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Combining forces to combat malnutrition in Niger

Following the Sahel drought crisis of 2012, development agencies in the region aim to work more closely together to combat food insecurity.

The new regional co-ordinator of the World Food Programme (WFP), Denise Brown, has recently taken up her post after spending two years in Niger. During her time there, she witnessed how the drought crisis affected the country last year.

Around 5 million people went hungry and thousands of children suffered from malnutrition. In July 2012, the UN’s Child Agency (UNICEF) found that in some regions of Niger, nearly 15% of children were acutely malnourished.
Ms Brown believes agencies need to work together more closely to ensure the same situation doesn’t occur again. Speaking to the Guardian, the WFP co-ordinator admitted “it’s not an easy or quick job to build up people’s resilience”.

However, she believes that if development organisations team up and find areas where their work can overlap, this will strengthen aid programmes.
So for example, agencies are already co-ordinating to provide school feeding programmes. And the WFP has teamed up with UNICEF to offer a package of support services to locals – food distribution, water and sanitation assistance – rather than approaching communities separately.

This joint working has been influenced by the country’s own ‘Nigeriens Feed Nigeriens’ programme (also known as the ‘3Ns’). Led by the president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, the initiative aims to build the country’s food security by bringing together different government departments, so that experts on agriculture, livestock and food can work in unison.

Created almost two years ago, the 3Ns programme has already achieved some notable successes. For example, it recently helped to co-ordinate a national response to assist communities affected by severe flooding. Money was provided to help farmers rehabilitate farmland and around 80,000 animals were donated to rebuild livestock herds. Under the 3Ns initiative, the amount of land under small-scale irrigation has also increased and around 8,000 new wells have been opened.

Last December, the president of Niger and his officials travelled to Brussels to present their plans to expand and develop the 3Ns initiative, having already made a visit to the UK last June. Niger has earmarked a quarter of its budget for the programme and is hoping to raise the rest of the money from international partners. Funding will go towards projects which diversify agricultural production and introduce new farming techniques, as well as improve distribution of food products such as milk around the country. Speaking to journalists in December, Mahamadou Issoufou said that with the right strategies, he was confident his country could feed its population and he invited partners “to align with us” in helping to make that happen.

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