“Today is a day of hope,” said Haman Abdou. “With the help of Caritas, I know I’ll have enough to sow my field as soon as the rain begins to fall.”
Haman Abdou is a local farmer living in the Ouallam region, 160 km north of Niamey, Niger’s capital. He is one of the many people who will receive free seeds at a Caritas supported ‘seed fair’ in Koira Bano, a village in the area. It is part of the emergency response launched by Caritas for West African countries in the Sahel region.
“The last harvest was very poor,” he said. “With erratic rainfall and locusts, I have produced almost nothing. I have struggled for months to find enough food for my family. It has been impossible to save seed for the next farming season under these conditions. The seed fair is a blessing for us.”
Local Caritas Emergency Officer Prospère Yougare is responsible for organising the seed fair in Koira Bano. “They provide farmers with the seeds they need. It means they are not forced to leave for cities or neighbouring countries. Today, more than 350 farmers came. Each will receive vouchers worth 15,000 CFA francs (about xx) to buy seed.”
Selling the seed are local merchants. “They know which seeds will work best in the area,” said Prospère Yougare. “It also helps preserve the local economy, reduces transportation costs and allows the activity to benefit a greater number of families.” Caritas starts by organising fairs just ahead of the rainy season. “If we distribute the seeds too early, farmers and their families may use them for food”, he said.
Caritas has set up a range of programmes in Niger and across the Sahel to enable people to feed themselves while strengthening their ability to address the causes of cyclical food crises. These include programmes such as ‘food for work’, where people are given food to carry out manual labour directed at improving their communities vulnerability to drought.
“At the end of the day, I have enough grain to feed my family and we are involved in the recovery of land around my village,” said Abdul Kadel. He is one of the many people who have come to work in Karma, a semi-desert area 60 km west of Niamey. Braving the sandstorm, men, women and children are busy digging half-moon ditches that help water retention.
Caritas Niger’s Didier Assogba said, “Rainwater will be retained in the channels dug by the people and we will plant grass to serve as pasture for their animals. Once soil fertility returns, the area will again be planted with different types of cereals.”
For each half-moon carved, the person receives 1.5 kg of cereal. When food is again available for sale at affordable prices in local markets, people are paid in cash for their finished works. Currently in Karma, as in many others parts of Niger, local markets are empty or the prices are exorbitant.
Food speculation, poor harvests, drought and poverty has cause a crisis in Niger. “Malnutrition is widespread,” said Raymond Yoro, Secretary General of CADEV (Caritas Niger). “Our priority is to support young children and women who are most vulnerable to hunger.”
Teams of Caritas volunteers identify cases of malnourished children in their communities. They are then referred to Caritas-supported feeding centres, where they receive food supplements. Mothers also receive food to keep them healthy and allow them to continue to breastfeed their babies. More than 8000 families will receive such support from Caritas this year.
Caritas also helps villages by digging wells and creating grain storage banks.
“The grain banks allow us to have access to grain at an affordable price when we have exhausted our reserves,” said Larabou Saidou, a local in Koira Bano.
Caritas also provides women with small loans to finance income-generating activities. In the same village, Zuinabou Allasane received two of these small loans. “With the money, I bought two goats. They give us milk to sell. I was able to improve our diet and even buy some clothes for the children.”
One of her neighbours said, “With the wells that Caritas has dug, with the vegetable seeds and the training we received, we have cultivated gardens. This allows us to have a small income. It’s good for us women, we feel less vulnerable to hunger.”
“The priority now is to support farmers and their families with free handouts,” says Raymond Yoro. “We want farmers to have enough to cultivate the fields, hoping that the rains will be sufficient to ensure a good harvest this year.”
Over 18 million people are affected by the West Africa food crisis. In some areas, thousands suffer from hunger. Caritas will directly support more than 700,000 people across the Sahel.
“The mobilisation of Caritas organisations around the world saves lives here,” said Raymond Yoro. “After the food crisis of 2010 and with poor harvests from 2011 to 2012, people had only very few resources and are now in a very difficult situation. If the next rains are poor, we will be facing a catastrophic crisis.