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Mali/Niger: over 300,000 receive ICRC aid during food crisis

16-09-2010 News Footage Ref. V F CR-F-01064

Though the July rains this year held the promise of a more or less normal harvest in Mali and Niger, for many years both countries have been hit by repeated droughts.

The lack of heavy rain from September 2009 to July this year is one of the main causes of the serious food crisis in the region. Grazing land is dwindling and herders are having to cover ever greater distances with their animals to find green land. But this land often belongs to farmers, who are themselves increasingly struggling to find cultivable land. Scarcer resources exa cerbate intercommunal tension, and conflict is particularly violent in the dry season.

In this part of the Sahel region, almost 80 per cent of the population lives from stockbreeding and agriculture. With the lack of food and water, cattle die and their owners have no money left to buy basic necessities and grain. Sick animals stop producing milk and they fetch a pathetically low price on the market, since their meat is often not edible. Market gardeners are just as affected by drought as they are by the sudden and devastating floods: their crops are destroyed and farming equipment is swept away by the water. According to Unicef (June 2010), the level of general acute malnutrition in Niger has reached 16.7 per cent among children under the age of five – well above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent and the 2009 estimate of 12.3 per cent.

Since April this year, the ICRC has been working hard to mitigate the effects of the food crisis in the worst-hit parts of the two countries. In Niger, this includes the mountainous Aïr region, to the north of Agadez, and the Ouallam and Fillingué departments of the Tillabéri region in the northwest. In Mali, it is the Ansongo and Menaka areas, in the region around Gao, and the Kidal and Timbuktu regions. ICRC employees have paid good prices to purchase more than 36,000 heads of cattle, weak but still healthy, from local stockbreeders. The money the stockbreeders receive enables them to buy grain and other basic necessities. The cattle are slaughtered for their meat. If edible, it is distributed among vulnerable groups such as street children and detainees. The stockbreeders themselves get some of it too. In a parallel aid operation, nearly 200,000 people received food to tide them over until their next harvest, or to feed their remaining animals.

First tried by the ICRC in Somalia in 2006, this cattle-purchasing initiative has helped keep the food crisis under control in Mali and Niger, while at the same time reviving the local economy. However, with creeping desertification and a lack of infrastructure in this violence-prone environment, the future looks bleak. Fortunately, the fighting between Tuareg rebels and the government security forces in Niger has stopped. This has made it easier for people to get back to the work they had always done. But the people here have been through a lot and must often start from scratch with very little. 

Georgios Georgantas, who is responsible for ICRC operations in Mali and Niger, explained that people there had long lived in an environment featuring armed violence, banditry and all kinds of trafficking. " Of course, we're talking about a region that is under-developed, so there is also a lack of infrastructure. On top of that, there's a drought, which is really putting the lives of these people at risk. " In the UNDP's 2009 human development index, Mali was ranked 178th and Niger, in last place, at 182nd.

  Summary of ICRC operations in Mali and Niger since April 2010  

The ICRC has just finished an operation in northern Mali in which it purchased cattle locally and distributed the meat. The same operation had been conducted in June in the Aïr region of Niger.

In the same region, many thousands of farmers have, since May, been benefiting from distributions of both food-producing and dryland seeds.

In all, almost 300,000 farmers and stockbreeders – affected by the combined consequences of violence and drought in northern and western Niger and northern Mali – have benefited from the ICRC's various aid operations, i ncluding food distributions, over the last four months.

  1. Food rations were distributed to nearly 200,000 people to cover their needs for one to four months.

  2. Seed was distributed to nearly 65,000 people.

  3. Over 36,000 animals were purchased from their owners at favourable prices, then slaughtered and their meat distributed.

  4. More than 60,000 animals received veterinary care.

  5. In all, 625 tonnes of animal feed were distributed.

  Further information about the people interviewed  

1. Mannouga Dicko (Mali)

Mannouga Dicko is a nomadic herder from the Peul tribe, who lost some of his cattle to a year-long drought. He happened to hear about the ICRC's cattle-purchasing operation. Mannouga left his camp with his herd and made his way to Gossi market, where he sold some of his animals on to ICRC employees. He was then able to buy food to take home for both his family and cattle.

2. Shigidane Bilal (Niger)

Chief of the village of Bodari, 135 kilometres from Agades, this 60-year-old stockbreeder lost around 100 cows owing to the shortage of water and fodder. He also lost his garden, swept away by a flood in September 2009. We see him getting a food ration that will keep him and his family going for a month. Contrary to the majority of men in his village, who fled the violence-prone area, Shigidane stayed put during the insurrection. He says that the fact that the men have come back is a good sign but that he fears the theft of his cattle, which is very common in the region, and the presence of mines on the main roads.


MALI (between the towns of Mopti and Gao).

00:00 WS of herd (cows and goats) with mountains in the background.

00:04 CS of thin cows.

00:11 Goats eating bush.

00:18 Dead cows (3).

00:30 Huts of nomadic herders.

00:34 MS of child passing near settlement.

00:39 Cow brought to slaughtering place.

00:47 Butchers in action (5).

01:07 Helpers prepare the meat for distribution (4).

01:25 Soundbite (French) of Muphta Ag Yehia, of Agofou village, and ICRC consultant (Mopti area):

  "Of course, meat distributions have helped limit the food crisis. Families now have sufficient food for their daily needs."  

01:34 Second soundbite (French):

  " So the owners of these animals cannot feed them. At the same time they can't bring them to the market to sell them."  

01:46 Third soundbite (French):

  "The ICRC buys the animals from the people on the spot, slaughters them on the spot, and distributes the meat right there. It's an unprecedented initiative."  

01:58 Meat being distributed to the needy (children and the elderly) in Agofou village – (4).

02:35 Young girls with buckets full of meat on their heads (2).

02:45 A woman with two donkeys going to Gossi market.

02:50 Two donkeys in barren landscape eating their own droppings (2).

02:58 Mannouga Dicko, stockbreeder, going to market with his herd (3).

03:16 Gossi market with cows and camels (2).

03:25 Mannouga Dicko haggles with ICRC employees in charge of buying cows (3).

03:43 Soundbite (Peul) of Mannouga Dicko:

  "I've brought my cattle to sell to the ICRC. There's no way we can get a good price for cows at the market."  

03:53 Sick cows (2).

04:02 Deal is closed between Mannouga Dicko and ICRC employees (2).

04:18 Second soundbite (Peul) of Mannouga Dicko:

  "I hope to go back with enough to feed my children, buy flour for the cattle and water, for we also have a water shortage."  

04:28 Cows passing in front of Mannouga Dicko and merchants.

04:33 Third soundbite (Peul) of Mannouga Dicko:

  "We can't repay their kindness, but we can't refuse this help either. You know, if we did, we would certainly be dead by now."  

04:46 Mali flag blowing in the wind.

04:51 MS of flagpole at Gossi market.

04:55 Bags of grain.

04:59 A deal.

05:08 Bags of food.

05: 14 Women preparing meals at the market.

05:19 Soundbite (French) of Moussa Ag Minar, mayor of Gossi:

  "Animal farming is Mali's livelihood, but Mali is a forsaken country. So this time they have understood that they must not give up animal farming. It's rare that you're paid for your cow, and on top of that, you are given meat, and even the hide! The farmers are delighted."  

NIGER (Aïr region)

05:38 Tuaregs on camels.

05:43 Various shots of Bodari (3).

05:58 Soundbite (French), ITW Georgios Georgantas, deputy head for ICRC operations in Mali and Niger:

  "People in northern Mali and Niger have long lived in an environment featuring armed violence, banditry and all kinds of trafficking. Of course, we're talking about a region that is under-developed, so there is also a lack of infrastructure. On top of that, there's a drought, which is really putting the lives of these people at risk."  

06:21 Tuaregs in Ingadawel village waiting for distribution to begin

06:25 People registering for distribution (2).

06:38 People standing in front of bags of food and other items.

06:42 Soundbite (Tamashek), ITW Allal Abdoulaye:

  "Now that things have calmed down a bit, people have started returning to their homes. But they've lost almost everything. They can't work like they did before, everything's come to a stop: the market gardeners can't garden, 06:52 the stockbreeders don't have herds since so many animals have died. And there's a water shortage. And there's just a lot of tension these days. But at least, thank God, everyone has come back."  

07:00 MS of people carrying bags away (3).

07:20 Soundbite (Tamashek), ITW Nana Abdoulaye:

  "As you know, we're in the lean season. This food is going to keep us going for a while as we wait for better times – especially the rainy season."  

07:36 Distribution in Dabaga village.

07:40 ICRC employee calling out the names of those registered for distribution.

07:46 Faces of old people (2).

07:53 Shigidane Bilal arrives to be registered (2)

08:12 Bags of food in piles.

08:16 Teabags.

08:20 Women sitting on floor with food aid.

08:24 Bilal gets his grain ration (millet).

08:29 CS of Shigidane's face.

08:33 ICRC helper filling a bowl with grain.

08:39 Bowl of grain poured into Shigidane's sack.

08:47 Soundbite, ITW Shigidane Bilal (Tamashek – 25 " ):

  "With the money we got from selling cattle to the ICRC, we've been able to buy provisions to keep us going until next month. Some farmers have bought pesticides and paid people to work their land. Some have animals; others don't. Those with animals have given what they can to those without, whether money or actual animals."  

09:12 Tuaregs going away with loaded camels.

09:17 Shigidane serving tea in front of his hut (3).

09:29 Shigidane's wife weaving (3).

09:43 Shigidane handing out cups of tea to his family (3).

09:55 Sunset.

10:00 END


For further information, please contact:
  Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva: tel +41 79 217 32 17
  Ziad Abu Laban, ICRC Niamey: tel +227 97 45 43 82
  Saadatou Malam Barmou, ICRC Niamey: tel +227 96 59 20 98
  Attaher Maiga, ICRC Bamako: tel +223 66 75 26 18

  For information on footage and FTP access , please contact:
Didier Revol, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 36 81 or +41 79 217 32 82 ;  


  • Copyright: ICRC
  • Release year: July 2010
  • Production locations: northern Mali / Niger
  • Running time: 10'00''
  • Languages available: French, Peul, Tamashek
  • Reference: V F CR-F-01064

Format: 16:9 anamorphic

Production : Didier Revol / Ziad Abu Laban

Editing: Aurore Vervaeke

Rights: ICRC Access All