Niger is Africa's fastest growing country – how to feed 25 million more people in 30 years

Niger is Africa’s fastest growing country – how to feed 25 million more people in 30 years

Niger, a dry landlocked country Sahel region from Africa, is struggling to feed its 25 millions people. It currently ranks 115th out of 121 countries on the world hunger indexand the number of people going hungry has fallen from around 13% of the population in 2014 to 20% in 2022.

Things could deteriorate further as Niger faces a ‘perfect storm’. The country has one of highest population growth rates worldwide, with few signs of slowing down. It is fertility rate – at an average of seven children per woman – is the highest in the world.

Moreover, most of the country is infertile. Two-thirds of its area is located in the Sahara Desert. Most countries agricultural land lies in a narrow band near the Nigerian border to the south and is overgrown with desert.

The population of Niger is also among the lowest human capital indices, which among other things means that people cannot earn enough to afford to buy food. This challenge is all the greater given the recent change in budget priorities away from social development and towards national security due to growing instability in the Sahel region.

To make matters worse, Niger is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. It has a high exposure to heat and a low capacity to adapt to climatic changes, such as increasingly unpredictable rainfall. This will negatively affect crop yields in a country where Less than 1% cultivated land is irrigated.

An aerial view of Diffa in Niger.
Janie Barrett/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

It is projected that two million more Nigeriens will be pushed into undernourishment by 2050 by the effects of climate change on crop yields and because agricultural workers (about 75% of the total labor force) will struggle to work in the heat.

So how will Niger go from feeding 25 million people today to its projected population of 50 million people in 2050?

In a recently published article studymy colleagues and I wanted to figure out how to achieve this – or get as close to it as possible.

Increase food security

We have identified three interventions to address food availability:

  • better food supply, with accelerated investment in agricultural research and development

  • less demand for food due to slower population growth

  • global market integration.

But what should be prioritized to get the best result?

We created a model (which we called SIMPLE-Niger) to understand this. It used data from a variety of sources, including household and farm surveys and satellite images.

Based on our model simulations, we argue that unless fertility rates fall, rapid population growth and the setbacks of climate change are likely to outpace possible advances in agricultural productivity.

On the supply side – what is invested in agriculture – interventions and spending should focus on increasing agricultural productivity, such as investments in climate-smart research, and access and adoption of new technologies by farmers.

Greater integration into regional markets will also help fight undernourishment. It will make food products more accessible and available through more trade and better regional price integration (the effect of price in one market on another market).

Here’s how we came to these conclusions.

Integration, investment and human capital

As dire as the food security situation may seem, there are signs of improvement. We believe that further interventions in these areas are essential to improve the situation.

Agricultural productivity has been increasingGuided by:

THE African Continental Free Trade Agreement should lead to greater market integration and more trade in goods and services in the agro-food sector, from surplus to deficit regions.

Niger’s formal and informal non-tariff barriers are highHowever.

The country will need improvements trade and transport infrastructure, including temperature-controlled logistics for agricultural products, the ease of arranging shipments at competitive prices and the efficiency of customs procedures. When designing interventions, it is also important to remember that a large part of trade goes through informal cross-border trade.

Fulani shepherd.
Courtesy of Kayenat Kabir

There must also be additional investment in local agricultural research and dissemination, and to turn this into agricultural productivity growth. The rate of adoption of new technologies and varieties is low among Nigerien farmers, even by Sahelian standards. Better support for local researchers, improved extension services, partnerships with the private sector for technology diffusion and market access for inputs can boost the adoption of new technologies by farmers, which will accelerate recent productivity growth.

Possible setbacks

However, agricultural productivity growth will likely be outpaced by population growth and the setbacks of climate change. This means that the rate of population growth must come down.

Funds must be allocated to family planning and health. But fertility is a deeply political and difficult questionmaking it difficult to allocate funds for these purposes.

In fact, the desired family rate is higher than the current family rate, which means that men and women want more children than they currently have. It is important to consider the socioeconomic context when designing family planning programs in Niger.

A big win would be to increase investment in women’s education and participation in the labor market. It is well known that it would allow women to make birthing decisions freely and responsibly. Keeping girls in school also reduces the risk of early marriage, which is both a cause and a consequence of teenage pregnancy. Investing in education is also related to better food and nutritional security.

Worth the investment

These measures could be set aside in a region that is experiencing growing instability. But history tells us that a young and growing population facing food insecurity and unemployment can be fertile ground for more instability.

Ensuring food security for Niger’s rapidly growing young population is equally important to its national security.

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