21 April 2010The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is boosting assistance to herders and pastoralists in Niger and Chad, where nearly 10 million people are vulnerable to severe hunger owing to poor rains last year which impacted food production. The lack of rainfall led to a steep decline in agricultural production and dried out livestock pastures, according to a news release issued by the Rome-based agency, which noted that thousands of people are also under threat in the north of Burkina Faso and north-east Mali. “The situation in the region is very worrying indeed,” said Fatouma Seid, FAO Coordinator for West Africa. “Poor livestock herders are being forced to sell their only assets and an important source of nutrition, their animals, at discount prices in order to buy enough food for their families while farmers have no seeds to plant,” she said. Surveys carried out by the UN and the governments concerned show a prevalence of global acute malnutrition higher than 16 per cent, which exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) critical threshold. Poor farmers and pastoralists are also having difficulty buying food since food prices continue to be high. Ms. Seid said FAO’s priority is to get feed to animals and to supply farmers with the seeds for the June planting season. Almost 70 per cent of livestock are at risk if they do not receive food soon. To assist Niger, which already experienced a major food crisis in 2005, the agency is rolling out eight new projects worth $12.7 million that will benefit an estimated 2.6 million people, including purchasing and distributing animal feed, seeds and fertilizers for the upcoming planting season. In addition, FAO has also started a cash-for-work programme for vulnerable households to restore pasture land, and is implementing a $4.1 million European Union Food Facility Programme for rehabilitation of medium-term improvements to the country’s agricultural system.The situation in Chad, where food production was at its lowest since 2006, was compounded by the influx of refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region and the Central African Republic (CAR), which placed additional demand on already limited food supplies. FAO is planning to supply agricultural inputs, seeds, fertiliser and animal feed worth $4.5 million in time for the May planting season in Chad. It is also currently distributing animal feed and veterinary products to pastoralists in Mali and Burkina Faso.