2005–06 Niger food crisis

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Niger vegetation maps. Above, July 2004; below, July 2005. Green is a vegetation surplus, brown a deficit. NASA

A severe but localized food security crisis occurred in the regions of northern Maradi, Tahoua, Tillabéri, and Zinder of Niger from 2005 to 2006. It was caused by an early end to the 2004 rains, desert locust damage to some pasture lands, high food prices, and chronic poverty. In the affected area, 2.4 million of 3.6 million people are considered highly vulnerable to food insecurity. An international assessment stated that, of these, over 800,000 face extreme food insecurity and another 800,000 in moderately insecure food situations are in need of aid.


The crisis had long been predicted after swarms of locusts consumed nearly all crops in parts of Niger during the 2004 agricultural season.[1] In other areas, insufficient rainfall resulted in exceptionally poor harvests and dry pastures affecting both farmers and livestock breeders. An assessment carried out by the government of Niger, the United Nations and international Non Governmental Organizations reached a general consensus that the crisis, while locally severe, had not reached the level of famine according to famine scales.[citation needed]

Demographic causes

The population of Niger increased more than fivefold from 1950 to this food crisis. In 1950 there were 2,5 million in Niger and in 2005 there were 13,5 million.[2] So this means that 80% of the victims of the starvation were due to the rapid population growth since 1950.[citation needed]

The fertility rate in Niger is the highest in the world at 7,6 children per woman.[3] The consequence of this is that population of Niger is projected to increase tenfold in the 21th century to more than 200 million people in 2100.[4] So there might come more rapid population growth induced famines in the 21th century, because the agricultural production can't keep up with the population growth.


According to current estimates, the Sahel region as a whole registered a grain surplus of 85,000 tons. However, Niger and Chad suffered grain deficits of around 224,000 and 217,000 tons, respectively. An increase in food prices is fuelling the food crisis, especially in Niger, where millions of people are facing risk of food shortages and outright starvation.

Laure Souley holds her three-year-old daughter and an infant son at a MSF aide centre during the 2005 famine, Maradi Niger.

In the most affected areas of Niger, access to food staples is becoming increasingly difficult and severe cases of child malnutrition have been reported to be on the rise. The scarcity of water and fodder is adversely affecting the health of the cattles, camels, sheep and goats that comprise virtually the only source of food and income for nomadic communities. Competition for limited resources has also resulted in some local conflicts.

Malnourished children in Niger, during the 2005 famine.

Acute malnutrition rates have risen to 13.4 per cent in the southern Niger Maradi and Zinder departments, with 2.5 per cent of this group identified as severely malnourished children under age five, says UNICEF quoting recent nutrition surveys by the United Nations and several non-governmental organizations.

The food shortage impacts some 3.3 million people —including 800,000 children under age five— in some 3,815 villages. Officials estimate cereal deficits at 223,448 tons and livestock feed deficits at 4,642,219 tons.

Although rains began early this year and have fallen regularly, initially inspiring hope for a better agricultural season, relief will not come before the harvest in October. Villagers are just now entering into the critical period known as the lean season — the months when food stocks are at their lowest. It is also the moment when farm workers need more caloric energy to cultivate their fields, since most of the agrarian labour in Niger is performed manually.

A mother tends to her malnourished infant at the Maradi MSF aide centre, during the 2005 Nigerien famine.


Although UN's Food and Agriculture Organization already in late 2004 warned of an upcoming crisis,[5] donor support came slowly throughout the first half of 2005.[6] In late August 2005, the profile of the crisis was raised after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited President Tandja Mamadou in Zinder. The visit was seen as an attempt to draw attention to the crisis, and also address accusations that the UN had responded slowly. Donors have given less than half of the US$81 million appealed for by the UN.

On January 16, 2006, the UN directed an appeal for US$240 million of food aid for West Africa to feed at least 10 million people affected by the food crisis, with Niger being the worst-affected country.[7]

Controversy on media coverage[edit]

From the onward of media coverage, several local authorities, including the President of Niger at the time, called into the question the veracity of claims made by international media. The main argument was that, while chronic malnutrition has been issue for populations of Niger, media erroneously and deliberately portrayed common local dietary habits as sign of widespread famine to appeal to donors' sympathy. On March 3, 2008 TV2 Norway aired the documentary "Sultbløffen" (The Famine Scam) which voice the view that there was no famine in Niger in 2005-06 but rather chronic malnutrition no different from the previous years. BBC's Hilary Andersson, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland as well as international media and aid organizations in general were accused of severely overstating and lying about the food situation in the country by misrepresenting the situation. The sources, among them a Norwegian-Swedish foundation of agricultural development and their local assistants, gave a version picturing western media and relief agencies as ignorant towards local agriculture and flora and common dietary habits. They cited so-called "food-racism": the perception that local, traditional food and food plants are useless and poisonous, despite the fact that the locals have eaten these for millennia. They also denounced the portrait presented which reinforce the perception that the people of Niger are incapable of living without support from the west, and argue that large food donation flowed the local supply making it harder for local agriculture to compete.[8] The film was awarded 3rd prize in the Monte Carlo TV festival of 2008, and won Den Store Journalistprisen in Norway in 2009. BBC claims to have refuted TV2's allegations unequivocally.[9] BBC attempted to block the international release of the documentary by withdrawing TV2's license to news footage from the summer of 2005.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ FAO/WFP CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY ASSESSMENT MISSION TO NIGER, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 21 December 2004
  2. ^ http://populationpyramid.net/niger/2005/
  3. ^ http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN?locations=NE
  4. ^ http://populationpyramid.net/niger/2100/
  5. ^ FAO/WFP CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY ASSESSMENT MISSION TO NIGER, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 21 December 2004
  6. ^ How many dying babies make a famine?, BBC News 10 August 2005
  7. ^ http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L16774239.htm
  8. ^ [1] Sultbløffen (The Famine Scam) awarded third place Monte Carlo TV festival of 2008
  9. ^ BBC statement to SVT regarding 2005 Niger reports, The Local, 19 Nov 2008.
  10. ^ [2] BBC's attempt to block international release of documentary critical of its coverage of the Famine of 2005-06 in Niger

External links[edit]