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UN Agriculture Official Receives Niger Top Honour

UN agriculture agency official receives Niger's top honour

21 May 2008 - The head of the Niger office of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been bestowed with the West African nation's highest honour for her work in the fields of agriculture and assisting the rural population.

Maria Helena de Morais Semedo, who has been in charge of the agency's office in the capital Niamey since 2003, received the award in a ceremony presided over by Minister of Agricultural Development Mahamane Moussa.

More than one-third of the 34 million people in Niger are undernourished, according to FAO. The landlocked nation, which is largely desert and dependent on farming and some mineral wealth, is among the poorest in the world.

Since Ms. Semedo's arrival in Niger, FAO's assistance to the country has climbed to more than $40 million.

In 1995, the agency launched the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), currently active in 6 of the country's 8 regions, reaching nearly 200 villages and some 8,000 households, or roughly 60,000 people. Also as part of SPFS, Niger participates in a scheme in which developing countries assist one another, with Moroccan technicians working with farmers in Niger to boost farming conditions.

The country's first agricultural and livestock census was held by FAO in 2004. Funded by the European Union and Niger's Government, the survey showed that the country's resources have been significantly underestimated. It was revealed that Niger has more than 30 million heads of livestock, 30 per cent more than previously assumed.

FAO has also helped to enhance agriculture in Niger by promoting fertilizers and an inventory credit system allowing low-income farmers to access credit, with more than 2 billion CFA having been warranted to date.

The agency is also assisting Niger tackle virulent plant and animal pests and diseases - including the desert locust and avian influenza - which pose a risk to local and regional economies.

ENDS

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