Niger’s ‘silent child emergency’ is being worsened by hoarders stockpiling food as the country starves.
Niger is facing the worst food crisis in its history, the United Nations World Food Programme said last week.
More than 300,000 Nigerien children under five years-old are suffering serious malnutrition.
But the West African state has plenty of food. The problem is that greedy traders are holding on to grain for months, until the prices go sky high, so hundreds of thousands of ordinary Nigeriens just can’t afford to buy food anymore.
Save the Children says unscrupulous traders are buying grain cheaply from farmers as soon as it is harvested then waiting until it runs short so they can sell at a higher price.
Farmers are then left with no choice but to buy back their own crops at hugely inflated prices. Many cannot afford it and they go hungry.
It is putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of children at risk, the charity warns.
"These traders are using market fluctuations to make a profit at the expense of ordinary people," said the charity’s Josh Leighton.
"They are helping to fuel the current food crisis and are putting hundreds of thousands of children's lives at risk," he told the BBC.
The charity is searching for a way for farmers to store their own grain in community granaries. They would then take out loans to keep them going until food prices rise and then sell their own grain, paying back the loans in the process.
Recent floods after a long drought have left more than 100,000 people homeless across Niger according to United Nations figures.
At the centre of a bigger hunger crisis across west Africa's Sahara Desert region, Niger is in desperate need of food aid for nearly 8 million people — more than half the country's population. And a cash-strapped United Nations food aid agency has had to resort to feeding only children younger than two and their families.
The United Nations World Food Program’s Malek Triki, said: "The main reason why the people are suffering is that because of the typical August lean season being this year longer than usual — imagine that being protracted for six months instead of three."
International response to fund the food emergency has been sluggish, despite the fact that the government and relief agencies raised the alert back in November, he told US radio service, NPR.
"We still appeal to the international community to come forward, because if we don't have the necessary funds as quickly as possible, we would just be unable to help those people who are in dire straits," he said.