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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Niger livestock face food crisis
By Mark Doyle
BBC world affairs correspondent


Dead zebu in Niger

Livestock in Niger and across the Sahel region of West Africa are suffering an unprecedented crisis because of a lack of fodder.

The amount available to cattle herders in Niger this year is the lowest ever recorded, according to an inquiry by aid agencies and the government.

Severe food shortages are also affecting millions of people in Niger.

But development experts say that without livestock as an economic buffer famines among humans will re-occur.

'Double whammy'

The cause of the current human famine is an early end to last season's rainy season, locusts and chronic long-term poverty in Niger, the second poorest country in the world.

But experts say long-term solutions to the current crisis will have to take account of the needs of animals, as well as people.

Young child suffering from severe malnutrition is treated at an MSF centre in Maradi
Tens of thousands of children in Niger are starving

Livestock like cows and goats are the only form of capital most people in the Sahel region have to protect them against disasters like uncertain rainfall and plagues of locusts.

But the shortage of fodder in Niger this year is estimated at nearly five million tonnes.

Two thirds of this shortage is attributed to drought and one third to locusts eating the grass.

The shortage of fodder means people are forced to sell animals before they would normally do so.

But because so many people are selling livestock, the price is low.

People have been caught in the vice-like grip of a financial "double whammy".

The price they pay for cereal to eat is rocketing, while the price they get for their animals is falling.

Agricultural experts say that of course the hungry babies have to be helped first.

But they say more babies will surely die, unless the animals are cared for as well.




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