In-depth: Food and nutrition crisis in Niger and the Western Sahel
NIGERIA: Fallout from Niger food crisis
Traders at Dawanau grain market in Kano (file photo)
KANO, 3 June 2010 (IRIN) - Stocks of millet and sorghum in northern Nigeria's markets are dwindling as traders buy them up to export across the border to Niger, where some 10 million people face food insecurity.
Grain merchants from Niger head to Dawanau market in Kano - West Africa's largest grain market – to buy truck-loads of millet and sorghum, locally known as Guinea corn, to bolster declining food stocks.
"An average of 30 trucks of grain leaves this market to Niger daily. Grain traders from Niger are busy buying every bag of grain they can find to satisfy the high food demand back home, where food is scarce," Aminu Mohammed, a grain merchants' spokesman in Dawanau market, told IRIN.
"This excessively high demand from Niger, coupled with local demand, has resulted in the shrinking of our grains stockpile," Mohammed said. Dawanau market supplies much of Nigeria and many of its neighbours, but part of the grain supplied to it is grown in Niger.
Over the past three months, thousands of Nigeriens from southern Niger have poured across the border to the five northern Nigerian states of Katsina, Yobe, Jigawa, Sokoto and Borno, in search of casual labour to raise money to buy grain.
"I left behind my two wives and nine children in my village and send them grain and other items I purchase here every week," Umaru Isa, from Falanku in southern Niger's Maradi region, told IRIN.
The Maradi, Zinder, Diffa, Tilaberi and Tahoua regions in Niger are hardest hit by food insecurity. Isa made the 120km trek with 32 compatriots and took up water vending to earn money to buy food.
Aid agencies have stepped up their response to the crisis in Niger, and the transitional government has announced that food will be distributed to 1.5 million people, but Nigeriens in Katsina told IRIN that the food handouts were too meagre to meet their needs. Katsina State Agriculture Commissioner Sani Makana said food from its emergency reserves would be distributed to some of the immigrants.
Abdullahi Koya, former head of the Dawanau Grain Merchants Association, said most of the millet and corn in Dawanau market had already been sold, and traders were now buying up warehouse stocks. Merchants store up to three years' worth of millet and guinea corn stocks in warehouses to sell during the lean season.
Nigerians mainly eat rice, maize, cow pea and tubers, with a minority drinking millet porridge. "It is just a matter of time before the millet and corn in the warehouses is gone, and traders turn to staples such as rice," Mohammed said.
But Salisu Ahmed Ingawa, Special Assistant to the Agriculture Minister, told IRIN, “We have 130,000 tons of grain in our strategic reserve…there is no cause for alarm. The export to Niger does not pose any threat to food availability in Nigeria and food prices have remained stable…We are well-prepared for any contingency.”
Although northern Nigeria is not receiving international attention, it is also facing a food security crisis: on 27 May the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) warned that 12 million people in the region could face food shortages in coming months.
While Nigeriens flock to Nigeria, thousands of Nigerian mothers are bringing their children to therapeutic feeding centres in Niger to be treated for acute malnutrition, say NGOs.
NEMA is undertaking a needs assessment; the World Food Programme is helping NEMA with emergency preparedness; while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is reportedly considering a response to the problem. NGOs are also trying to work with the government to scale up their activities.