A better food supply, a reduction in the rate of population growth and greater integration into world markets are three key measures that Niger must take.
Niger, an African country landlocked in the Sahel region, struggling to feed her 25 million of inhabitants. It is currently ranked 115th out of 121 countries in theGlobal Hunger Index, and the number of people going hungry has fallen from about 13% of the population in 2014 to 20% in 2022.
The situation could deteriorate even further, as Niger is one of the countries most exposed to climate change. The country has one of population growth rate the highest in the world, and there are few signs of a slowdown. Her fertility rate – which averages seven children per woman – is the highest in the world.
Moreover, most of the country's land is infertile. Two-thirds of its area is located in the Sahara Desert. Most of farming lands of the country lie in a narrow strip near the Nigerian border to the south and are encroached by desert.
The population of Niger is also among the lowest human development indices, which in particular means that people cannot earn enough to afford to buy food. This challenge is all the more important as the change in budget priorities has recently taken place at the expense of social development and for the benefit of national security, due to the growing instability in the Sahel region.
To make matters worse, Niger is one of the countries most vulnerable to Climate Change. It is highly exposed to heat and has a low capacity to adapt to climatic changes, such as increasingly unpredictable rainfall. This will have a negative impact on crop yield in a country where less than 1% cultivated land is irrigated.
According to forecasts, two additional Nigeriens will be pushed into undernourishment by 2050 due to the effects of climate change on crop yields and because agricultural workers (about 75% of the total labor force) will struggle to work in the heat.
So how will Niger go from feeding 25 million people to 50 million, the projected population in 2050?
In survey recently published, my colleagues and I set out to figure out how to achieve this – or get as close as possible.
Increase food security
We have identified three interventions to address the problem of food availability:
- a better food offer, with accelerated investments in agricultural research and development.
- less demand for food due to slower population growth
- global market integration.
But what should be the priority to obtain the best result?
We created a model (which we called SIMPLE-Niger) to answer this question. It used data from a variety of sources, including household and farm surveys and satellite imagery.
Based on our model simulations, we argue that unless fertility rates decline, rapid population growth and the setbacks of climate change are likely to outpace possible advances in agricultural productivity.
On the supply side – what is put into agriculture – interventions and spending should focus on greater agricultural productivity, such as investments in climate-smart research, farmers' access to new technologies and their adoption.
Greater integration into regional markets will also help fight undernourishment. It will make food more accessible and available through increased trade and better regional price integration (effect of the price of one market on another market).
Here's how we came to these conclusions.
Integration, investment and human capital
As dire as the food security situation is, there are signs of improvement. We believe that further interventions in these areas are crucial to improving the situation.
Agricultural productivity has increases, under the impulsion of :
- new crop varieties
- the local soil and water conservation technologies, such as zai pits (small, shallow pits in the ground, which keep plant roots more moist)
- the natural regeneration managed by farmers in which farmers use their indigenous knowledge to select and promote the natural regeneration of trees and shrubs.
La African Continental Free Trade Area should lead to greater market integration and increased trade in goods and services in the agri-food sector, from surplus to deficit regions.
Niger's formal and informal non-tariff barriers are, however, high.
The country should improve infrastructure related to trade and transport, including temperature-controlled logistics for agricultural products, ease of arranging shipments at competitive prices, and efficient customs procedures. When designing interventions, it is also important to remember that much of the trade is done through the cross-border trade.
There is also a need to make additional investments in local agricultural research and dissemination, and turn this into agricultural productivity growth. The rate of adoption of new technologies and varieties is low among Nigerien farmers, even by Sahelian standards. Better support for local researchers, improved extension services, partnerships with the private sector for technology dissemination and market access for inputs can boost the adoption of new technologies by farmers, which will accelerate recent productivity growth.
Agricultural productivity growth will likely be outpaced, however, by population growth and the setbacks of climate change. This means that the rate of population growth must come down.
Funds must be allocated to family planning and health. But fertility is a deeply political and difficult question, which makes it difficult to allocate funds for these purposes.
In fact, the desired fertility rate is higher than the current fertility rate, which means that men and women want more children than they currently have. It is important to consider the socioeconomic context when designing family planning programs in Niger.
A big win would be to increase investment in women's education and participation in the labor market. It is common knowledge widely known that this would allow women to make decisions about childbirth freely and responsibly. Getting girls into school also reduces the risk of child marriage, which is both a cause and a consequence of teenage pregnancy. Investing in education is also bound to better food and nutritional security.
A worthwhile investment
These measures could be set aside in a region that is experiencing a growing instability. But history teaches us that a young and growing population facing food insecurity and unemployment can provide fertile ground for greater instability.
Ensuring food security for Niger's rapidly growing young population is equally important to its national security.
Kayenat Kabir, Research and Teaching Associate, Purdue University
This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.