A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.
Banque mondiale Joseph Stiglitz

Niger, An Emblematic Victim of Hunger

By Paul-Florent Montfort,

Analyst, momagri

Five years after the severe famine of 2004-05 and barely two years after the global food crisis, the vicious cycle resumes in Niger. Once again, hunger is coming back. The U.N. estimates that, following a drought period, over seven million Nigeriens––or half of the population––are experiencing food insecurity conditions. Visiting the country in early June, Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, indicated, “One can see hunger on peoples’ faces”. To confront what is bound to become a new humanitarian disaster, international organizations and NGOs have requested the release of a $190 million international emergency program. But will that be enough to solve the problem?

A recurring victim of tragic food crises, Niger is one of the nations most emblematic of chronic food insecurity that affects one sixth of the world population. Ranking second among poorer countries according to the Human Development Index (HDI) of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), Niger is marked by its inadequately developed agriculture1, made up of small family farmers, and thus very susceptible to vagaries, especially climate hazards. Among other disadvantages, the agricultural production is also based on a pluvial cultivation system, which means that grain crops are not irrigated and are solely producing thanks to rainfall (in 2005, less than two percent of farm land was irrigated)2. And what is more, crops are also subjected to epizootic threats, such as destructive insects.

The situation is all the more worrisome since, just as in many developing countries, the livelihood of about 90 percent of the population relies on agriculture, while production levels are not able to ensure its food security. In fact, Niger imports over 80 percent of its grain consumption, indicates the FAO 3.

So much so that the frequency of food crises only reflects the chronic food insecurity that is striking the Nigerien population. As evidenced by the critical child mortality rate––with or without a food crisis. According to a Senate report prepared after the 2005 food crisis, the mortality rate of children below five reaches 28 percent. This means that one in three children never reach the age of five. In 2005, the report already noted, “These are facts observed by journalists sent to ‘cover’ the food crisis. Their coverage claimed to be alarming but masked the reality of Niger’s crisis. The humanitarian disaster they discovered in 2005 has been occurring every year for decades. Once the urgency of the crisis is passed and the NGOs gone, the same child mortality rate might very well become a long-lasting issue”.

Hence, the urgent nature of the situation. The missions recently dispatched by large international organizations to observe the scope of the new food crisis are right about sounding the alarm, since the 2010 crisis currently starting could be overwhelming. But more importantly, we should improve the long-term agricultural production capacity in Niger, which alone will secure food security for its population. Otherwise, the international community must come to terms with multiplying temporary emergency programs, not matter how costly…

It is all the more imperative since elements of solution exist to develop agriculture in Southern Hemisphere countries, while compensating for the most frequent hurdles. As if destructive pests, self-propagating weeds and climate hazards were not enough, African farmers are also penalized because, for lack of warehousing infrastructures, they have to sell their products immediately after the harvest, when prices are at their lowest. As a consequence, their income is limited, which slows down their investment ability in terms of fixed assets (machinery, land, etc…) as well as liquid assets (seeds, fertilizers, etc…). This, in turn, does not improve yields or the related profits they generate.

In addition, the fact that most often, small farmers in developing countries cannot get financing with the usual financing systems, since they present too high a risk level for investors. Without adequate income and the possibility of financing their operations through the banks, solving the equation seems problematical…

However, the warrantage scheme, implemented with FAO support, precisely allows solving some problems relating to financing.

Fine-tuned for European farmers at the end of the 19th century, it is a system of credit on inventory. Rather than selling their harvest at once, farmers can use it as collateral for the repayment of a bank loan. In the Niger project initiated in 1999, farmers leave their crop in a locked warehouse with keys held by the bank and their group, in return for a bank loan.

The credit thus provides small farmers with the means to buy essential products for the following planting season, while allowing them to keep their harvest until the lean season––when food stocks start to run low and prices start to climb. At that point, they redeem their production from the warehouse, sell their crop, repay their loan and pocket the difference. Using part of the credit to finance other income-generating activities, many farmers therefore manage to repay their loans even before selling their crop.

The results are relatively convincing. According to a December 2009 study on the Niger project and mentioned by the FAO, participating farmers were able to increase their income by between 19 to 113 percent in six months. And since they were able to buy better seeds and fertilizers, their yields went up by between 44 and 120 percent.

In a country where food insecurity is a structural scourge, these results represent a good omen. While the warrantage scheme is not the solution to all agricultural problems of Niger––and a fortiori those of all developing countries suffering from food insecurity––it proves that initiatives do exist to assist the development of agricultural activities. In fact, as a result of the success of the system in Niger, the FAO is considering to progressively expand it to all Western African nations.

However, the scheme can only endure if it fits in the framework of agricultural market global governance. Indeed, farmers still must sell their harvest at a good price, so that they can repay their loans. Yet, if the deferred sale of harvests allows farmers to sell during the lean season, it cannot free them from the price hyper-volatility that marks international agricultural markets. Only a regulation policy can smooth out such structural instability.

1 As in most Western African nations, the farming system most widely spread in Niger is the small family farm of one to five hectares (2.5 to 12 acres). The total number of these small farms would be between 1.2 and 1.5 million, while the country would include less than a hundred large farms covering 20 to 70 hectares (50 to 175 acres).
ICAR/PDSFR – Capitalization Mission on the Warrantage Scheme, October 2005.
2 According to “2005: Famine in Niger?”, Afrique Verte Organization,
3 FAO, June 2008, “Soaring Food Prices: Facts, Perspectives, Impacts and Actions Required”.
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Paris, 11 December 2018