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May 18, 2010

UN Issues Alert on Food Shortage In African Sahel Region

by Steve Baragona

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) early warning system, on Wednesday has issued a special alert on the risk of hunger in West Africa's Sahel region.

Last year's poor rains and pest infestations pushed down crop production in the region. The Food and Agriculture Organization says declines in cereal output range from 10 percent in Chad to 30 percent in Niger.

In addition, substantial losses of livestock are occurring in the Sahel countries as pasturelands have dried up.

Jean Senahoun is an economist with the FAO:

"This drop in cereal and pasture production occur[s] against a backdrop of high food prices," said Jean Senahoun.

The FAO officials say Food prices are 12 to 28 percent higher in the region than they were two years ago, before the food price crisis of 2008.

The combination of factors has left nearly 3 million people in Niger, 2 million in Chad, and 370,000 in Mauritania needing food assistance. An additional 6 million in the region are food-insecure.

Niger's government has begun subsidizing food purchases, and U.N. agencies have been providing food as well as seed, feed, and fertilizer to help farmers.

But the U.N.'s effort is only 30 percent funded, Senahoun says, leaving a considerable shortfall.

"It's enormous," said Senahoun. "Thirty percent is just one-third of what is needed."

Senahoun warns that the situation is critical in the Sahel as the region waits for rains expected to begin in some areas in June.