NIAMEY, Niger (May 19, 2012) — Chronic food insecurity and malnutrition are mainstays of everyday life for thousands of families in Niger. Following the failed rains and poor harvests of 2011, the country is now in the midst of its third nutrition crisis since 2005.
Over 6 million people, more than half of whom are children, are currently estimated to be food insecure. UNICEF and its humanitarian partners in Niger now estimate that more than 394,000 children will require treatment for severe acute malnutrition over the course of the year.
“We continue to suffer through these difficult times—2005, 2010, 2012—and they are occurring more frequently,” said Kadri Sorka, a member of the municipal council in the village of Bégorou Tondou. “This year may be the worst yet because we have less than 10% of last year’s harvest.”
While there are indeed similarities to the crises of 2005 and 2010, humanitarian experts and government officials are optimistic that many of Niger’s communities are better positioned to withstand the burden of food insecurity now than they have been in years past.
This is largely due to recent efforts to build knowledge, capacity and resiliency at both the national and local levels to avert humanitarian tragedies. Since 2005, UNICEF has been supporting long-term strategies by the government and other partners to address underlying and structural causes of child malnutrition in Niger.
An illustration of this resiliency strategy is the partnership between UNICEF and a local Nigerien company, Société de Transformation Alimentaire (STA), for the domestic production of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children under age five.
STA Director General Fatchima Cissé explained, “When I initially purchased the company in 2001, we were producing nutritional porridge for infants. During the food security crisis in 2005, UNICEF asked me if our company could produce RUTF that could be used to help vulnerable children and their mothers and, of course, the rest is history.”
In 2005, STA began production of an RUTF known as Plumpy’nut under a franchise agreement with Nutriset.
According to UNICEF Niger, STA produced 30 tons of RUTF for UNICEF nutritional programs across Niger in 2006. By 2011, that number had climbed to 2,700 tons, with UNICEF purchasing 92% of the stock. STA expects to produce 5,023 tons of RUTF by 2013, and has already started exporting to other countries in the region. UNICEF remains STA’s largest customer.
“This has never been about money, but about helping children. When we first started, the company wasn’t even profitable,” said Cissé. “The partnership with UNICEF has helped us to grow and achieve our objective of finding a local solution to nutritional crises in Niger.”
UNICEF’s objectives in supporting STA include increasing the Nigerien and global RUTF supply, supporting the local economy, ensuring there are pre-positioned and sufficient supplies of RUTF in country in the event of another nutrition crisis, and reducing costs related to the transportation and import of RUTF into Niger. For example, it takes 40 days for cargo from France to arrive in Niger by ship. By obtaining 100% of its RUTF supply from STA, UNICEF Niger is ensuring more reliable and faster delivery to the most vulnerable children.
On this final point, the UNICEF-STA partnership has already proven to be a success. According to the UNICEF Niger office, in 2010, UNICEF purchased nearly $6 million of RUTF from STA, with approximately $4 million procured abroad, but through increased STA production in 2011, Niger has not had to import RUTF since.
“Our partnership with STA offers major benefits, particularly in avoiding the need for huge buffer stocks, reducing warehouse space and costs. Supplies are received constantly in smaller quantities, making the movement along the supply chain much more efficient,” said Stephane Arnaud, UNICEF Niger supply and procurement manager.
Facing another nutrition crisis in 2012, UNICEF and its humanitarian partners in Niger can now access lifesaving RUTF for malnourished children faster and at a more competitive price than ever before.
This collaboration is just one of UNICEF’s many partnerships in Niger, part of a long-term strategy to address underlying and structural causes of child malnutrition. Preventive interventions are also being promoted to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition altogether.
UNICEF and its partners call on the international community to intensify efforts and mobilize all means necessary to fight malnutrition and its causes and to sustainably meet the needs of the most vulnerable children.