NIAMEY, April 3, 2013 – As a landlocked and essentially desert country, Niger is one of the countries of the world most severely threatened by food insecurity. El Hadj Adama Touré, a World Bank economist specializing in agronomy, explains how the country can better manage the climate risks it faces.
1. Niger’s geographical position and climate make its agricultural sector especially vulnerable. What steps have the Nigerien Government and the World Bank taken to address this extreme vulnerability?
Niger is indeed one of the world’s most vulnerable countries because of its exposure to climate risks and its landlocked position. Compounding this situation are the risks it faces from both internal and regional political extremism. One way or the other, all these factors affect the performance of the agricultural sector and therefore food and nutritional security. The World Bank welcomes the Government’s 3N initiative, launched at the end of 2011, known as “Nigeriens feed Nigeriens;” this initiative is aimed at improving food and nutritional security while promoting sustainable agriculture, thus demonstrating the Government’s willingness to tackle the problem of food insecurity. The World Bank is already one of the most active participants in the sector and is now realigning its sectoral interventions to support the 3N initiative. It will provide technical assistance to Niger to build the long-term resilience of its agricultural and pastoral systems and help the country gradually emerge from the crisis mode to which most of the Bank’s operations have unfortunately been confined until now.
2. Please describe the exact content of the report “Agricultural Sector Risk Assessment in Niger.”
This report, issued and submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture in January 2013, analyzes the long-term prospects for a successful Nigerien agricultural sector (in the broad sense of the term), i.e., one that is competitive both within its borders and in the subregional market, while being resilient to the various risks it frequently confronts. At the request of, and in collaboration with, the Government of Niger through the Office of the High Commissioner for the 3N initiative and the relevant technical ministries, the World Bank conducted an assessment of agricultural sector risks in Niger, which has contributed the following: (1) it systematically analyzes a whole range of agricultural risks and their effects over a longer time period (1980-2012); (2) it helps situate drought in the context of other agricultural risks; (3) it prioritizes the most important agricultural risks for the country based on objective criteria; (4) it provides a framework of mitigation-transfer-coping to manage priority risks; and (5) it offers a filtering mechanism to select high-return interventions for agricultural risk management.
3. Given the droughts, locust invasions, floods, and other risks facing Niger, what do you consider the greatest threat? And why?
These risks are much greater, given their impact on agricultural production and livestock, than market-based risks or those relating to the sociopolitical environment, in terms of their frequency and the huge amount of loss they incur. Among these risks, however, drought is by far the most serious one facing the agricultural and pastoral systems in Niger.
4. What about the instability of food prices? How are consumers affected?
The instability of food prices is one of the main sources of consumer concern, particularly since the spike in the price of food in 2008. In Niger, there is a very close link between seasonal variations in price and the impact of drought and other production risks. It could be said, in general, that the sharp rise in prices is caused, first, by the occurrence of these risks, which severely limits food production and availability. This leads to a shortage of food, especially for rural households that are net consumers of food products and for the poorest households in urban areas, and this situation has a dramatic impact on the nutritional status of their children.
5. And, more specifically, given the crises in the countries bordering Niger, doesn't this insecurity have an adverse impact on agricultural trade?
Political instability and insecurity are risks that may have an impact on the sector. The effect is often a result of the occurrence of the risk within the country, but it may also come from abroad. Even when the risk is strictly external (outside Niger's borders), the consequences may be dramatic for some types of exports (live cattle, cowpeas, onion, or peppers) whose markets are located in the neighboring countries. Generally speaking, this risk results in reduced access to certain regions, which in turn curtails access to rural markets and leads to an increase in food prices and the blocking of aid; a slowdown in public and private investments because of the heightened uncertainty; a reallocation of public expenditure for military purposes, to the detriment of other public services; and a loss of donor assistance. This risk may have a greater impact on the agricultural sector when its occurrence coincides with extreme weather events such as the 1995 drought, for example.
6. Is there any follow-up and support team in place between the World Bank and the Government or a specific entity to implement an action plan?
Yes, the World Bank has agreed to the Government's request for it to continue its technical assistance beyond the issue of the assessment report. Under the direction of the Office of the High Commissioner for the 3N initiative, a technical team has been set up to refine and complete the outline of the resulting action plan.
7. What are the next steps on the part of the World Bank?
The question of risk management is the focus of the strategic discussions currently taking place at the Bank. The new World Development Report 2014 will be devoted to this topic. The Bank’s Sustainable Development Network (SDN) Forum 2013, held from February 25 to March 8, 2013, gave special attention to the problems of climate change and green growth (see the report “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” which predicts that the average world temperature will increase by 4°C by the end of the century). With regard to Niger in particular, the new Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) for Niger will devote substantial resources to implementing the action plan on long-term resilience. The World Bank has also engaged in discussions with the Government and technical and financial partners to ensure better coordination of interventions on the resilience of the sector in order to multiply their impacts.