We need to keep the food security situation in northern Nigeria and other affected West African states on the radar, says Robin Sanders.

Ambassador Robin Sanders

There have been few reports noting the growing food security issue that has arisen over the last few months in the West Africa Region. We all need to pay more attention to this so that it doesn’t turn into a regional crisis.

Affected countries in West Africa are doing their best to manage the ever-growing food security issues related to staple commodities, particularly grains. The US Agency for International Development has called this the “Hunger Gap” as many of the regions poor have already exhausted not only available food stores but are also not having access to affordable and adequate food (nutritional food). See the FEEEDS™ blog-itrrs page, defining the elements of food security.

The next harvest is still months away. For many countries in the West Africa region that is October. The affected countries in West Africa that are potentially affected by this “Hunger Gap” are Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and parts of Chad.

Although for many of the Sahel countries food security is always a challenge, the rains have come late and not in abundance (or too erratic) in many places, exacerbating the already difficult food situation for many of the regions’ populations. The erratic nature of the rains have produced drought in some areas, negatively impacted planting seasons, and delaying the replenishment of water sources.

In Nigeria, the drought and food shortages are affecting the northern area of the country in states that are on the front lines of the Sahel such as Sokoto, Borno, Yobe, Katsina, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa and Kano. The Government of Nigeria has not only responded to the needs of its people by releasing key stables from its National Strategic Food Reserve (NSFR) of some 80,000 metric tons of assorted food survival grains (sorghum, maize, millet, cow peas, etc.) to help its people, but it is also assisting neighbouring states such as Chad and Niger Republic.

All commodities from the NSFR are to be sold at 30 per cent subsidy – but these subsidized commodities still may not reach those most in need, particularly already malnourished children. Thus the potential effect of this “Hunger Gap” in Nigeria could be close to 15 million people. In recent weeks planting has been accomplished in the Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states, but other states are still challenged by the erratic rainfall affecting both planting and harvest seasons.

The US Government is very much focused on food security world-wide, but particularly in Africa through its $48M “Feed the Future Initiative” for the region. The “Feed the Future Initiative” also includes non-Africa countries such as Haiti, Bangladesh, and Cambodia. It is projected that Nigeria will get approximately $51M to address the fundamentals of food security including developing markets and hybrid seeds.

I have seen first-hand the success of the US Government-funded MARKETS program in these areas, but the international donor community needs to keep the food security situation of the affected West Africa countries front and centre on its radar screen over the next few months so that all vulnerable people (particularly children) have in their reach the fundamentals of food security: accessibility, availability, affordability, and adequate (nutritional) commodities in order to avoid a crisis later in 2010.

Outlook: Let’s Pay Attention! Current early warning assessments note that things have improved somewhat for replenishing some water sources and the physical condition of some livestock. Watch the food security situation in northern Nigeria and the other affected West African States. The next couple of months will give us a better idea of the food security challenges for the remainder of 2010.

This article is based on a blog post originally published on The Africa Post. For more on the West Africa food crisis, see the post by Kirsty Hughes of Oxfam GB.

About Dr. Robin Renée Sanders, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria

Robin Renée Sanders, a career member of the senior Foreign Service, arrived in Nigeria in December, 2007. Most recently, she served as International Advisor and Deputy Commandant at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. Prior to this position, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Congo (2002-2005) and as Director for Public Diplomacy for Africa for the State Department (2000-2002).She served twice as the Director for Africa at the National Security Council at the White House; and was the Special Assistant for Latin America, Africa, and International Crime for the Undersecretary for Political Affairs at the State Department (1996-1997). Ambassador Sanders holds a Doctor of Science Degree in Information Science and Communication from Robert Morris University, Masters of Art degree in International Relations and Africa Studies, and a Masters of Science degree in Communications and Journalism from Ohio University. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Hampton University.

Dr. Sanders is the recipient of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Civilian Honor Award; three State Department Superior Honor Awards; four State Department Meritorious Honor Awards; the “President Merit of Honor Award” from the Republic of Congo, and several citations in Who’s Who of America. She is a national board member of Operation Hope – a non-profit organization focused on empowerment of at-risk communities.

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