The UN food agency said Wednesday it was stepping up aid to herders and shepherds in Niger and Chad as the two African countries face a food crisis following poor rains last year.


Livestock pastures have dried out and agricultural production had plunged in both Saharan countries, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a statement.

"An estimated 9.8 million people are now vulnerable to severe hunger in the two countries, with thousands more under threat in the north of Burkina Faso and northeast Mali," the Rome-based agency said.

"The situation in the region is very worrying indeed," said Fatouma Seid, the FAO's coordinator for west Africa.

"Poor livestock herders are being forced to sell their only assets and an important source of nutrition, their animals, at discount prices in order to buy enough food for their families while farmers have no seeds to plant," she said.

The FAO said it would finance the purchase and distribution of livestock feed, fertilisers and crop seed worth 12.7 million dollars (9.5 million euros) in Niger and 4.5 million dollars in Chad.

The organisation will also fund a 4.1 million dollar programme to improve Niger's agricultural infrastructure through the reproduction of quality seeds, strengthening farmers' organisations and easing credit by allowing farmers to borrow against their crops.

"The priority for FAO is to get feed to animals and to supply farmers with the seeds for the June planting season," Seid said.

The FAO is also distributing veterinary products and livestock feed to shepherds in Mali and Burkina Faso.