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Understanding Political Economy of Food Crisis in Niger
Jaideep Rajak, Centre for West Asian and African Studies, School of International Studies  Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi  01/01/2011 10:39:06 PM

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) projection for the year 2010 reveals increasing distinctively of food security circumstances of Sub-Saharan Africa. It shows that compared with other regions food supplies per-capita were lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of malnourished in other developing countries is expected to record a fall by 20 percent from 1990-92 to 2010 but in Sub-Saharan Africa there shall be reverse situation as it is expected to rise by 23 percent. FAO also estimated that 30 percent population of Sub-Saharan Africa would be under-nourished by the year 2010, while no other region of the world will have more than 12 percent of its population under-nourished.
Niger, the Sahelian country in the Sub-Saharan African region, suits itself as a case study in the understanding of the political economy of food crisis. Niger is ranked by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as the poorest country in the world and second lowest in Human Development Index (HDI). On an average, 63 percent of populations of Niger are poor and 34 percent live in extreme poverty. The total population of the country was 13.5 million at mid 2004, out of which, 3.2 million were suffering from acute food crisis.
Niger is a land-locked country located in western Africa with hot and dry climate that affects its socio-economic structure. Agriculture and livestock is the mainstay of Niger economy. However, the perpetual drought cycle, desertification, high population growth rate and lack of infrastructure have aggravated the agricultural sector. Therefore, agriculture is done only at subsistence level. The other major source of the economy is the uranium export. But the international market of this mineral is highly precarious, making informal trade and seasonal migration common practices. In such a situation, the shortage of food has made Niger highly vulnerable.
Food crisis in independent Niger can be traced back to the Sahelian drought of 1968-74. It was estimated that six million people were in the grip of malnutrition in the region. In 1974, the official harvest figure in Niger was 800,000 tons, an estimated 300,000 tons below the requirement. This led to civil disorder due to the deteriorating political and economic condition of Niger. Therefore, in 1974 the chief of staff of the armed force Lt. Col. Seyni Kountche overthrew Hamani Diori. A Council Military Supreme (CMS) was established with the mandate to attain food self-sufficiency and distribute food fairly among the people of Niger. The welfare measures to improve living standard were named societe de developpement [society of development].
However, with state based resources shrinking, the ‘societe de developpement’ proved a failure. As a result, a new strategy of governance in national economic policy was introduced. This policy shift consists of initiatives and reforms promoted by donor countries and international financial institutions which aim to address food deficit through the market. The reforms mandated economic liberalization and limited government intervention in markets. It negated the emphasis on self sufficiency and supply management as way to secure food supplies through Officies des Produits Vivriers du Niger [Office of the food product of Niger] (OPVN), a government agency in charge of the regulation of cereal market. Further, Niger economy being crisis-ridden, it is estimated that half of Niger budget is dependent on external aid.
The decade of 1990s, however, was marked by political turmoil due to government austerity budget. This led to social unrest, strike of union des travailleurs du Niger [Union of the traders of Niger] (USTN) and political agitation that compounded food insecurity resulting in successive coup de tat. It was estimated by an enquiry of early warning system that there was a cereal deficit of 152,000 tons in 1997 exposing over a quarter of the population to famine, which led to 30 percent rise in the price of main cereals. Moreover, food aid was stalled as response by the international community and donor agencies to the political crisis, worsening the situation further.
Finally, democratic elected government was constituted with Mamadou Tandja as President and Hama Amadou of Mouvement Nationale de la Societe de Developpement [National movement of the society of development] (MNSD) as Prime Minister in 1999, with high expectation. But, in 2004, the combined onslaught of drought and desert locust in the country’s agro-pastoral areas devastated agricultural production. This resulted in a loss of cereal production for an estimated 15 percent compared to the average annual production over the past five years which led to the food crisis in 2005. The Niger government, however, stubbornly refused to admit that the country faces a famine that made it extremely difficult for external agencies to provide timely assistance. This led to widespread anti-government demonstrations, social unrest and two unsuccessful motions of no-confidence against the government. Finally, in 2007, Parliament voted out the Hama Amadou government over a corruption scandal.
The scope of the study is significant as there is no extensive research work on the topic and is expected to fill up the knowledge gap. Moreover, viewing the food crisis from the perspective of man made causes in its political and economic ambit, would give an added dimension to the research. Therefore, the study of political economy of food crisis in Niger is of immense importance. The food crisis in the Sub-Saharan Sahelian Africa, particularly the crisis faced by Niger is not only nature-caused but also man-made. Hence, the political economy of the food crisis in Niger is being researched with the objectives like, the understand the nature and causes of food crisis in Niger; Examining and differentiate domestic and external factors of food crisis in Niger; Analyzing human causes of the food crisis and arrive at a frame of political economy of the crisis; Understanding the impact of food crisis in political and economic spheres and so on so forth.
Methodologically, study carried on employing the historical, theoretical and analytical framework with qualitative and quantitative methods drawing information from a wide range of available primary and secondary sources. The primary sources data collected from government documents of Niger particularly Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of External affairs, Parliament debates in Niger, Archives of French administration, UN documents, FAO-Estimates and IMF-Niger: Statistical Annex and the secondary sources of data drawn from books, articles, research journals, newspapers, magazines and websites. The relevant data and reports of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) also used for this paper.

Theoretical Understanding of Food Crisis
Theorizing food crisis enhances critical insight to understand the problem of availability and accessibility of food. Various approaches available in this regard can be broadly classified into two schools; nature focused and society focused. The difference between the two schools lies on the focus of factors rather than of coverage. The nature focused view has been the traditionally dominant one; while society focused view has broken the traditional understanding. In the society focused view, the roles of political economy and politics are taken into account. In brief, this school concentrates on the man-made factors which form the focus of the study.
Gakov (1987) gives an overview of agriculture situation in Africa. In his book, he argues that the agricultural crisis has its profound roots in the integration of African economies into the world capitalist system, which is essentially oriented towards the world market and not towards the feeding of the local people. It further argued that it is only the African and extra African energies that would endeavor to make the African people the true master of their destiny through reorganization of society that would ensure them all their rights and freedom. Sen (1982a) in another way deals with the causes of famine for which the author had examined the Great Bengal Famine (1943), Ethiopian Famine (1972-74) and Sahel (1968-73). Sen argued that food availability per head is a poor indicator of starvation and in this regard put forward the Entitlement approach. The Entitlement approach concentrates on the ability of people to command food through the legal means available in the society. To the author, it is the collapse of entitlement that creates famines. The book has been the base for understanding man made food crisis, i.e., other than the naturally caused. Amin (1973) analyses the economies of nine French-speaking countries of West Africa as well as Ghana and Gambia to understand the reason behind the underdevelopment. He viewed that an irresistible pressure for the maintenance of colonial structure and policies has produced foreign domination and underdevelopment. Patnaik (1992) examines the effects that market has on the availability of basic food grains for cultivation by studying the experiences of India, Africa and the Latin America. Accordingly, there has been differential decline of all types of crop production per head, but not overall decline. This differential production is due to the superior purchasing power of the metropolitan centres. This article enables one to understand the matrix of two highly unequal segments of varying weight. Eicher (1982) argues that African food crisis stems from a seamless web of political, technical and structural constraints which are products of colonial surplus extraction strategies, misguided developmental plans and priorities of independent African states, and faulty advice from expatriate planning advisers. It is, therefore, argued that unless steps are taken to solve the basic constraints many African states may end up as permanent food aid clients of the US, the European Economic Community (EEC) and Japan.

Political Economy of Niger
The available literature explains the development strategy initiated by Niger government in the post-colonial period. The strategy that emerged from the colonial era is based on revenue generated by groundnut exports, sporadic livestock sales, French subsidies and modest amount of foreign aid. Out of these, groundnut and livestock sales could be directly influenced by the policies of the Niger government. Under the state led initiative, the revenues from groundnut continued to provide the most important source of finance for economic expansion. In 1970s, however, the emphasis shifted from groundnut to uranium due to external political influences. But state failed to sustain economic growth because within a short period the demand for uranium dropped sharply, combined with the decline in agricultural production due to unfavorable weather conditions. As the state was gripped under the crisis, structural adjustment programme was introduced with market to play vital role in the political economy of Niger. The economic reform programme was initiated with the aim to accelerate economic growth to bring development and eradicate poverty.
Fuglestad (1983) gives a historical account of the economic and political development in Niger based on primary and secondary sources and also on archival sources, i.e., the archives of the French administration. The book deals with the complexity and above all the ambiguity of the colonial period. It also examines and compares the various regimes and ethnic groups in Niger to highlight the evolutionary trends of her history. Furthermore, it viewed the dynamics of French colonial rule and its relation with Niger especially in the context of social, political and economic spheres. Robinson (1991) examines the period from economic boom to stagnation in Niger. It has been argued that the military regime, in order to counter the decay of government effectiveness posed by the onset of a crisis in the political economy of development has opted for corporatist solution. This gave rise to new form of political participation channelized through structures that reinforce behaviour in accordance with classical corporatist principles. Graybeal and Picard (1991) analyses the evolving political system within the framework of decolonization and institutional development in Niger. It examined ineffectiveness of state managed economic expansion that led to the introduction of stabilization programme supported by International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, it has been argued that state sphere of responsibility should be broadened as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and bilateral donors have shown only limited sensitivity to the people of Niger. Hart (1982) emphasizes the principal forces in West African agricultural development, namely, the state, the market and the capital. He argued that political forms determine agricultural development and stagnation. Therefore, he argues that in West Africa, it requires political evolution of a kind that could sustain economic development. But, in the present scenario, it seems almost sacrilege to contemplate. Ibrahim (1994) focuses on the post-colonial Niger characterized by authoritarian exclusion of large segments of society from participation in the political process on ethnic lines that led to the sub-imperialism of Zerma/Songhay group. Though, in 1990s transition from ethnically based authoritarian military regime to civilian democratically elected pluralist regime has taken place, yet it has to address number of important political and economic issues, which could destabilize the democratization process.

Food Crisis in Niger
The root of Niger’s food crisis can be traced back to the colonial period. The economic policy of French had direct impact on the food situation of Niger. During the French rule, the expansion of cash crop cultivation and heavy taxes provoked chain reaction that had far-reaching consequences making life difficult for the people of Niger. The situation, however, did not improve even after the attainment of independence. Niger has been experiencing food crises at regular intervals. In this regard, mention can be made of 1968-74, 1984, late 1990s and 2005. Though the decline in food production has been attributed to the drought and locust invasion, the affordability to access food has been a cause of concern in Niger.
The study by Mousseau and Mittal (2006) examines the prevalence of food crisis in Niger giving valuable insight to the whole Sahel region along with solution that would help to break this cycle. It reviews the roles of the Niger government, international communities, market and the outcome of international economic reforms and development policies in Niger. The authors argue that the food crisis is a case of ‘free market famine’ and advocate for the public service based food security requiring regulation to protect the domestic market by providing sufficient income for farmers and consumers of low income. Clay (2005) analyses the causes of food crisis of 2005. He argued that the early warning system of food crisis is ineffective due to internal and external situations. Keenan (2005) focuses on the role of Mamadou Tandja, the President of Niger in mitigating the food crisis. It criticized the role of Mamadou who made it extremely difficult for external agencies to provide timely assistance. Furthermore, the food situation became more serious with the embezzlement of foreign aid by country’s political and commercial elite. Miles (2005) analyses the changing dynamics of Niger-Nigeria relationships and its impact on the food security of Niger. Kennan (2004) looks at America’s interventionist strategy in the Sahelian Sahara, notably its Pan Sahel Initiative that is popularly known as Trans-Sahara counter terrorism initiative. He examines the weak and dictatorial governments of the region — Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania in relation to the United States strategy in Africa. By analyzing the United States strategy in Sahel, it has been argued that US Pan Sahel Initiative has direct bearing on chronic food shortage, as it has banned alternate sources of livelihood which the nomads opt at the time of drought such as tourism, state subsidies and to lesser scale smuggling and banditry. This article is useful in examining the external constraints in achieving food security in Sahel.
A section of the literature on Sahelian food crisis particularly in Niger, has taken the climatic factor as the root cause. Though, the existing literature is giving valuable insight into the food crisis, yet it is necessary to evolve a broader understanding on the food crisis in Niger poignantly its political economy.
The food crisis has been a major problem blanketing the entire Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa. It refers to the situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food for normal development and an active and healthy life. It is increasingly threatening the stability of the region. Particularly, mention may be made of Niger as it has been struggling to establish stable democratic government. Ostensibly, the existing political fragility is due to the persistent food crisis. Even after the transition from military and autocratic rule to democratic form of government, it has been facing a stiff challenge due to the shortage of food. This has led consistently to widespread anti-government demonstration and motion of no-confidence that had blocked the overall development process. Thus, the food crisis and the resultant political instability impeded the development process in Niger.
With the attainment of independence, Niger adopted strong state intervention in all sectors of economy. A number of dedicated institutional structures were created for the promotion of the agrarian sector, with the overall objective of achieving national food self-sufficiency. But due to unprecedented levels of poverty and spiraling debt, the Nigerien government abandoned the principle of national food self-sufficiency. The structural adjustment programs implemented since the early 1980’s, mandated the withdrawal of State intervention in all economic and social sectors. The logic being that the private sector would take over the productive sectors with the supposition that private sector would yield economic growth that would pull the country out of poverty. Yet, Niger continues to suffer from chronic hunger and was plunged into a one of its worst food crisis in 2005.

Food crisis in Niger is attributed to natural disadvantages, population growth, and drought and desert locust. Drought and desert locust have become so inextricably linked with Niger’s food crisis in both popular and academic analyses that the relationships between the two is taken almost axiomatically as cause and effect. Social scientists too have taken it for granted that the causes of Niger’s food crisis are natural and climatic. There is substantial literature on social, economic and political after-effects and on the prospects of post-drought social, economic and ecological reconstruction. Thus, Niger’s food crisis share one basic premise as it treats the issue of diminishing food supply primarily in terms of natural calamity. However, apart from it, man made factor too plays a very significant role. In 2005, the food deficits at the national level represent 7.5 percent even after taking into account commercial imports. Though the figures of deficit did not seem enormous at the national level, more than three million people were extremely vulnerable to food insecurity. This fact gives an impetus to understand the food crisis in Niger in different perspective than merely to treat it as caused by the vagaries of nature. Therefore, the proposed study would intend to include political and economic factors to broaden the understanding of the causes of the current predicament. It is only by an enlarged understanding of the crisis in its political and economic perspectives that the policies of development for the food starved Niger could be augmented and substantially improved. In the course of research hypotheses drawn to see the structural adjustment programme intensified the food crisis in Niger. The food crisis in Niger is attributed to the fall in purchasing power i.e. entitlement or exchange entitlement. The exclusion and non-representation on ethnic lines in politics has aggravated the problem of food and the dependence on export income, informal trading and seasonal migration has left landlocked Niger vulnerable to instability. 

(The views expressed in the write-up are personal and do not re?ect the official policy or position of the organization.)


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