Floods threaten Niger's main rice crop: minister
NIAMEY (Reuters) - Floods could wipe out most of Niger's main rice harvest this year as rain-swollen rivers rose to 50-year highs across West Africa, spreading devastation, a regional official said.
At least 81 people have been killed in Niger since annual rains caused flooding along the banks of the Niger River, raising its waters to their highest levels since the 1920s.
The country and surrounding region are still struggling to overcome food shortages caused by poor rains last year.
"In Niger ... most of the rainy season rice crop, estimated at over 80,000 metric tons, risks being destroyed this year," Tiena Coulibaly, a Malian government minister told Niger's state television.
Coulibaly was speaking after chairing a meeting of ministers in Niamey focused on tackling food shortages and increasing production. The comments were broadcast on Friday after a meeting on Thursday.
Niger, a country with high population growth that lies just south of the Sahara, produces about 130,000 metric tons of rice a year, with a dry season crop harvest bringing in about 50,000 metric tons.
Another 200,000-300,000 metric tons are imported to fill the gap in rising demand.
About 18 million people across an arid strip of nations stretching from Senegal in the west to Chad in the east faced a food and nutrition crisis after last year's poor rains, the latest in a cycle of shortages to strike the zone.
(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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