The inability of man to meet his food needs has continued to pose challenges to his livelihood and survival. This could be as the result of harsh natural conditions or due to social and economic factors. Governments’ role is to provide an environment conducive for citizens to meet their food demands. Failure to achieve that goal can lead to social disturbances and economic crises. The consequences of these crises are deterioration in living conditions and the advent of poverty and sometimes hunger.
Poverty and hunger, when occurring at a large scale and for an extended period of time, lead to famine. Recurring onsets of famine are a serious food security threat for Niger. The issue concerns the larger portion of the population living from agricultural activities. In Niger, as in other African countries especially those in the Sahel, agriculture is suffering from climate instability, lack of adequate infrastructure and bad economic policies. Other obstacles to rural economic progress include; Increase in food demand by a growing population, urbanization which is emptying rural areas from workforce, absence of bank credit support for agriculture, reluctance by, or inability of, the State to invest in agriculture.
Succession of bad crop years prevents farmers from generating a stable cash flow and substantial savings to finance productive investment. The immediate consequence is the increased dependency on food imports on one hand(GON Annual report, 2008:29) and international emergency aid on the other hand. In Niger, deficits can reach record levels of 600,000 tons corresponding to 80% of deficit (Ibidem, 29). Over the period between 1980 and 2010, the gap between demand and supply indicates an average rate deficit of 22% per year (Ibid 29).The gap is thus wide and permanent. By weakening the nutritional status of the population, the recurrence of deficits reduces the ability to produce. The drop in productivity leads to even larger deficits, making savings impossible at a moment when health problems due to nutritional deficiencies increase financial needs.
1.2. NIGER’S GDP STRUCTURE
The analysis of the structure of Niger's GDP in this chapter is destined to show why the country is always in the throes of famine and food insecurity: The facts are simple: The economy of Nigeris dominated by agriculture (INS, 2008: 35) which is feeding close to 80 per cent of the population (INS, 2008: 37). The agriculture is characterized by low productivity and a heavy dependence on rain fall.Uncertainties created by this situation are at the heart of food crises in Niger and constitute the subject of this research.
Agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and forests are the main sector of activity for the primary sector. The primary sector’s contribution to the GDP is estimated at 44, 5% from 1998 to 2008. The primary sector is closely followed by the tertiary sector (trade and services) whose share has remained stable at around 40 per cent on average during the period 1998-2008. In the third position is the secondary sector (mining and industrial activities) that has fluctuated between 16 per cent and 12 per cent of GDP during the same period (INS, 2008).
The weak share of the secondary sector reflects the low level of industrialization. The sector is constrained by the liberalization policy, the difficulties of supply of raw materials, high cost of isolation, competition from industrial products from Nigeria and the narrowness of the market. Yet, there exist huge potential. Comparative advantages in the area of livestock mean that an agro-pastoral industry of transformation and processing could contribute to food security and job creation. The mining sector dominated by uranium does provide substantial contribution to the coffer of the Government but remains isolated from the rest of the economy (RGP, Ministry of Planning, 2008).
Despite the present poor state of agriculture, economic development of Niger is inevitably in the dynamics of agricultural sector. Only agro-pastoral industries possess the potential for growth needed to pull the rest of the economy and create the conditions for the development of a genuine food security. In total, the negative underlying trends of the Nigerien economy have serious consequences on efforts to improve the economic and social wellbeing of a population ravaged by poverty. The weakness in human capital and poor educational status of the population are also key determinants of poor economic performance of Niger (Institut des Statistics, 2008: 29).
1.3. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The predominance of the primary sector which depends heavily on weather conditions, is poorly diversified and has low productivity is at the core of the structural food insecurity in the country. The food insecurity, that is, the daily fight for subsistence, means that the peasant population is unable to break the cycle of poverty. The poverty compounds the effects of food crises and turns them into famine.
This paper aims to understand the mechanisms that lead to famines and the characteristics of food crises in Niger. It will review agricultural policies and assess their impact on food security. It will look at mechanisms of prevention and management of outbreak of famines. To do this, the research shall seek to answer the following questions:
a. What are the influences of the economic international environment on agriculture development in Niger?
b. What are the effects of Niger successive Governments policies on agriculture development and hence on food security?
c. What are the strategies put in place to respond to food crises in the country?
d. What are the factors of the food crises and what to do to remedy the situation?
1.4. OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The Objectives of the study stems from these questions and are as follows:
a. To examine the global context impacting agricultural development in Niger.
b. To review government’s policies,put in place since the independence, destined to achieving food security.
c. To assess the mechanisms of management of food crises and the responses of various actors to food insecurity.
d. To identify factors and variables leading to food crises and famines.
e. To proffer solutions for an effective agricultural policy aimed at addressing the root causes of food insecurity in Niger.
1.5. RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS AND ASSUMPTIONS
Economists agree on the hypothesis that crises and economic downturns are determined by a wide range of variablesincluding the role and mode of intervention of the state. They differ on the causes, interpretations of these variables. But most economists believe today that crises are rooted in a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors. Joseph Stiglitz made an important contribution to this debate by showing that inadequate skills and weak capability of economic agents to anticipate crises often account for the fluctuations in economic activity (Making Globalisation work, Stiglitz, 2006).
In the case of Niger, poorly or not at all anticipated fluctuations of agricultural activities can turn into crises. Crises that start in one sector quickly become systemic, combining economic, social and political characteristics. Food crises in Niger are systemic and have had serious political and social consequences on the fabric of the society.
1.6. SIGNIFCANCE OF THE STUDY
The most challenging political question in Niger is that of food security. Food security questions dominate all policy statements, are the reason for political instability and constitute the main preoccupation of development partners. Securing sustainable food security features high on the agenda of the Strategy for Rural Development (SRD) as well as the Strategy for Poverty Alleviation (SPA) both of which were developed and adopted by the Government, as strategies aimed at creating better conditions for the wellbeing of Niger’s populations. A research that can shed light on these important issue is therefore of paramount significance.
1.7. SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The study has covered back and forth the four distinctive periods of agricultural policies in Niger: The period from 1960 to 1974, where the accent was on the production of cash crop for export, the period corresponding to the Uranium boom (1974 to 1984) when the government invested heavily in agriculture and food subsidies to attain self-sufficiency and the period from 1985 to the late 90swhen the World Bank Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) restricted government intervention in the agricultural sector. The study also covers the period of the Poverty Alleviation Programmes or Poverty Reduction Plans (PRP) put in place from the year 2000 in order to mitigate the catastrophic effects of SAP.
There are two categories of variable determining food crises. The first category is referred to as simple variables there are: production volumes, quantity of rain fall and prices. Theyhave been subjected to an empirical analysis using direct observations of tables and charts. Limitations of time and space, in the framework of this research, make it difficult to use the same method to account for the influence of more complex variables (governance, capital expenditure, yields and productivity). For these variables the work of Tarno and Abdo, two researchers from the University of Niamey was used. The two researchers having arrived at similar conclusions than this study as far as the first category of independent variables was concerned, it was inferred that their method to analyse the more complex variables was valid.