Slowing Nigerian grain trade threatens Sahel food security

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(IRIN) – Northern Nigeria’s grain trade, which supplies almost half of the Sahel’s cereals, has slowed severely, while abnormally high prices of staple grains across the Sahel are causing serious food security concerns in this chronically vulnerable region.

The areas most at risk are southeastern and central Niger, which are highly dependent on Nigerian grain flows, as well as northern Nigeria and northern Benin. Chad is somewhat protected from the dynamic, as it produced a healthy harvest in 2012, says FEWS NET.

World Food Programme (WFP) market analysts report that grain supply is low in many of the main markets across the region, and that fewer traders from Niger and elsewhere are crossing the border to re-supply in Nigeria. Cross-border trade is significantly down in Nigeria’s Maigatari market (near Zinder in Niger), Illela (near Tahoua), Jibya (near Maradi) and Damassack (near Diffa), according to WFP.

In highly import-dependent Niger, “this situation must raise a red flag,” said WFP market analyst Jean-Martin Bauer, referring to poor trade conditions that spurred Niger’s 2005 and to some extent the 2010 food crises. “If trade slows down from Nigeria to Niger, it’s a huge issue for all countries depending on Nigeria,” he said.

In the worst-affected areas, staple grain prices are higher than in 2012 when the region experienced a widespread food crisis. A 100kg bag of maize in Kano, the region’s largest grains market, cost 7,400 Nigerian naira (US$47) in March 2013, compared to 6,000 naira ($38) the same time last year; while a 100kg bag of millet cost 8,000 naira ($51) in March 2013, versus 7,500 naira ($47) last year.

The poorest families in the Sahel are entirely dependent on markets for foods and may spend 80 percent of their household income on food, according to ECHO. “High prices lock these people out of the market,” said European Union aid body ECHO’s Sahel coordinator Hélène Berton.

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