In Niger, climate change strategies keep hunger away

women in a field in Niger
The project has established empowerment initiatives such as market gardening for rural women, who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Photo: UNDP Niger

With two-thirds of its surface covered by desert, Niger is experiencing severe and recurrent food crises, a situation exacerbated by the droughts resulting from climate change.

Abdou Diori, a farmer from the village of Soudouré, not far from the capital Niamey, had no other option but to perform odd jobs to cope with the consequences of poor agricultural seasons. These days, however, he is pleased to have joined the National Action Programme for Adaptation (NAPA), jointly funded by Canada and UNDP, which supports local producers to assist them in the pilot use of improved seeds.

Highlights

  • The primary objective of the project is to strengthen resilience to climate change in the agriculture and water sectors.
  • 25,000 farmers who used improved seeds harvested yields two to three times greater than those obtained by farmers using traditional seeds.
  • With improved harvests, many farmers no longer need to leave the village in search of work.
  • The project also encompasses activities that generate income for rural women.

"Initially we were seen as guinea pigs,” Abdou says. “Nobody wanted to have anything to do with products with which they were personally unfamiliar. We ourselves were sceptical, but the benefits are far greater than those associated with traditional seeds, especially in a country such as Niger where rainfall is very unevenly distributed. Nowadays, even those farmers who were initially reluctant are using these seeds."

The improved seeds are derived from the grains (millet, cowpea and sorghum) that are most commonly consumed in Niger. They are adapted to withstand drought and allow for multiple harvests per season, through a partnership with the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRAN).

Initially the project was based on pilot farmers with a view to testing the use of improved seeds while allowing other producers to witness the comparative advantages afforded by these new seeds.

"The production cycle lasts no more than two months," INRAN expert Maïdagi Mamane explains, adding that the improved seeds have the advantage of generating greater yields compared to traditional seeds. "For one hectare cultivated with improved seeds, the farmer can harvest between 700 and 800 kilograms, whereas with traditional seed, the yield varies between 300 and 400 kilograms."

Djibo Sounna, a seed producer from the village of Badoko, agrees: "I'm already at the harvesting stage, but my neighbours, who do not use improved seeds, are still waiting. One of the biggest differences is the yield. I'll be sure to harvest three times more than these neighbours do on the same surface area."

Each kilogram of seeds from the harvests is bought back by the project for a sum of 500 CFA Francs, this being half of the purchase price of a traditional seed. For an investment of 80,000 CFA Francs per hectare, a farmer can earn about 400,000 CFA Francs (about 600 euro).

During the first phase of the project between 2010 and 2013, NAPA anticipated just 50 farmers using the new seeds, but in fact nearly 10,000 farmers got involved in the experiment.

In 2015, 25,000 new producers, including more than 7,500 women, used improved seeds. "With traditional seeds, I harvested barely enough to feed my family for three to four months. In the following months, I found myself forced to leave the village to work elsewhere and find money to pay for food. Yet nowadays I am extremely satisfied with what I harvest because I am in a position to provide very well for my family, and I can do so without leaving my village," Djibo says.

Since the men often leave the villages to seek work in the city, it is rural women who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In response the project has set up women’s empowerment initiatives such as market gardening, sewing or sheep fattening.

"A sheep that was bought for 40,000 CFA Francs (60 euro) can, when fattened up, be resold for 100,000 CFA Francs (150 euro) or more," says Garba Aboubacary, project support officer for the NAPA office in Roumbou.

In each of the target communities, the project gives two sheep to women previously identified as vulnerable. Once the women have built up their herds, they sell the sheep and use the profits to carry out other income-generating activities such as small-scale trading.

The project has also strengthened the capacity of women in terms of administrative management and community living (associations and cooperatives), thereby enabling some among them to engage in entrepreneurship. "I belong to a women's group whose members practice sewing and dyeing,” Says Hadizatou Ebiliki, from the village of Aderbissanet. “You see, I am disabled, but I am completely independent thanks to my sewing. I no longer have to wait for my husband to help me."

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