A Sultan and half-moons strengthen communities in Niger

 WFP Photo

Making Sustainable Livelyhoods for families living in the Sahel

For centuries, the people of Sahel have lived as nomadic pastoralists, migrating with their herds across an arid region, in search of food and water. Already accustomed to the harsh living conditions and hot climate, recent changes in rainfall patterns and a rise in temperature have made it increasingly difficult for them to access arable land to grow food for their families. In Niger, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is strengthening the resilience of local communities.

Over the years, food prices have risen in the Sahel, but these have not translated into higher incomes for smallholder farmers. For people in Niger, a land-locked country at the bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index, having access to food is a matter of life or death: one in ten children does not reach the age of five. Since 2000, the country has faced four food crises, most recently in 2012.

It is estimated that 2.5 million people in Niger habitually lack sufficient food, even when harvests are good. During the lean season, many more people quickly fall into severe food insecurity.

WFP Photo

Lack of access to arable land is preventing communities in Niger from growing sufficient food for their families. Many people who work on arable land often do not own it; they work for low wages usually on empty stomachs. Determined to find a lasting solution for vulnerable families in Niger, WFP has started an innovative project in Zinder, in the south-central region, which is already improving lives.

The Sultan of Zinder has both a spiritual and traditional role in society and, thanks to this, he enjoys substantial support from his people and local authorities. As a ‘moderator’, he works together with WFP and local chiefs, to convince well-off landowners to rehabilitate their land, making it arable again.

WFP has stepped in with Food & Cash Assistance for Assets projects, providing vulnerable households with food aid, in return for their efforts to regenerate the land. Besides food, the beneficiaries involved in the project receive part of the land they have been working on as a lease from the landowner for a defined period (preferably lasting for as long as possible, up to 99 years), with access to arable land enabling them to grow crops for their families.

The project also allows them to plan better, sometimes gaining enough confidence to invest in other resources to increase their income. The land agreement is concluded with a contract, signed by the landowner, beneficiaries, local authorities and WFP.

This resilience project assists very poor households for a three-year period, giving them the chance to raise their living standards to become self-sufficient and, most importantly, bolster them against future shocks. A long-term land lease is a solution for these households who may either consume or sell their crops.

pam 562

Recurring shocks are prevalent and likely to continue, due in large part to climate change. “The resilience project is the backbone of our operations in Niger. Without these types of interventions, there would be recurrent emergencies year after year. The only way to build resilience is to build livelihoods, and invest in people for some years,” says Benoit Thiry, WFP’s Country Director in Niger.

In Zinder, more than 51 000 people benefitted from such projects between January and May 2015, while nearly 111 000 people out of a total 530 000 have received unconditional assistance during the current lean season.

Together with the community, WFP and its partners plan ways to strengthen households’ resilience. In some areas, irrigation measures such as half-moon water catchments are popular. WFP in Niger is also working together with FAO to provide households with improved seeds, further augmenting their agricultural output.

In the village of Wara Wara, where a pond was cleared through a WFP Food & Cash Assistance for Assets project, the villagers can now fish, and land is being rehabilitated for agriculture. Megani Maman, a 25-year-old father of five, says that before WFP’s intervention he did not have much to live on. “I used to cut down trees and sell the wood. I also worked in Northern Nigeria, but due to the conflict this has become too dangerous.”

“Since the pond has been cleared I have enough food for my family, and I can stay home with them. This has a lasting benefit on my children’s lives,” he adds.

When the local chief is asked whether this project should be implemented elsewhere, he responds positively: “Yes, everywhere! The whole village here agrees with the project. It is because they have seen concrete results.”