Food distribution and speculation

July 29, 2012
by 
Guy Des Aulniers, Program Officer for Emergency Relief

Guy Des Aulniers and Kelly Di Domenico, Communications Officer, are currently in Niger, one of the hardest-hit countries in the food crisis which is sweeping across West Africa. Our team is also in the company of three journalists from Salt and Light Television, who have traveled to witness first-hand, the situation and the emergency relief programs we are supporting in the country, in collaboration with the Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB).

The team arrived in Niger on July 23rd and will visit a number of humanitarian projects being implemented by local partner, CADEV (Caritas Niger), including refugee camps, food distribution sites and agricultural relief projects. They will meet and speak with beneficiaries and local leaders and share their stories with us, so we can help others to better understand the scope of the current crisis and what we can do about it.

We are in the Sae Saboua commune, in the Maradi Diocese. Today, 234 households from four villages are each receiving 80 kg of millet, 21 kg of "niébé" (dried beans) and 5 litres of cooking oil. This ration is intended to feed a family of seven for a month. As the men are in the fields, it is largely the women that gather at the distribution points. It is now the rainy season in this part of Niger and the millet that was planted with the initial rains in June is already well along and needs to be weeded.  If all goes well, that is if the rainy season does not bring floods, if the crop doesn't dry up from lack of rain, or if caterpillars don't ravage the crop as was the case last year, the harvest is due at the end of September. 

It only rains during three months of the year in Niger, generally from July to September. Farmers reap the harvest and hope that it will last for the entire year. The farmers sometimes have to sell a chicken or a goat as reserves became depleted in order to buy food before the next harvest. We are in what is called the lean period. However, due to the chronic drought situation that plagues the region, the farmers' traditional "ability to cope” has been considerably reduced over the years. Having sold their livestock, many farmers are now having to mortgage a good portion of the next harvest to survive. At this point, some people are buying on credit a sack of millet for 30,000 FCFA ($6CDN $60CDN). The problem is that at harvest time this same sack of millet will sell for 12,000 FCFA ($2.50CDN $24CDN). In effect, the farmers will have to repay 2 1/2 sacks of millet at the time of harvest for every sack of millet purchased now. It goes without saying, this is an ideal season for retail speculators and beneficiaries have told us about the speculators hanging around the distribution sites to offer cash in exchange for the millet the people are receiving.

At the same time, we are astounded by the welcome that we are receiving.  Kelly and I have heard astonishing stories and remarkable testimony. I would only say that to feed the most vulnerable in this time of Ramadan is to give them the strength to farm the land and to hope for a more bountiful harvest. We know that some of the rations will be shared with neighbours and we see this as an expression of solidarity that is essential to survival.