Mahamadou Issoufou became president in the March 2011 election, which marked the return of democracy after a year of military rule. In his first public speech in the UK, Mr Issoufou declared “our ambition is zero hunger for Niger”.
The president laid out the country’s priorities, including his government’s resolve to tackle the deepening humanitarian crisis which is affecting millions of people and not only in his own country, but across the Sahel. This week, aid groups have stepped up their calls for more funding to support starving families across the region. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is hoping to gather 238 million dollars to address the crisis, while this week Save the Children launched an appeal to raise 56 million dollars. A spokesperson for the charity told the news agency Alertnet that the situation had now turned into a “full-blown food crisis” and emergency help was needed “now”.
In the longer term, Niger’s president spoke of emulating the success of the “Zero Hunger” programme initiated in Brazil by President Lula. This programme was credited with cutting hunger by half and lifting 20 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty during President’s Lula’s term in office between 2003-2010.
Niger’s president said he believed that with the right measures, his country could one day feed itself. A key aim of his government is to increase harvests by encouraging the use of drought-resistant seeds, pesticides and other farming methods such as clever irrigation. “There is enough arable land....and there’s enough water and we want to mobilise all of these resources,” Mr Issoufou said, adding that “whether there is rain or no rain, we want Niger to be able to feed Nigeriens”. This pillar of his government’s strategy has been termed “Nigeriens nourissent Nigeriens” or Nigerians feed Nigerians.
Other strands to Niger’s so-called “3N” initiative will be to improve nutrition. In a country where two-thirds of people live below the poverty line, during the lean times, many families survive on just one meal a day. Niger’s president also wants to boost the economy by ensuring that his country’s commodities can be processed domestically, so value is added within Niger.
As well as laying out his ambitious plans for his own country, Mahamadou Issoufou spoke about the wider issue of famine and leant his support to the international food security summit which is due to take place in London during the Olympic Games. The president promised that Niger would attend the summit “to have our position heard” and to take part in discussions on ways to end the injustice of “famine in the world”.