By United Nations
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20 January - The United Nations food agencies are urging continued assistance for Niger, where acute malnutrition rates remain high despite a good harvest and millions need help to avoid another food crisis.

Last year the Government of Niger, sup
ported by the UN, launched a massive humanitarian intervention which averted the worst effects of a food and nutrition crisis that threatened the lives of more than seven million people and the livelihoods of the country's farmers and pastoralists.

As part of that effort, the World Food Programme (WFP) delivered emergency food assistance to more than 5 million people, including vulnerable groups such as children under five, and pregnant or lactating women.

In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provided 13,000 tonnes of animal feed and distributed over 3,400 tonnes of quality seeds, covering 94 per cent of affected villages.

These interventions, coupled with a good rainy season in 2010, led to a 60 per cent increase in domestic cereal production. Livestock that survived the drought were also restored to health as pastures returned.

However, according to a joint assessment published today by the two Rome-based UN agencies, the acute malnutrition rate was still above 15 per cent in most parts of the country in October and November, reaching 17 per cent in the area around Agadez and Zinder.

“Food and non-food assistance is still necessary to reconstitute the resilience capacity of the affected populations to allow them to have independent access to food,” said the report.

The agencies are calling for assistance to pastoralists to help them replenish their livestock, help with restoring cereal banks and reconstituting the national grain stock, as well as continued support of feeding centres for malnourished people.

Assistance needs to begin immediately, they stressed, so that farmers will have the necessary quality seeds and fertilizers before the next planting season that starts in May.