Millet Prices, Public Policy and Child Malnutrition: The case of Niger in 2005
Severe food crises were common until the middle 1980s. Since then, they have been less frequent and until the sharp rise of food prices in 2007-8 the dominant perception was that, except in areas suffering from political instability, famines were slowly becoming a problem of the past. Niger’s 2005 events suggest it is too soon to claim victory. Indeed, between March and August 2005 the country was hit by a doubling of millet prices, and a sharp rise in the number of severely malnourished children admitted to feeding centres. The extent and causes of such crisis remain controversial. Some argue that these extreme events are part of a normal seasonal cycle while others suggest that in 2005 Niger’s chronic food insecurity turned into a nutritional crisis that in some areas reached near-famine conditions. This paper reviews the evidence in this regard in the light of the main famine theories and against the background of the chronic food insecurity and high child malnutrition characterizing Niger. This study concludes that the decline in food production invoked by many to explain the crisis does not help comprehending a complex crisis that can only be understood by examining the entitlement failures of several socio-economic groups, the malfunctioning of domestic and regional food markets, and policy mistakes in the fields of food security, health financing, and international aid.
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