LONDON (AlertNet) – Niger’s president says he is determined to eradicate hunger in his drought-prone country and hopes to achieve this by emulating the success of Brazil's former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in slashing malnutrition.
Up to 6.4 million people in Niger or one third of its population are facing a hunger crisis that has also hit eight other countries in the semi-arid Sahel region.
Perched on the edge of the Sahara, the West African country frequently suffers from droughts and often relies on international donors for food aid.
"Our ambition is zero hunger for Niger, as was the case in Brazil with President Lula," Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou told a briefing at London's Chatham House thinktank.
Under his "Zero Hunger" programme, Lula cut hunger in half and lifted 20 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty during his 2003-2010 presidency.
Issoufou said his government's aim was to ensure that Niger could one day feed itself by addressing the underlying problems that left the country vulnerable to food crises.
One major pillar of the government's "Nigeriens nourissent Nigeriens" (Nigeriens feed Nigeriens) initiative is to increase agricultural production through the use of better seeds, pesticides and other farming inputs, Issoufou said.
Other elements of the so-called 3N initiative include improving nutrition and processing commodities in a way that would add value to them in the market place.
"There is enough arable land, there is enough land to be irrigated and there's enough water and we want to mobilise all of these resources in order to alleviate the situation," Issoufou said. "Whether there is rain or no rain we want Niger to be able to feed Nigeriens."
He gave his support to an international food security summit that Britain plans to host in London this summer.
"We will definitely be there to have our position heard and also to share some ideas on the subject," he said. "It is not right that there should be famine in the world, and it is not right there should be famine in Niger."
Aid groups have this week stepped up calls for foreign donors to provide funding to tackle Sahel's hunger crisis which is threatening the lives of 18 million people in the region.
International charity Save the Children launched a global appeal on Tuesday to raise $56 million to help 1.5 million people in the worst hit populations.
"We've spent months trying to prevent a full-blown food crisis. That moment has passed and we now are responding to a food crisis and the time is now to help," Save the Children spokeswoman Annie Bodmer-Roy told AlertNet in Dakar.
The U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, said on Monday its total requirement for the Sahel stood at $238 million for 2012.
(Additional reporting by George Fominyen in Dakar)