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Notes from the Field
Posted by: BARUME BISIMWA ZIBA at 3:19AM EST on March 22, 2013
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Posted by: Staci Dixon at 4:22PM EST on August 17, 2012
Today, 18.7 million people are affected by the crisis, more than 1.1 million people are suffering from severe malnutrition and an additional 3 million have moderate malnutrition.
CARE is on the ground in Chad, Mali and Niger, where millions of people are and in dire need of assistance, relief and long-term planning. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, especially those under the age of 2. CARE's emergency response and recovery program is providing access to food via cash transfer and direct distribution, and improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene. At the same time CARE's long-term development programs such as women-led savings groups and cereal banks help people build and protect assets. In CARE's experience, empowering women strengthens community resilience during crises.
Posted by: Andisheh Nouraee at 4:11PM EST on July 19, 2012
Writing in Mediaplanet's latest "Investing in Africa" supplement in USA Today, CARE President and CEO Helene Gayle says the food emergency gripping the Sahel region of West Africa should not have caught anyone off guard.
The Sahel's rainy seasons have become shorter and less predictable in recent years. In chronically poor and undeveloped communities that rely on local harvests for food and income, unpredictable rains lead to a predictable result: hunger.
Predictable, but not inevitable.
Gayle urges governments, aid groups and donor groups to take a more proactive approach to food security.
CARE is in the Sahel helping farmers improve their irrigation and water storage techniques. We're providing access to drought tolerant varieties of grain that can grow from seeds into food even during shortened rainy seasons. And we've helped build hundreds of community-led savings groups that help entire towns collect and grow their asset base to be better prepared when emergencies arise.
If a slew of proactive solutions to food emergencies sound too idealistic or pie-in-the-sky, consider this:
If you've read this far into this blog post, you're probably the sort of person who would enjoy reading the entire "Investing in Africa" supplement. In addition to Dr. Gayle's introduction, there are great contributions from Liberian President (and Nobel Laureate!) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, some of CARE's great peer organizations, and, of course, the great staff at Mediaplanet.
To learn more about the food emergency in the Sahel and CARE's work there, click here.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:33AM EST on June 1, 2012
By Rodrigo Ordóñez
In the last few weeks, I have talked to families in several regions of Niger, while traveling on my own or when taking journalists to the field. Despite the variety of personal circumstances, certain elements appear often in people's stories.
Life has never been easy for these people. They've increasingly got used to enduring what others would consider unbearable. Their ability to eat has been highly dependent on weather and rains since they can remember. Most families have lost children because they couldn't feed them and they fell ill easily.
This cycle of poverty has become the ‘new normal' for them.
This is also the case for the people I talked to in Saran Maradi, a village in the region of Maradi, southern Niger.
This year has been harsher than usual, and crops were insufficient to feed their families. They couldn't afford to buy food in the markets either, because of the high prices. Only a few people in the village have grain left, but it's only for planting. Many sold their goats or sheep to buy food, but the prices are low, up to half of the standard price.
CARE is providing income to 61 families in Saran Maradi so they can buy food during what is commonly known as the ‘lean season,' the gap between the time people run out of food stocks and the next harvest. "It's a support that came at the right moment," says Achirou Inoussa, a 42-year-old man from Saran Maradi. People receive cash in exchange for part-time work in projects identified by their community, or as a handout in the cases where nobody in the family is able to perform manual labor.
The cost of this type of emergency project is relatively low, but it has a very tangible impact.
"Normally, around this time of the year, all the young people are gone," says Moussa Garba, an elderly man who claims to be over 80, although he doesn't know exactly. Sitting under a tree, he and other men explain to a visitor that during the nine months of the dry season most men in the village go to Nigeria to work in low-qualification jobs; as porters, water sellers, or emptying septic tanks. This year, however, some came back when they found out about CARE's project and the opportunity to earn a living in their doorstep.
Apart from preventing seasonal migration, cash-for-work projects bring extra benefits to the communities. In Saran Maradi, people are turning an unused piece of land into pasture. After removing weeds, they sow grains which will germinate during the rainy season and create a new area for cattle to graze.
I was interested in knowing more about the impact of this project in the homes, so I talked to women; they are generally the ones who face directly the difficulties to feed their families in times of hardship. I wanted to know what they were eating before and after this project started.
Delou, Halima, Maka, Mariama, Sahara and Sakina benefitted from this project. They are mothers and grandmothers between the ages of 25 and 80.
All combined, they have 41 children, although their families could have been larger. Through the years, these six women have suffered the loss of 24 sons and daughters in total. Sahara Mahama, 40, lost four children; one of them was only 14 days old. "I lost the youngest one during the rains, in the lean season. I didn't have enough to eat," she laments.
All of them emphasize that this year there wasn't enough rain, and little to eat. "Two years ago at least there were people who harvested spikes of millet, but this year the crops have been worse because of the drought and the leaf miners," says Delou Ibrahim, 70.
CARE's support has allowed them to feed their families at a critical time.
"Before this support, I couldn't; I was eating leaves," explains Maka Ali, an 80-year-old widow. "Not only can we buy millet and sorghum now, but also corn and condiments," explains Mariama Oumarou, 55.
"With this support, we get to eat abundantly," explains Halima Abdou, 25. She and the other women I talked to are now able to give their children two daily meals; porridge in the morning and sorghum paste in the evening.
Delou Ibrahim has four children and suffered the loss of nine. She has about 40 grandchildren, 16 of which live with her.
"I've seen several crises. The famine in 1984 was the hardest. Rains were very weak. The stems of millet came out but the spikes gave no grain - nothing," she recalls. "Two years ago at least there were people who harvested millet, but this year the crops have been worse because of the drought and the leaf miners."
Delou's last crop was 30kg, which only provided food for about two days. Delou and her family receive cash from CARE. "I get to buy cereal to feed my family, particularly my grandchildren." They have two daily meals, porridge in the morning and sorghum paste in the evening.
Halima Abdou has five children. Sakina Moudi has six children and suffered the loss of one.
Last year they harvested 40kg of cereal. "It only lasted for five days," says Sakina. This year they didn't get any crops.
In the periods without food, their husband collects and sells wood to buy yam flour. Now their husband participates in CARE's cash-for-work project and continues to sell firewood to get additional income. "With this support, we get to eat abundantly," explains Halima. "We buy millet, sorghum, and corn." They serve their children two meals per day, one in the morning and one in the evening.
Maka Ali has been a widow for twenty years. She has eight children and about twenty grandchildren. She has experienced the loss of six children, four of them at an early age. "I was alone taking care of them, so I cannot say their deaths weren't related to lack of food," Maka recalls.
Nobody in her family can work, so she receives a cash transfer from CARE. "When I receive the payment, I buy sorghum and maize," Maka explains. "Before this support, I couldn't; I was eating leaves."
Sahara Mahama has seven sons and a daughter. She lost four other children; one of them was only 14 days old. "I lost the youngest one during the rains, in the lean season. I didn't have enough to eat."
Eating has become increasingly harder through the years, recalls Sahara. "When I was a kid, we used to have three meals: in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.” However, one meal a day has now become the norm. "It's never guaranteed, but we try."
Sahara participates in CARE's cash-for-work project. With the money she receives, she buys cereal and gives her children two meals per day.
Mariama Oumarou has ten children and three grandchildren. Through the years she has lost four children and two grandchildren. She participates in CARE's cash-for-work project. "Not only can we buy millet and sorghum now, but also corn and condiments."
Posted by: Andisheh Nouraee at 5:03PM EST on May 30, 2012
With well over one-third of its 17 million citizens in need of emergency food assistance, Niger is a less-than-ideal place to flee to safety and relief. Nevertheless, that's exactly what more than 41,000 people from neighboring Mali have done in recent months, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Like every country in the western Sahel, Mali is experiencing a rapidly worsening food crisis. Unlike its neighbors, however, Mali is also experiencing a violent political conflict that has forced more than 320,000 Malians from their homes. Despite the fact they simply don't have the resources to support new arrivals, reports indicate Malians are greeted in Niger with kindness and understanding.
CARE Niger's Ibrahim Niandou recently visited some Malian refugees in Niger and shared some of their stories with his CARE colleagues. The dignity and grace of the people Ibrahim spoke to are inspiring.
Omar: From Aderamboukan to Hamatta camp
By Ibrahim Niandou, CARE Niger
May 16, 2012
“Right now, I don’t have anything to give to my family for dinner – but we will overcome our current problems, at least we are safe here,” mutters Omar, his gaze lost in the crimson lights of sunset.
Omar Intifelan, 33, is a Malian refugee in the camp of Hamatta, about ten kilometers away from Banibangou, Niger. Omar lived in the town of Andaramboukan, in Mali. There he had a plot of land which gave him enough vegetables and resources to fund his marriage with Fatima, now 29 years old, and to cover the essential needs of his family.
The couple has four children. The oldest, Amoullaka, 13, attended fifth grade at the school in Anderamboukan. Back home, the three other children, Adissa, Mohamed and Tamissa, between the ages of 1 and 7, entertained the family endlessly with their noisy but joyful games. The happiest moments were those when the entire family relaxed in the garden, amid cabbages and lettuce.
Happiness ended abruptly for Omar and his family one day in January, when armed men attacked their village.
Like many other families, Omar fled with his wife and his four children towards the only nearby destination that seemed safe: Niger. They initially settled in the village of Chinnegodar, across the border but only 18 kilometers away from their village. Their stay lasted for four months, and proved difficult.
“We had left our home without carrying anything. We depended on other people’s charity to survive but every day we hoped that things would calm down back home and we would be able to return,” recalls Omar. “Unfortunately, fighting has only worsened and more families kept arriving from Mali. Given the close proximity to the border and the possible spillover of armed fighting, the Nigerien government advised us to leave Chinnegodar. It is so that we arrived here, to Hamatta camp,” Omar explains.
In barely two weeks, the refugees have created a real village at the outskirts of Banibangou. Hamatta camp’s hastily erected huts host 2,295 people, including 1,265 women and 354 children under the age of five. The camp residents hail from different areas in northern Mali, such as Aderamboukan, Ansongo, Gao, Kidal and Menaka.
The people of Hamatta camp live day-to-day thanks to the solidarity of the people of Banibangou, who were already badly affected by the prevalent food crisis.
“It is terrible to find ourselves so dependent on others, without the bare minimum to live decently, and without knowing until when this will last. The news coming out of our native Mali is not reassuring. On top of that, my daughter Amoullaka does not go to school anymore, which further compromises our future,” laments Omar.
Almost 13,500 Malian refugees and Nigerien returnees are now living precariously in different sites around Banibangou. In addition, 40,497 are living in similar conditions in the areas of Abala, Ayorou, Ouallam and Tilia.
“People here are hungry; they have nothing,” points out the camp leader, Aminata Welt Issa Fassan. “Without emergency aid, we risk losing some of them.”
“This are tough times; very tough ones,” concludes Omar, “but I hope that human solidarity will allow us to overcome these problems and that in the near future we will be able return to our village of Aderamboukan and to the happiness we used to enjoy.”
CARE is assisting refugees, returnees and vulnerable locals in Banibangou with food and essential household equipment. For more information about CARE's work in Niger, visit www.CARE.org.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 4:40PM EST on May 9, 2012
The farmers of Dan Maza Idi village in Niger have a saying: "Everybody depends on the Earth to survive." But climate change is making survival more difficult in Dan Maza Idi and villages like it across Niger. Years of erratic rains and longer-than-usual dry periods have made it increasingly difficult to grow millet, a staple of the local diet.
Dan Bouga, a 55-year-old farmer in the village, works hard to feed his six children. But no amount of hard work can produce rain. Traditional millet seeds used in the region take three months to grow. With some recent rainy seasons lasting less than two months, Dan's harvests have plummeted.
In 2009, CARE began working with Dan and other farmers in the village to help them devise sustainable ways to improve millet production. Dan was one of several people who, with CARE's help, switched to new millet seeds that produce crops in just two months and can be replanted the following year. Along with new seeds, CARE trains farmers on how to successfully cultivate their new crop.
As had been the case for years, the first time Dan planted the new millet seeds, the rainy season arrived late and lasted just two months. But because he was growing a newer, quicker variety of millet, his fields filled with strong, healthy-looking cobs. Dan grew enough millet to feed his family – and had enough leftover to store and sell, despite the shortened rainy season.
"This surplus will allow me to have money to look after my family," he said in 2009. "I can pay for health care and buy clothes for my children."
The severity of this year's drought has pushed the entire Sahel region into an enormous food emergency. More than 15 million people are in need of emergency food assistance, including 1 million children at risk of severe malnutrition.
The people in Dan Mazi Idi and thousands of villages in the Sahel need outside help to endure the lean months before the next harvest. It is a humanitarian imperative to help them now and avoid an even more severe crisis in the future.
In Chad, Mali, and Niger, CARE provides access to food, work, trains nurses to identify and treat malnutrition, improves water and sanitation and promotes hygiene. And CARE provides essential household items and supplies to people displaced by conflict in Mali, as well as to refugees who fled across the border into Niger.
With more support, CARE can maintain and expand programs like the one that has helped Dan Bouga and his family support themselves. But time is running out. Families in and around Dan Mazi Idi village are so hungry they have already begun eating their seed stock to survive. Dan and his family have managed to hold on to their seeds so far. Even if they plant the seeds, there's no guarantee there will be enough rain for them to grow anything at all. But unlike some of their neighbors, Dan and his family have a chance at a healthier, more prosperous future.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:25AM EST on April 5, 2012
By Barbara Jackson, Humanitarian Director, CARE International
March, 29, 2012.
The thick calloused soles of the feet of the women with whom I sat in the tiny village of Maijanjaré in Niger, seven hours by road away from the capital Niamey, tell their own story. It is a story of many hardships, of back-breaking labour to dig a bit of land in extremely rocky, hard and dry soil in order to plant and hopefully harvest a bit of millet. It is a story of having to walk two hours each day to collect water. It is a story of women who have lost their husbands many years ago either to migration, working in another country where they have found new families, or to early death. It is a story of women who are widows and who tell us that without CARE’s cash-for-work project, they would be beggars now and are vastly relieved that for at least these few months, they do not need to beg.
These women are referred to as the elderly, and while they cannot tell us their age given that they don’t know it, they are probably in their late 40ies. The life expectancy for women in Niger is 45 years of age, an indicator of how tough life is in this part of the world. The women eagerly tell us the cash-for-work project, where they are paid a small sum of money to dig half-crescent shaped basins that will form natural reservoirs for the millet to be planted, has helped them to buy a small amount of grain that the government of Niger stores and sells at a subsidized price to community members during this very lean season.
Without food assistance and other support, over five million women, children and men in Niger are at risk of not having enough food in the coming months.
Already we are being told that people are reducing their food intake to one meal a day, and that the seeds that they have saved for the next planting season are being eaten to supplement their diets. The severe droughts of 2005 and 2010 are in very recent memory, with many people having gone into debt to survive those crises - yet people did not have enough time, productivity and stability to regain their livelihoods. The ‘elderly women’ of Maijanjaré will be amongst the first to suffer from this impending crisis if they do not receive help. But they do not want to beg for help. They are eager to work. They want to feel that they are helping themselves during this extremely difficult time.
The situation in the Sahel is a complex one and the small village that we visited is only a small microcosm of what many millions are living today in Niger. In times of hardship such as those, people used to migrate and find work as daily labourers in other countries. However, the conflict situation in Mali, the tenuous situation in Nigeria and the uncertainty and volatility of Libya does exhaust this strategy. Those in Niger are concerned, and wonder what the future holds for them.
Halima, one of the village widows shares with me: “We continue to be strong with CARE’s help and we hope that the rains will come on time.” Hope is a wonderful emotion and can carry one far, but it is not enough for the women of Niger. They must have the continuous support of CARE and others to help them through this very critical time.
It is important for us all to remember that during the food crisis in Niger in 2005, it would have cost us 1 U.S. dollar a day to prevent malnutrition among children if the world had responded immediately. By July 2005, it was costing 80 U.S. dollars to save a malnourished child’s life. Now is the time to help Niger --- not when it is too late to prevent what we know can be prevented.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:05PM EST on March 20, 2012
As the Sahel region of West Africa faces a hunger crisis, Evelyne Guindon, Vice President of International Programs at CARE Canada recently visited CARE's operations in Chad to assess the situation firsthand.
You may not see many news stories about the looming food crisis in the Sahel, but my recent visit to West Africa showed me that immediate action is needed to prevent a large-scale emergency, much like that which we saw recently in East Africa, including deadly famine in parts of Somalia.
Erratic rains in West Africa's Sahel region have left over 10 million people displaced and malnourished. The drought has limited agricultural production and sent food prices soaring.
Chad is one of the countries hit hardest by the unfolding crisis.
I visited CARE's operations in Iriba, a small town in northeastern Chad providing a safe haven for thousands of refugees. Though the host community in Chad has generously welcomed the refugees from neighbouring Darfur, I was alarmed to see that the Chadians were, in some cases, more malnourished. I saw many parents making the difficult decision to pull their children out of school and sell their livestock just to afford the rising cost of food.
CARE had mobilized a team to cope with the increasing demand for aid and was already engaged in preparations to scale up to an emergency. I had a chance to see this activity firsthand -- CARE staff working hand-in-hand with community leaders, women and men, traditional leaders, government staff, and parents.
CARE's work in Chad is a reminder that when it comes to emergencies, we are often among the first to arrive and the last to leave. With limited funding and infrastructure, CARE has been working on long-term projects in Chad for over 40 years to improve conditions and provide support to residents.
Though my visit to Iriba was sobering, I kept thinking of a women's group I had met on a past trip to Dadaab, Kenya. Like the Chadians, the Dadaab women were once impoverished and lacked education, but learned to make honey and grow food and animal fodder through a CARE project. They developed skills that created businesses, which provided their families with a reliable source of income even in the face of a drought and food crisis.
The people in the Iriban camps were suffering, but my memories of the women's group in Dadaab reminded me that sustainable change is possible when people are given the tools they need to succeed.
CARE's focus on long-term solutions like enterprise and economic development, food security and female empowerment gives me hope that we can help the people of Chad become resilient and strong in the face of frequent drought and rising food prices.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:00AM EST on March 2, 2012
Johannes Schoors, CARE Niger Country Director
This couldn't have come at a worse time – not that there is ever a good time for brutal fighting that burns people's homes to the ground and sends them running in fear to another country. More than 130,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Mali, and many of them have arrived here in Niger, a country that is already in the grips of a worsening food crisis.
Most families in Niger, especially in the areas along the border with Mali, are running out of food. Families have reduced the numbers of meals in a day. Children are going hungry. The refugees are adding to the strain already being suffered here. But the people of Niger are amazing – they have almost nothing, but they are helping the refugees. They are sharing what little food they have. This is the culture in Niger. They help out how they can: a Nigerien will share a cooking pot with a refugee family, and the refugee family will use it, and then pass it on to another family.
Tens of thousands of Malian refugees have fled into Niger. There was heavy fighting last night, so more refugees are crossing the border. This will get worse. And as always, the ones caught in the middle are the civilians.
Their villages were burned to the ground. They have nothing to go back to except sad memories. Already the numbers are growing. CARE plans to help the people who fled to Banibangou, and we were initially told there were 600 families – there were in fact 1,260 families (9,000 people), and more people are crossing the border as the fighting continues.
The refugees are in a bad state. Many of them are sleeping in the open. I saw a photo of a pot with brown sauce in it, and I said to my staff, 'oh, so they are eating millet?' But my staff said no – that's muddy water. The refugees are drinking muddy water, because they have no access to clean water. We need to help them filter the water, or the refugees will start to get sick. Water is a real problem.
CARE is gearing up to provide clean water, food and emergency items to the refugees. But we need to help the Nigeriens in this community, too, because they are sharing what they have with the refugees. By helping the refugees, they're running out of food more quickly.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:40PM EST on January 31, 2012
When Dije Ousmana looks down at her two-month-old baby boy, Abdulahadi, she tries not to think of her three other children, all babies like Abdulahadi, who died in earlier food crises. She has seen the signs before, and she is afraid: diarrhoea, difficulty swallowing, crying for more milk when there is none to be had.
In her arms, baby Abdulahadi stirs, opens his eyes, and begins to cry. Dije quietly puts him to her breast, but it isn't long before the cry turns into a wail.
"There is no milk," she said. "I haven't eaten yet today."
Outside, her daughter continues to pound millet for the family's only meal of the day. Dije's six-year-old son runs in and asks when the food will be ready.
Today, Dije and her extended family of 14 will eat just one bowl of millet, mixed with a bit of goat's milk and plenty of water to make it stretch farther. It's been three months that it's been like this, she said.
"The younger children ask all the time why we aren't eating," she said, telling her son to wait. "They don't understand. They think I am just not cooking."
Niger is spiralling down into a severe food crisis. A catastrophic combination of a failed harvest, returning migrant workers from troubled neighbouring countries, and soaring food prices has left more than 5.4 million people in Niger at risk of hunger; at least 1.3 million people, like Dije and her family, are in critical need of help now.
Across Niger, there are communities that have no harvest at all, and have already exhausted their food supplies and are starting to sell their animals and household belongings just to buy food to keep their families alive. In each affected community, the prognosis is the same: this crisis is already worse than the crises of 2005 and 2010.
"It's been years since we've seen a situation this bad," said Dije. "I already sold five of my goats, and we have just one goat left. We've sold everything to buy food."
Here in Yan Sara village, a poor community of 170 people in the barren semi-desert of rural Niger, children are already showing signs of malnutrition: protruding bellies and orange hair revealing the tell-tale signs of nutrient deficiency. Children with chronic malnutrition risk permanent stunting: they will never grow as tall as other children their age, and they may have developmental challenges as well. Severe malnutrition, if not treated, can lead to death.
Nearly 300,000 children will become malnourished across Niger this year, and that figure is expected to rise as the country's food crisis worsens.
But if help is provided now, we can prevent children from becoming severely malnourished, said Amadou Sayo, CARE's Regional Emergency Coordinator for West Africa. CARE has already started a cash-for-work program in partnership with the World Food Programme, which will help families buy food. But more is needed. CARE is raising funds to start an emergency food program for families like Dije's, who are already in dire need. High-energy, nutritious food for children, such as Plumpy'nut, a peanut-butter-like emergency food used to treat mild malnutrition, can help prevent children from becoming severely malnourished.
"Prevention is more effective, and less costly, than allowing children to become malnourished in the first place," said Sayo. "In a food crisis, helping the children is critical, as well as pregnant women and breastfeeding women. The adults can survive a hungry season, but young children are very vulnerable. If they don't have proper food, they start to get sick, they lose weight, and they are at risk of death."
For Dije, the situation is frighteningly clear.
"We need help," she said simply. "I don't want to lose another child."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:56AM EST on January 23, 2012
Voices of beneficiaries: Sapa Rabiou, 55 years old. Sarkin Rima village, Maradi
Sapa Rabiou, 55 years old. 11 children, 30 grandchildren. She cares for her elderly husband and three grandchildren in Serkin Rima village, Maradi, Niger. Sapa participates in CARE's cash-for-work program. The program, implemented in partnership with WFP, provides participants with 1,000CFA per day (approx. USD2) in exchange for work clearing pasture land of an inedible weed that has taken over the pasture area, and reseeding it with local grasses that will serve as food for local cattle.
"We started to worry last year just before the harvest, when we saw the attack of crickets in our fields. Normally, I would harvest 100 bales of millet from my field. This year, I only got one and a half bales. Some families got nothing.
"I asked one of my sons, who normally harvests120 bales; he only harvested six. We realized we were all in the same situation. And we knew it would be hard. But we had no choice.
"I started selling thatch and firewood to feed my family. I have to walk to Maradi to sell it – it takes four hours each way, and I only earn enough to buy one measure of millet – enough for my family for half a day.
"Our stocks are gone. We have no food. Two weeks ago I started the food-for-work program with CARE. I was paid for the first time yesterday, and I bought food – enough for my family for 10 days.
"If it weren't for the CARE program, I would have had to borrow money. I would have lived day by day, doing what I could to survive, to at least put something in my stomach. I already sold my cow and two goats; I only have one chicken left. There is nothing in my house – just mats on the floor. I've already sold everything.
"My husband is 75, he's too old to work. It's all up to me. How can I be afraid? There's no use to be afraid. This is the situation, whether I'm afraid or not. I have to continue. But everyone in my area is afraid. We were affected by the 2005 crisis and barely recovered. I'm trying to survive this one. I can't say what the future will bring."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:44AM EST on January 23, 2012
By Melanie Brooks
When Aminou Chaibou left his wife and three small children last year to find work in Nigeria, it was with the hopes of earning enough money to help them survive the worsening food crisis gripping Niger. Like millions of others across the country, his crops had failed; if he didn''t find work, they would starve.
Instead, he ended up losing money – and much of his family''s hope for the future.
For many people along the border with Nigeria, travelling to Nigeria to work for several months a year has been a crucial survival mechanism in difficult times. But with the recent unrest in Nigeria – increasing bomb attacks by a militant group, and more recently national protests against the government''s removal of the oil subsidy – many Nigeriens have decided that the work is too risky. Here in Maradi, Niger''s economic heartland, thousands of Nigerien migrant workers have returned home, many with empty pockets.
For Aminou, 29, the situation is even worse; in order to pay for his transport to Nigeria, he had to sell his wife''s only remaining goat. Piece by piece, they are selling the items in their home in order to survive.
"All we have to eat is millet paste mixed with a bit of milk," he said, stirring a spoon through a mostly-empty bowl of thin, soup-like porridge. "We add a lot of water, so it helps us feel full. We eat this twice a day. In a good year, we eat three times a day: millet, spaghetti, oil – many things. This is not a good year. And it is getting worse."
"Our children ask for more food, but we don''t have anything else to give them," she said, as seven-month-old Zainab starts to cry in her arms. Assamaou pulls her to her breast, and the baby suckles quietly.
A complex combination of a failed harvest, returning migrant workers from troubled neighbouring countries, and soaring food prices has left more than 5.4 million people in Niger are at risk of hunger; at least 1.3 million like Aminou and his family are in critical need of help now.
CARE, in partnership with the World Food Programme, has started a cash-for-work program to provide families with cash to buy food on the local market. Here in Serkin Yamma village, Maradi, Aminou and other participants receive 1,000CFA per day (approx. USD2) in exchange for work clearing pasture land of an inedible weed that has taken over the pasture area, and reseeding it with local grasses that will serve as food for local cattle once the rains come in late May.
Aminou said the project arrived at a time when he had almost given up hope. He has been trying to find additional work in Maradi, and is considering going back to Nigeria. He had worked 43 days of a two-month contract; if he goes back and finishes his contract, he''ll receive his pay.
"But with everything we hear on the radio, I think it''s safer to stay here with my family. There was another attack yesterday in Nigeria, just across the border, near where I was working. We need to eat, we need the money, but I don''t want to be killed. Who would look after my family then?"
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:27AM EST on January 23, 2012
Haoua Lankoandé, Advocacy Manager, MMD Project, CARE Niger
Niamey, Niger - For those of us in the city, we are seeing the first signs of food crisis spreading across our country. We have seen it before. It has already started, and it is coming fast.
The first phase is when young men and women start leaving the villages, coming to the big towns, looking for work. 'Knock, knock': they come to your door and say 'do you have any work?' You ask them, what can you do? And they reply: 'Anything. I can do anything.'
In the second phase, they come to the door, 'knock, knock': 'Do you have any food? I haven't eaten in three days.'
In the third phase, they don't ask anymore. You wake up and go out side in the morning, and there is a family sleeping on your doorstep. They don't ask for anything, they just look up at you, hoping. If you give them something, they say thank you. If you don't give them anything, they are quiet. They just put their heads down, slowly get up and move to the next house.
It takes just a couple of months to go from phase one to phase three. We are already in phase one. It's amazing how quickly it happens.
We need to act now: provide cash-for work so people can buy food, provide school feeding programs so children stay in school, support resiliance efforts like community gardens and cereal banks. Because once they start showing up in the cities, it means they are already coming to the end of their resources. They have sold their assets. They have no food. This is happening now.
CARE did an assessment in one of the villages, and already we are seeing that there aren't many young men and women left – they are leaving for the cities and towns, hoping to find work. And here in Niamey, people are already starting to show up at our doors. 'Knock, knock'.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:12AM EST on October 31, 2011
After a severe food crisis in 2010, women founded an association of grain banks to prepare for times of hardship
Niandou Ibrahim, CARE Niger, October 21, 2011
Last year, 20 percent of households in Niger were affected by a devastating food crisis. The village of Moujia, located between the cities of Konni and Tahoua in the center-west of the country, gave a picture of the situation at that times. (see story from 2010)
Drought and parasites had completely destroyed the crops, and in order to survive, people were forced either to migrate or to do menial tasks for little pay. Like in Alhou Abdou's household, made up of six children and his wife, the villagers fought day after day to feed themselves. Even though they decreased the number of meals and portion sizes, they often went hungry.
CARE provided 100 kilograms of grain to Alhou's family through a large-scale programme of free grain distribution, in cooperation with the Niger government and the World Food Programme (WFP). The other households in the village that were suffering from the food crisis all received the same support. This external aid was combined with the stock from a grain bank that the women of the village had implemented to meet the food needs of the families.
The women's small grain bank had a huge impact on the entire community. Inspired by this victory, and knowing that food crises appear every three years, the women were motivated to expand their idea of an "association of cereal banks" in the region.
The system Matu Masu Dubara ('clever women' in the local Hausa language) is made up of savings and loans groups that are managed by the villagers. These groups enable the creation of multiple village projects in several areas, such as health (providing training and equipment for nurses), education (literacy and awareness about girls' education), environmental protection (growing trees and orchards), food security (creation of village grain banks), and even recently, entering political arenas to elect women to influence local and national decision making processes.
Alhou's wife Hadja belongs to the network of "Tammaha" (hope) groups in Moujia, which started a cereal bank in 2002. The bank served its purpose every year because even in years with good crop yields, more than 60 percent of households cannot meet their food needs with their harvests alone. However, in a year of crisis, like in 2010, the Moujia bank couldn't withstand the high demand for grain.
Hundreds of Mata Masu Dubara women from Niger also started cereal banks in their communities. Under the leadership of these women, 19 other community grain banks in the surrounding areas came together to form an association of banks: a storehouse with enough stock to come to the aid of smaller banks in case of stock shortage caused by a high demand in times of food crisis. "To do this, each of the 20 groups contributed a total of 1,000,000 cfa francs, or 2,100 USD, that was used to buy the start-up stock. CARE, with financing from the Norwegian Agency of Development Cooperation, then helped with the construction of a store and management training for the designated women, who would oversee the operation of maintaining the stock. WFP contributed 27,000 kilograms of cereals. It was a real pooling of resources," explainsMérido Moussa, director of the Matu Masu Dubara women association in Moujia.
Today, the association of Moujia banks provides a permanent stock of supplies in the area. While the market price of a 100 kilogram sack of millet is 19,000 fcfa (40 USD), the village banks can sell it for 18,000 fcfa because the union provides it at a lower cost of 16,000 fcfa.
"The women are so clever," whispers Alhou Abdou, while looking lovingly at his wife. "Normally the grain stock set aside by the women would have been enough to fill the gap left by the poor yields that we're seeing this year. But we're still facing hard times because our brothers had to come home from Libya," he adds solemnly. They had lost their jobs due to the political unrest in North Africa.
As of August 31, 2011, evaluations have shown that the crops will not come full circle in 2,496 farming villages throughout Niger, affecting an estimated population of 2,885,673 men and women. The rate of severe malnutrition among six month to five year old girls and boys is at risk of increasing in 2012.
In addition, the socio-political movements that unfolded in Cote d'Ivoire and Libya affected 200,000 migrants working abroad. The thousands of migrants who returned to Niger between February and September came home to extreme destitution, adding another challenge for vulnerable communities like Moujia. "150 village youth had to flee Cote d'Ivoire and 50 others came home from Libya empty-handed, whereas previously they were the principal source of income for Moujia," confirms Mahamadou Abdou, the Imam of the local mosque.
CARE Niger is committed to respond to the urgent challenges of this situation, while continuing to contribute to the resilience of the households in Moujia and in hundreds of other communities.
Posted by: Staci Dixon at 1:24PM EST on September 9, 2010
by Chloé Dessemond
The village of N'Guelbély, 170 kilometers north of Diffa, is surrounded by sand dunes. Scattered houses made of straw look naked because the straw has been eaten by the few cows that survive. The food crisis, caused by a poor rainy season in 2009, is escalating herein Niger.
Usually, pastoralists of N'Guelbély move around their village, but this year, they had to go further to find pasture land to feed their livestock. In October, they started moving north until they reached an area known here as "angle of death." The land, located between the territories of two ethnic groups, has no supply market or local authorities and the land was not fruitful. Pastoralists tried to go back south in February. But many animals, too weak to move, died on the way or were left behind.
Omarou Moumouni lost one third of his livestock in the north or on the way back. Coming back to N'Guelbély was not a relief. Without pasture land, another third of his original livestock died in the village. He's situation is no unique – 80 percent of the total livestock is estimated to have died here.
A couple of weeks ago, Omarou received animal feed distributed by CARE in the area. The 150 kilograms will enable him to hold out until the rain falls.
CARE, the only operating non-governmental organization in this remote land, is carrying out food distributions, and has plans to reach the vulnerable pastoralists in the north soon.
South of the region, in Goujou, rain has started to fall. Except for the sand dunes, the landscape in Goujou is green. There, makeshift camps – or rather small piles of items under tarpaulins – prove that hundreds of pastoralists brought their livestock to the site. The pasture land is covered with goats and cows but this picture is misleading. There is not enough grass to support the high concentration of pastoralists. Moreover, this grass is mixed with sand, which can bring on death for already-weak animals.
Idi Abdou had 42 animals before the crisis. Now, he has only 17 left. He comes from Bonsoro, about a hundred kilometers north of Goujou. He traveled to Nigeria with his son to find pasture land before coming to Goujou. Because of the bad condition of the cattle, the price of the animals has fallen. Therefore, in order to buy food, Idi had to sell all of his goats and more cows than usual.
A few days ago, CARE launched an operation to help. CARE is purchasing weak animals at a higher price than they would be bought on the market, thereby, helping pastoralists maintain their purchasing power. CARE bought an animal from Idi Abdou who received eight times the money he would have had on the market.
"If CARE wasn't there, there wouldn't be many people helping us," asserts the chief of N'Guelbely village. "We experienced big crisis before, like in 1973, and we had less assistance then. But this year, the situation is worst than ever."
This crisis raises many questions concerning the future of pastoralists. In N'Guelbély, discussions on the topic are lively.
"Pastoral life is different nowadays," says one villager. "We need to find other solutions, diversify our activities." Other people suggest alternatives to pastoral life.
Hadamou Moumouni lost 79 animals this year. He has only one left. "For me, pastoral life is over. My children will have to make their own way. They can do anything, except livestock farming. They will probably go to the urban centers and start a small business."
Boucar Souley has only 10 animals left out of 70. His breeding animals died, which put a threat on the replacement of the herd – and on the life of his family for whom milk is a staple food. Boucar travels with seven of the 20 members of his family, and thinks about moving again in his constant search for pasture land. After that, he admitsm "I really don't know what to do."
For these pastoralists and so many others in the Shahel region of West Africa, and in Niger in particular, the crisis has just begun ...