In Niger, groups of women fight against sand encroachment

Women participating in an extensive nation-wide sand encroachment programme by growing mesquite.
Women participating in an extensive nation-wide sand encroachment programme by growing mesquite. (Photo: PLECO/UNDP Niger)

Squatting among around 15 women wrapped in beautiful colourful fabrics, Bintou Bira, well over 60, picks up handfuls of sand and puts it into plastic bags. Over the  last several months, her group of 73 female nursery workers, in collaboration with the authorities of Mainé Soroa in southeastern Niger, has amassed thousands of bags.

Supported by UNDP and the Global Environment Facility, they are participating in an extensive nationwide sand encroachment programme by growing mesquite, a local plant used to block sand encroachment due to its deep roots. In the towns of Diffa and Zinder alone – located near Korsorom, where Bitou lives – 4,219 hectares of dunes were stabilized on 58 different sites.

Highlights

  • The programme contributed to clearing the sand from 29,500 hectares of land and restored 58 oases.
  • More than 17,000 beneficiaries, including many women, received seeds, livestock and training to improve their crops.
  • The programme also supported the reconstruction of over 6,000 damaged buildings, including houses, schools and wells.

As a result of this programme, the women were paid per plant and earned around US $800 over the course of five months, which they used to feed their households and take care of their children. They also receive meals on-site from the World Food Programme, which co-sponsored the project.

"This project gives us a livelihood; thanks to the project, we have food and a bit of money. We no longer need to leave our communities."

Since successive droughts have decimated the local livestock, Bintou and the other women in her village have turned to extracting palm pulp that they exchanged in neighbouring Nigeria for some staples. With the Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram and the insecurity that it has engendered in northern Nigeria, "we no longer want to cross the border. It's too dangerous."

Through the whole national territory, the programme has contributed to clearing the sand from 29,500 hectares of land and has restored 58 oases. Since 2011, following recurrent food crises, UNDP has strengthened its support to the recently elected Government of Niger to help improve food security throughout the entire country.

That year, UNDP helped the Government of Niger to launch the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Acceleration Framework, an ambitious initiative to eliminate bottlenecks to certain objectives. The country opted for food security and allocated US $30 million to help eliminate hunger in the country.

Since then, UNDP support has addressed many aspects:  support for smallholder farmers and the development of infrastructure, the establishment of safety nets within communities, and support to planning within the Government.

In 2013, UNDP supported 17,094 beneficiaries in four Departments, including many women, by helping them improve their crops through the provision of improved seeds, livestock and training. Following an agricultural deficit and floods in 2013, UNDP also supported the reconstruction of 6,328 damaged structures, including houses, schools and wells.