts to drive hard at them with well-coordinated solutions.

As representatives closest to the people of Niger, you are essential to success. You are the crucial link between the local and global. As part of our strategy, we are working to establish a regional platform of parliamentary committees to share experiences, discuss common challenges and define common priorities. We want to help strengthen parliaments and empower all political parties to build a culture of peace across the Sahel. We invite your active engagement.

No country or organization can do it alone. We must work together so that we hear all voices, take in all political views and build peace and stability that lasts. That is the twenty-first century test that Niger and the Sahel are putting forward to the world. Together, let us join forces and pass this test. Together, let us take strength from your great country’s motto: “Fraternité, Travail, Progrès”. Thank you.

 

SOURCE

UNITED NATIONS

 

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WHEN WOMEN DETERMINE THEIR OWN FUTURE, THEY ADVANCE DEVELOPMENT FOR ALL

Posted by African Press International on November 7, 2013

NEW YORK, November 7, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the launch of the call to action on demographic issues in the Sahel region, in Niamey, Niger, 6 November:

Good afternoon. Thank you for coming together today. This call to action on demographic issues is based on sound statistics. But it is not about numbers. It is about people. When we give women the education they deserve, society becomes stronger. When we protect women’s human rights, society becomes more just. And when we allow women to determine their own future, they will advance development for all. Throughout my visit to the Sahel, I am calling on leaders to listen to girls and women. Hear their needs and concerns. Give women a voice in decision-making.

I also have a special message for the men: speak out for gender equality. To benefit from the demographic dividend, we need many concrete steps. We need to invest in young people to unleash their full potential. We need better health care for women and girls. We need to increase access to family planning. We need to raise the marriage age. We need more girls in school. We need to address HIV/AIDS.

These steps are important — but they are not enough. We also need to change mindsets. Women should be able to demand their rights. But I also want men to join this call. Help us create conditions where your daughters, your sisters and your wives have full equality. Help us create a society where women never have to fear violence at the hands of men. Help us create families where mothers and fathers decide together how many children they want to have. The time to do this is now.

I have full confidence that the men of Niger and the Sahel can support the women here, and that together you can open a new future. The United Nations is your dedicated partner as you advance along this path to progress. Thank you.

 

SOURCE

UNITED NATIONS

 

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Norway applauds Mali for peaceful election process

Posted by African Press International on August 4, 2013

Norway applauds the people of Mali for the peaceful conduct of the first round of its presidential elections. After a period of conflict there is a great need for stable governance to ensure further development.

Norway and international observers report that the poll on 28 July proceeded peacefully. Norway has provided NOK 40 million to support the election process through the UN.

Minister of International Development Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås commented, “The people of Mali deserve a government with greater legitimacy to promote reconciliation efforts between north and south. It is very positive that the election has proceeded peacefully, with a high turnout. However there have also been clear shortcomings. For example many displaced people have not been able to vote. Further on, it is important that the votes are properly counted so that the results are respected.”

The count should be completed by Friday. It will then be clear whether one of the 28 presidential candidates has gained more than 50 % of the votes and can be declared president without the need for another round of voting. International and Malian observers have been posted to most of the constituencies, but threats from Islamists in the north-eastern Kidal region made it impossible for international observers to monitor the election in northern Mali.

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide commented, “Mali has a long way to go. But a credible presidential election process is an important step in the right direction. Norway will support Mali as it moves forward, for example by contributing military and police officers to the UN force in the country.”

Norway has decided to send up to 20 officers to the UN peacekeeping force in Mali (MINUSMA) to help stabilise the country. Norway has also allocated around NOK 80 million in aid to Mali for this year. This is part of a significant Norwegian aid effort in the Sahel region.

 

 

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Humanitarian needs rising

Posted by African Press International on July 5, 2013

Malian refugees in Damba camp, Burkina Faso (file photo)

DAKAR, 4 July 2013 (IRIN) – Humanitarian agencies have revised upwards their appeal to help Sahelians affected by hunger, malnutrition, impoverishment and conflict to US$1.7 billion, said UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel Robert Piper.

“The Sahel is always in crisis mode,” Piper told journalists at a Dakar press conference.

Some 11.3 million Sahelians are estimated to be short of food this year and 1.5 million under-fives acutely malnourished.

As of May 2013, 345,000 acutely malnourished children had been treated in UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and NGO-run nutrition centres. But despite year-on-year nutrition support, surveys show malnutrition rates of over 10 percent in almost all of the countries, and above the 15 percent threshold in parts of Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

In Mauritania one third of the population is food-insecure.

Most vulnerable are families who were affected by the 2012 drought, and who have not yet recovered their animal or seed stocks, and the half a million Malians displaced by conflict in the north. But even Mali – the most “visible and acute” crisis in the region, with 3.5 million people estimated to be food-insecure – has received just 29 percent of the funding called for.

Just 35 percent of the amount needed – US$607 million – has been received thus far, leaving a US$1 billion shortfall. The funds received are unevenly spread, said Piper. “We recognize the response that has been given, but we are concerned that it is not equally spread across all sectors.”

Agriculture is just 23 percent funded, meaning it is already too late to get the necessary seeds to farmers to plant in time for the rains.

“We have missed a window of opportunity here to support agriculture and reduce the number of farmers in need of aid. We cannot distribute the seeds that are needed [for rain-fed agriculture] but there is still a lot that can be done,” said Piper, pointing to livestock vaccinations during the rainy season, getting animal fodder where it is needed, and getting seeds to farmers who plant on flood plains during the rainy season (the harvest is in late August).

Other severely under-funded sectors include water and sanitation (11 percent) and health (26 percent), both of which underpin infant nutrition; as well as education (10 percent), and early recovery (8 percent).

Most Malian refugee students living in camps are unable to go to school because of the lack of funds.

Interestingly, early recovery is not prioritized by donors (despite much talk of the need to boost resilience in the Sahel this year) to make vulnerable families less reliant on aid and more able to cope with harsh climatic conditions and endemic poverty.

aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Radical reforms needed to reduce inequality

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2013

NAIROBI,  – The hunger afflicting millions of people in the world’s poorest regions will not end unless there is radical shift in governance and developm ent work toward narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, says a new report by the aid agency Oxfam

According to the report, No Accident: Resilience and inequality of risk, the current focus on building resilience among the poorest women and men is promising, but more could be achieved if “risk is more equally shared globally and across societies”.

“This will require a major shift in development work, which for too long has avoided dealing with risk,” the report says. “More fundamentally, it will require challenging the inequality that exposes poor people to far more risk than the rich.”

“Real resilience”

The report calls for efforts to not only help the poor and vulnerable survive shocks, but to “help them thrive despite shocks, stresses, and uncertainty.” It calls this goal “real resilience”.

“Building skills and capacity must go alongside tackling the inequality and injustice that make poor women and men more vulnerable in the first place. This means challenging the social, economic and political institutions that lock in security for some, but vulnerability for many, by redistributing power and wealth (and with them, risk) to build models of shared societal risk,” the report says.

Coupled with conflict, climate change and related disasters have compounded the world’s humanitarian challenges, putting millions of people at risk of both poverty and food insecurity. This has led to calls for humanitarian approaches that help people cope in the face of these disasters. Resilience has gained prominence as a humanitarian and developmental approach to these disasters.

For instance, in the Sahel, where up to 10.3 million people are at risk of going hungry, building resilience is at the core of aid agencies’ 2013 Common Humanitarian Action Plan.

Debbie Hillier, Oxfam humanitarian policy advisor and author of the report, said in a blog post that “the newly fashionable focus on resilience can help communities not only to cope but to thrive despite the shocks and stresses, but only if the current resilience dialogue and practice is broadened out to tackle inequality, redistribute risk and stop risk dumping”.

She noted, “States have the legal and political responsibility to reduce the risks faced by poor people and ensure that they are borne more evenly across society.”

The report’s authors recommend national governments provide leadership on building resilience and reducing inequality. “Identifying, analyzing and managing risk must be a fundamental aspect of development,” they say.

In a recent policy brief, the Institute for Sustainable Development, ISD, said that resilient thinking does not always “ensure that the most marginal are systematically benefiting from resilience interventions.”

ko/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Understanding the causes of violent extremism

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2013

DAKAR,  – Academics and government, military and civil society representatives gathered for a conference in the Senegalese capital this week to assess the interplay between development and violent extremism in West Africa, with some participants suggesting that underdevelopment, marginalization and weak governance create a breeding ground for militancy.

While local factors in West African and Sahel countries have contributed to extremist violence, the rise of global jihad in the wake of the US-led “war on terror” since 9/11 has also played a part in spreading radical militancy in the region.”In the Sahel, there is a combination of bad governance, poverty, insecurity as well as several internal and external factors [that contribute to extremist violence],” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, head of the Centre for Security Strategy in the Sahel and the Sahara, at the opening of the 6-10 May Dakar conference.

“The Sahel has provided an ideal ground for extremist violence to take root and spread beyond national borders,” he said.

The region has a history of instability. Since the first post-independence coup in West Africa that toppled Togo’s founding president in 1963, it has seen a string of coups, some of which have sparked civil wars.

West Africa is also one of the world’s most impoverished regions despite its natural resources. Seven West African countries occupy the bottom 10 places in the UN Human Development Index.

Poor political and resource governance have often led to explosions of violence by disgruntled segments of society, and a number of studies have linked bad governance to insecurity in West Africa.

For example, Mali’s Tuareg have been fighting perceived marginalization by the central government and demanded an autonomous homeland in the country’s north. Following the March 2012 coup in the capital Bamako, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad seized towns from government troops in the north, but was soon driven out by militant Islamist groups.

Nigeria‘s increasingly violent Boko Haram militia, which wants an Islamic state, should be seen as a reaction the government’s entrenched corruption, abusive security forces, strife between the disaffected Muslim north and Christian south, and widening regional economic disparity, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Some observers stress the local aspect. Militant Islam in Africa, while linked to broader ideological currents, is mainly driven by the local context, with Islamist groups emerging, evolving and reacting to immediate local concerns, University of Florida’s Terje Ostebo, argued in a November 2012 paper published by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS).

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism.”

“The Malian government’s failure to consistently invest [in] and maintain a strong state presence in the north. created an enabling environment for the expansion of Islamic militancy and the escalation of violence in this region,” said Ostebo, an assistant professor at the university’s Centre for African Studies (ACSS) and the Department of Religion.

Marginalization

“Poverty and underdevelopment and a sense of marginalization and exclusion that comes from lack of governance, particularly at the local level, are seen as drivers associated with violent extremism,” Benjamin Nickels, an assistant professor with the ACSS, told IRIN.

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism,” he added.

“You do have a number of underlying factors that make certain regions particularly vulnerable to violent extremism and extremist ideologies, and then you have a number of factors that trigger violence. Amongst these factors there is an underlying economic dimension that often gets missed,” said Raymond Gilpin, the ACSS academic dean.

Poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic deprivation partly explain the rise of Islamist movements – violent and non-violent – argued Ostebo.

“There are other factors of extremist violence. However, it is easier for militant groups to recruit unemployed youth who see no future for themselves, than those who are in employment. The more young people are able to be employed the less chances there are that they can be recruited by militant groups,” said Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group.

“Development is part of the measures against extremist violence. But we are already in a situation [in West Africa] where underdevelopment is so deep that reversing it is very difficult,” he told IRIN.

Ould-Abdallah cited other factors such as West Africa’s wide geographical area, weak public institutions and people’s and governments’ loyalty to tribe and clan rather than the nation state as also contributing to crime and extremist violence in the region.

In a bid to end insurgencies, Nigeria and Mali have attempted negotiated settlements, but they have also resorted to the use of force, which is limited in resolving the fundamental causes of rebellion. Repression by governments or external forces can cause Islamist militants to fight for their very existence and at the same time deepen perceptions of state illegitimacy, Ostebo warned.

Spillover

The French-led intervention in Mali has dislodged the Islamist rebels from their strongholds, but triggered fears that the fleeing militants could destabilize countries in the region from where they hail, target foreign nationals in neighbouring countries and even win the sympathy of other extremist militia.

The January attack on an Algerian gas plant is believed to have been in retaliation for the French military drive in Mali. Nigerian troops heading for Mali as part of an African intervention force came under attack by Boko Haram-linked militants in January.

On 7 May, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posted a video message calling for attacks on all French interests across the world for its intervention in Mali.

Nigeria has teamed up with its neighbours to form a multi-national force to counter Boko Haram.

“The priority for Sahel right now is to help resolve the Mali crisis. After Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, West Africa does not need another protracted crisis,” said Ould-Abdallah.

ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Ending cycle of hunger

Posted by African Press International on April 6, 2013

Agricultural transformation is part of Niger’s bid to end chronic food scarcity

NIAMEY, – Niger is seeking to end its chronic food shortages through an ambitious agricultural transformation plan – but the plan will have to meet the demands of a fast-growing population living in a mostly desert country that also faces threats to is security.

When he came to power in 2011, President Issoufou Mahamadou said: “As evidenced in the last election, our people have gained political freedom; now it remains to attain freedom from hunger.” Some 6.4 million Nigeriens faced hunger during the 2011-2012 Sahel food crisis.

A year later, Mahamdou’s government launched the so-called 3N Initiative – Les Nigériens Nourissent les Nigériens [Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens] – a broad strategy touching on food, the environment, energy and industrial transformation, estimated to cost $2 billion in the initial 2012-2015 phase of the project.

Humanitarian groups active in Niger point out the proactive approach taken by the new administration aims to combat both food insecurity and malnutrition, heralding it as an example to other crisis-prone Sahel countries.

Mahamadou’s predecessor, Mamadou Tandja, who was ousted in a February 2010 coup, had come under intense criticism over his handling of food crises in the 2000s. Some critics said he refused to accept that there were serious food shortages due to pride and a deep mistrust of NGOs.

“Niger faces drought once in every two years. Even in a good year, there is a part of the population that still remains vulnerable. Drought is the main threat to agriculture in our country. It’s responsible for 80 percent of losses in terms of agricultural output,” said Amadou Allahoury Diallo, the high commissioner of the 3N Initiative.

A tall order

Only 12 percent of Niger’s territory can sustain farming. But with a growth rate of 3.3 percent, it has one of the world’s fastest growing populations. The population doubled between 1988 and 2010, rising from around seven million to some 15 million, according to official statistics. Just 1 percent of the territory – in the extreme west – receives more than 600mm of rain per year.

“The output from the 3-4 months of the rainy season is what feeds the population for the 12 months of the year. This should change,” Diallo told IRIN. “Eighty percent of the population depends on agriculture. We have no choice but to develop agriculture.”

Some observers say it will be impossible for Niger to attain food security given the harsh climate, poverty and population pressure. The 3N Initiative’s to-do list ranges from introducing modern technology and equipping farmers with better seeds and implements to improving agricultural financing and market management.

The latest scheme is hardly unprecedented; previous Nigerien governments initiated self-sustenance strategies. However, Diallo argued that strong political will by Mahamadou’s administration and better government coordination set the 3N initiative apart from its precursors.

“In the past, food security was spearheaded by development partners rather than the ruling party, and each ministry worked with different partners. There was no centralized leadership,” he noted.

Niger fell from growing enough food, and even being an exporter of cereals, in the 1960s, to a state of chronic shortages due to recurrent droughts that became more frequent in the last decade.

Locust invasions, unstable food prices and political instability have also gnawed away at the country’s food security. In Niger – and across much of the Sahel – staple cereal prices are above the five-year average. Prices of millet, the staple for Nigerien households, is at 30 percent above the five-year average, said the Famine Early Warning System Network, attributing the rise to strong demand by institutions and other private buyers.

“Good harvests do not necessarily mean food security. There is the question of accessibility. Poor families spend much of their income on buying food, and when the prices go up they suffer a huge impact,” said Wim Fransen, the Niger head of office for the European Commission’s humanitarian aid arm (ECHO).

“There should be a diversification and improvement of food production, management of natural resources, especially water, and an improvement the market system for better food distribution,” said Vincenzo Galastro, the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s programme manager for West and Central Africa.

“The Niger government has made food security a priority. We think it’s a very positive step,” he added.

Durability

But Niger has also had to respond to the crisis in neighbouring Mali, sending troops there as part of a West African stabilization force and stepping up internal security – moves with budgetary repercussions on its food security strategy.

“The government had pledged to use most of the resources from uranium and oil [receipts] to finance the agricultural sector. Unfortunately, Niger also faces insecurity problems owing to the Mali crisis, which diverted some of the resources to security,” said Diallo. “Insecurity and food security are the government’s main priorities.”

As with Niger’s previous strategies, the 3N Initiative could last only as long as the regime that created it, but Diallo said the government was working on legislation to ensure the self-sustenance aims are spared the vagaries of politics.

“We are going to develop an agriculture policy to be adopted as a law that would be enforceable even after this government,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Niger, Aboubakar Doualé Waïss, argued that food security is an unavoidable issue for any government in the Sahel, meaning Mahamdaou’s involvement in the 3N Initiative would not have to limit the programme to the duration of his administration.

“There must be a strong engagement at the highest level of government. Moreover, it’s one of the policies for which the president was elected. It’s natural that he be at the heart of his strategy,” Waïss told IRIN.

“We are convinced that this programme will continue under whatever name it will be given. In any Sahel country, food security is vital. Whoever comes to power, food and nutritional security will remain part of their problem.”

ob/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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