The distance between Kiev and Bern is around 2,000 kilometres. When Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, we in Switzerland followed the situation “live” via ticker. The flood of information was almost overwhelming, as was the sense of shock. The distance between Kiev and Kiéché is only about twice as long. Many of the inhabitants of this village in southeastern Niger are still unaware of the war raging in Europe. Yet they feel it all the more. At first hand. And brutally. “Prices are exploding. If this goes on, I won’t be able to feed my children anymore,” Zouera Idrissa tells our staff on the ground. Abdoul Moumouni Seydou is also worried. “Prices have almost doubled. It’s a disaster.”
Countries like Niger are being hit particularly hard. The poverty rate is high, hunger is rampant. Many areas have no access to drinking water, and the soil in the fields is worn out. Niger ranks 115th out of 121 countries in the 2022 Global Hunger Index. The developments are a cause for concern in many countries, as the food problem becomes much more severe. In 2022, 44 countries were considered to have serious or alarming hunger levels.
Solidarity with India
This situation is also confirmed by a survey of 14,000 households conducted by SWISSAID together with the Sufosec alliance. The results are indeed alarming, with one in four households being affected by hunger between 2020 and 2022. Two out of three families have limited access to food. There are various reasons for this, starting with the climate crisis and the resulting droughts and weather extremes. Then there is the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which will continue to be felt by vulnerable countries in particular for years to come. Then come the regional and local crises. And then there is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which fuelled the hunger crisis in the Global South in 2022. But why is this? “Our interconnected global food system results in a dangerous overreliance,” says Sabin Bieri, co-director of the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern.
“Naturally, wars always have a significant impact on the food situation because fields in the countries affected can’t be cultivated as usual. But in Ukraine, with its extremely fertile black soil, the impact is so much more severe as the country is one of the world’s largest grain producers, together with Russia.” Fertiliser, fuel and vegetable oil were also shipped from the Black Sea all over the world. African countries in particular are dependent on imports, and Russia is using this to its advantage: “Hunger has always been used as a tool of war. Putin is putting the world under pressure, and demonstrating his power,” explains Sabin Bieri.
Zouera Idrissa with her children: thanks to SWISSAID, there is enough food for the whole family again.
Providing short-term relief
As the political situation intensified in February 2022, energy and food prices that were already high due to the pandemic began to rise further. With immediate – and global – effect. Including in Africa. Including in Kiéché in Niger, where Zouera Idrissa already had enough trouble feeding herself and her four children.
Thanks to its strong local roots – having been active in Niger since 1974 – SWISSAID quickly recognised the urgency and was one of the few NGOs able to start an emergency aid project immediately together with its partner organisations. Local staff distributed food parcels to 8,400 households last summer, with 25 kilogrammes of rice, pulses, five litres of vegetable oil and iodised salt helping to manage the worst of the hunger.
A multifaceted approach
The goal, therefore, must be to build more sustainable, regionally networked and socially acceptable food systems to avoid overreliance on the global market in the future. One such approach, and one that SWISSAID has been pursuing in its projects for years, is agroecology.
Agroecology is a multifaceted approach that strengthens local production and promotes the autonomy of smallholder families. It focuses for example on regional sales channels via local markets and ensures the circulation of local, environmentally adapted and resilient seeds, thereby protecting crops from environmental influences. “Agroecology is allowing us to get at least at step closer to the UN’s sustainability goals,” says Nicole Stolz, head of Development Cooperation at SWISSAID. “It’s also helping the countries of the Global South to become more autonomous, less dependent on the big players and thus less vulnerable to global crises.”
SWISSAID, together with its Sufosec alliance partners, has proven that these are not just empty words. Last year, 52,000 families were able to learn about agroecological methods for the first time and benefit from an improvement in their livelihoods. By 2024, the alliance aims to reduce hunger and malnutrition in its project areas by 20 percent. It is estimated that this means around 100,000 fewer people will no longer have to go to bed hungry. This is an important step towards a world without hunger. Despite all the wars and crises.