The food crisis in Niger has hit nomads in the southern part of the country so badly that it now threatens their way of life, according to a new Oxfam assessment.
In a survey covering 3,500 people in the Maradi region, Oxfam found that nomads have recently lost 70 percent of their animals. As a result, 40 percent of adults and 30 percent of children in nomadic communities are living on one meal or less a day. Almost one in 10 families is surviving on a diet of mainly wild plants, leaves, and grass.
“Twelve centuries of nomadic culture are threatened with extinction if these people do not get long-term help to rebuild their livelihoods,” said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, Oxfam's regional director for West Africa. “To these people, losing your animals is like losing your life savings. Without their animals, they have no means of survival.”
The nomadic Tuareg and Fulani peoples, who travel hundreds of miles in search of pasture for their animals, make up about 20 percent of Niger's population. The current food crisis may prove a critical blow for these communities, which are already struggling due to recurring food crises and shrinking pastureland.
The Oxfam assessment also shows that farming communities have been badly hit. Farmers have lost on average 65 percent of their animals, and 20 percent of adults are living on one meal or less per day.
Though food distribution has now started in Niger, the United Nations appeal for the region remains dangerously short of funds with $50 million still needed. Even if these funds are raised, food aid will only provide temporary relief to nomadic communities.
"Fifty million dollars is needed now from rich countries to help people through to the next harvest in October. But food aid alone will not solve this crisis,” said Quist. “For nomads who have lost all or most of their animals, the harvest will make little difference. The emergency response must go hand in hand with sustained assistance for Niger's nomads.”
Oxfam is working with the Association for the Regeneration of Animal Breeding in Niger, known by its French initials AREN, to help nomadic communities in the Dakoro region. The program will help 130,000 people. People work in communal fields or clean villages in exchange for vouchers, which can be traded for food at local markets. This week, Oxfam is scaling up its program to assist families who have lost all their animals.