Food pressures spread north

The unusually large-scale migration of southern Nigerien farmers and pastoralists, heading north to look for work, has prompted concerns about food shortages in the northern Agadez region, according to local authorities.



"This seasonal migration always happens during the period between [harvests] and Agadez always welcomes people with open arms," said Almoumoune Ibrahim, son of the region’s highest ranking traditional leader.



“Normally after the harvest [in the south], the men leave the women and children with a stock of food and they come here to find work as farm labourers,” said Alhadji Guichem Kari, a member of a government committee set up after last September’s floods in the Agadez region, which displaced thousands and destroyed more than 3,000 homes



But this year’s increase in the number of migrants is testing the north’s perennial hospitality.



"Due to the shortages [of food] in the south, people have come earlier and in greater numbers… This year entire families have been coming. Some have found work and others beg," Kari told IRIN.



Flood damage around Agadez is still evident: Destroyed crops and homes, dead cattle, and sand-infested vegetable gardens no longer able to employ seasonal migrants.



Near the airport, Mariama Adao camps out with hundreds of other migrants. Originally from the southern town of Matameye near the Nigerian border, she arrived in Agadez three months ago with six of her eight children.



"This year when we saw that the rain was not coming I came here very quickly," she told IRIN. "Normally we harvest 20-25 sacks [of millet, sorghum, cow peas and peanuts], but this year we did not even harvest five… We needed to make headway and get here quickly to find a way to survive."



Abnormal rains in several parts of the country, including Agadez have led to crop deficits, forcing families nationwide to dip into their food stocks earlier than normal. Over half the population had only two months of food reserves left as of February - to last them until the next harvest in October, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



Mariama Adao found work cleaning homes, as did her 17-year-old son. "I come here every year but this year there are a lot more of us than usual. Everyone [from the Matameye region] has had problems," she said.



"People who come here would never die of hunger because there is a real sense of solidarity [between people from the south and the Agadez region]," Hama Dilla Abdoulaye, the mayor of Agadez, told IRIN.



Food prices up



However, the local population is already facing higher food prices as a result of the region's poor harvest and higher demand prompted by the influx of migrants.



Two and a half kilograms of millet, a local food staple, which previously cost at most 500 CFA francs (US$1) between harvests, is now sold for 600 CFA francs in Agadez, according to residents



"Agadez is a small town; we feel the pressure of food and rent prices straight away," said Ousmane Issouf, a driver.



A recent national survey on household food security classified Agadez as one of the least vulnerable regions in the country - 7 percent of households faced problems getting food compared to the national average of 20 percent.



But the authorities were only able to carry out the survey in three urban areas of a 660,000sqkm desert region. A government travel ban and state of alert were recently lifted in the northern half of the country after years of rebel fighting, but rural zones - filled with pastoralists and farmers cut off from markets, hemmed in by sporadic fighting and hit by flooding - are still largely inaccessible.



Meanwhile, some say increased migration to the Agadez region has also been stimulated by rumours of free food handouts in the wake of the flooding. "People heard that food was being distributed in Agadez so they came here, [but that food] was only for people who been affected [by the floods],” Mayor Abdoulaye told IRIN.



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