Helen Clark: Niger Food Security - Rio+20 Conference Side Event

Jun 19, 2012

Remarks for Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Niger Food Security: Rio + 20 Conference Side Event
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tuesday 19 June 5.30pm

It is a pleasure to be at this event organized by the Government of Niger to highlight Niger’s work to address the humanitarian crisis it currently faces and to overcome the underlying causes of food insecurity.

In February this year, I was able to visit Niger, travelling with Valerie Amos, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief. Following the Government of Niger’s early warning of the crisis, our goal was to help raise awareness of the threat to food security caused by a poor harvest and rain shortfall in Niger and for the Sahel region as a whole. This is the third food security and nutrition crisis here in the last seven years.

Drought, poverty, high food prices, and environmental degradation have left nineteen million people across the Sahel struggling to get enough food this year. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has estimated that 6.4 million people in Niger, or about forty per cent of the population, are food insecure. The situation has also been aggravated by regional political instability and armed conflict.

The Government of Niger’s plan for managing through the drought is receiving support from development partners – but more will need to be done. 

In Niger, Valerie Amos and I heard strong, clear, and common messages from the Government, farmers’ associations, development partners, NGOs, and the UN Country Team: all were determined to tackle the short and the long term challenges; all stressed the urgent need to scale up and co-ordinate existing efforts, and to integrate humanitarian and development responses.

Poverty, gender disparities, environmental degradation, and low institutional capacity were highlighted as being among the underlying causes of vulnerability, malnutrition, and food insecurity.  

This understanding is well reflected in Niger’s strategy to achieve the “3Ns” (Nigeriens Nourissent les Nigeriens) – a broad-based development strategy to achieve the President’s vision of meeting immediate needs while also building the long term resilience of communities to recurrent drought and food shocks.

UNDP and other members of the UN Country Team in Niger have worked with the Government and other stakeholders on the MDG Acceleration Plan to tackle hunger. The initiatives flowing from the plan help the government detect and plan for natural disasters, and communities to reduce vulnerabilities, improve nutrition, and increase agricultural productivity.

While in Niger, I saw for myself the stark contrast which existed between a village where basic water infrastructure had been installed and enabled food to be grown, even in severe drought conditions, and a village, only a few kilometers away, where the health clinic was overwhelmed by hungry and malnourished mothers and children whose food stocks had run low. 

It is appropriate that Niger has initiated this discussion here at this conference on sustainable development. The region’s recurring droughts are exacerbating the challenges of poverty and underdevelopment. Ways have to be found to build resilience to natural disaster and lift human development.

In a new UNDP report on “triple win” policies which advance economic, social, and environmental goals together, we highlight Niger’s reforestation initiatives as a good example of this approach. 

Trees serve as windbreaks, helping farmers protect their crops from sandstorms and retain soil quality. Poverty can be reduced while ecosystems are repaired. To date in Niger, five million hectares have been reforested – about four per cent of the country’s land area. These areas are seeing significant increases in crop yields and improved livelihoods. Diversifying farm production, agroforestry, and reservoirs to capture rainfall can all help regenerate degraded lands and increase yields across the Sahel.

UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report on food security calls for leadership at the highest levels to co-ordinate action across ministries, tackle chronic malnutrition, and shift budget priorities. Rural infrastructure and the needs of small land holder farmers have been low priorities in many countries for too long. Social protection systems are critical for preventing the worst impacts of food shocks and boosting local demand. Empowering women, who make up close to half of Africa’s farm workforce, is also a powerful driver of agricultural productivity and inclusive growth.

The Government of Niger’s 3Ns strategy deserves our support. It challenges us to bring humanitarian and development responses together to tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity and build long term community resilience to natural disasters and other shocks.

UNDP Around the world