In Niger 90% of the population depend on Agriculture. But with last year’s rain failure, the country is facing a catastrophic food crisis. Concern Worldwide, an international aid agency, is tackling the crisis by providing drought resistant seeds, distributing cash through mobile phone technology and using local food markets to provide aid. All this makes for a unique approach towards humanitarian aid.

The United Nations rural development arm is helping to improve agricultural programmes in West Africa’s Sahel region, especially in Niger, which is currently in the throes of a growing food crisis. Recurrent food shortages have impacted the Sahel, a narrow band south of the Sahara desert also including Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. The last severe drought in 2005 resulted in a famine that claimed 1 million lives and affected another 50 million people.

When Baraka, a young mother in Guidimouni, southern Niger, took her 13-month-old son Abdul to the local health centre, tests showed that he was suffering from severe acute malnutrition and malaria. He spent a week in an outpatient feeding programme but continued to lose weight.

The food crisis in Niger is deteriorating faster than expected and could cost the lives of a generation, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) said. Josette Sheeran, executive director of the organisation, said the brains and bodies of children under five will be damaged for life if they don't have adequate nutrition. The drought-stricken Sahel region in West Africa - encompassing Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Mali - is facing dwindling food supplies and high prices at market.

In appreciation of the tremendous progress made by the authorities in Niger to return the country to constitutional order, ECOWAS leaders decided here Friday that the country can once again attend the meetings of the regional bloc, albeit as an observer. Niger's suspension could be totally lifted if the ongoing political transition programme in the country culminates in the restoration of democracy by March 2011, as contained in the transition time-table rolled out by the ruling junta.