The big challenge: Food sovereignty in Niger

by Issoufou Abdoulkader (ELP 2016) | Cash and Voucher Programme Assisant, World Food Programme, Niger

Niger is a landlocked country sharing borders with Nigeria and Benin in the South, Burkina Faso & Mali in the West, Algeria and Libya in the North, and Chad in the East. Regarding its geographical position, Niger is in the Sahel zone, a transitional area between the Sahara Desert and the belt of humid savannas in the south (1). The physical characteristics are a flat topography with some mountains, a tropical climate with temperatures exceeding sometimes 42° C, and a short rainfall season. The population pattern of Niger Republic shows an annual rate of natural increase of 3.9% and a Total Fertility Rate (Average number of children per woman) of 7.6. In 2015, the population is estimated to be 18.9 million people out of whom 52% are under 15 years old (2). During the decade of 1970s and 1980s, Sahel countries have experienced droughts with a decrease of about 30% in rainfall (3).

Thus, in Niger, climate variability and population growth are a critical factor in determining the livelihoods of the local populations that negatively impacted them so as some socioeconomic categories become very poor and vulnerable to the slightest shocks. Food security becomes serious issue for people, technical partners, NGOs, UN agencies and the successive governments who have developed different strategies to overcome the food shortage mostly caused by natural events/phenomena, rapid population growth and inadequate agricultural practices. 

Photo 1: Crop growing in half-moons in Allakaye (Niger)

Since 2011, the government implemented a food sovereignty policy called “les Nigériens Nourissent les Nigériens” (the Nigeriens feed Nigeriens), known as 3N (4). The 3N initiative has as its principal goal to contribute in shielding the Niger people from hunger and guarantee them the conditions for full participation in national economic building and in improvement of their income. The 3N is built on five strategic pillars:

  1. Improvement and diversification of agricultural products;
  2. Regular supplementation of rural and urban markets in agricultural and food-processed products;
  3. Strengthening the people resilience to impacts of climate change and other externalities;
  4. Improvement of the nutritional status of Nigeriens both men and women; and
  5. Building the conditions of implementing the 3N Initiative.

Photo 2: Community members improving the land in Kaché (Allakaye, Niger)

Many projects are going on across the country to achieve food sovereignty. Many organizations are involved in implementing such projects. The example of Roma-based UN agencies (FAO, WFP, IFAD) are very illustrative. The approach used is called “communes de convergence”, a multi-actors, integrated community-based approach based on multi sectorial (land development, nutrition, school feeding, local procurements), under the leadership of the government with synergies and partnerships with all stakeholders (IFAD, FAO, UNICEF, Local Government, NGOs, etc.). 

Since 2014, WFP develops a program enabling people of poor and very poor households to increase their assets. The measures that help communities to cope with drought, to increase farming productivity, and to diversify away from farming are key to improving their resilience and food security. With its partners, WFP works with local authorities, beneficiaries and government technical services in all the phases of project.  Taking the communality of Allakaye (Tahoua Region) as example, are activities are carried out from November to May through Food assistance for Asset (FFA) approach, with an integrated nutrition component that is provided to very poor households within the community. These activities are implemented by the NGO GADED, a partner of WFP. FFA activities are followed by unconditional food assistance coupled with nutritional supplements to prevent malnutrition of children (6-23 months) and pregnant and lactating women during the annual lean season (June-September). The land restoration activities undergone include Zaï, half-moons (demi-lunes in French language), dykes, and many other projects.

Photo 3: Wall stone construction for reducing runoff velocity in Karkara (Allakaye, Niger)

Various trainings are conducted within the community including: works on the land (half-moons and Zaïs), sensitization sessions on essential family practices, prevention and conflict management, vegetable gardening techniques (school gardens), and assisted natural land regeneration and composting. 

The results are encouraging but there are other issues that make it difficult for Niger to achieve food sovereignty. Climate change and population growth will make the challenges of reaching food sovereignty harder to address. WFP is working on this problem, but this is not enough. I hope to work with others to build a partnership that can deliver a solution that can feed the most vulnerable people in Niger. For example, a collaboration between government, private sector and academia could be very productive in achieving food sovereignty in Niger.