Africare/Niger's BuildeR Project Responds to and Prevents Disaster
In 2010, a severe drought caused one of Niger’s worst food shortages in history. In 2011, the prolonged lack of rain caused another poor harvest and initiated a nationwide crisis year. Mercilessly, when rains finally came in 2012, the precipitation arbitrarily avoided or punished some regions. Although harvests in general were satisfactory nationwide, rains flooded some places while irregular rains continued in others. Forty-four percent of Africare’s targeted project villages in the northern Tillaberi Region suffered crop failure due to inadequate rainfall, sand encroachment and pest attacks, and to make matters worse, the high demand for the crops that did grow in other parts of the country pushed grain prices beyond what farmers in targeted zones could afford: an agonizing example of food being available, but inaccessible.
The food shortages can place victims in straits so dire they are compelled to migrate. Just as excessive rain erodes soil, the inability to obtain food at home erodes families, with healthier individuals forced to seek food and jobs elsewhere, even in other countries, to be providers. This exposes them to dangers in travel and at potentially hazardous jobs, and it leaves dependents vulnerable with fewer caretakers.
Among the many emergency and early recovery initiatives executed in the country, Africare responded to the crisis with USAID funding in the Sanam district of northern Tillaberi in October 2012. By July 2013, Africare/Niger’s BuildeR (Building Resilience) project conducted three Cash for Work and three Food for Work distributions, expanding the project’s scope to include Tillaberi’s Abala district in March.
Here’s why we do Cash and Food for Work. Participants look on at a BuildeR production site. Photo: Africare/Niger
They are not doles - providing work at home
that is a welcome alternative to the risks of migration, and they are opportunities to pivot immediate relief into long-term development. Project participants prefer to earn their keep and take pride in contributing to community-improving tasks. In BuildeR, participants received allotments of money or food in return for work rehabilitating land.
Numerous factors have contributed to soil exhaustion and erosion in the BuildeR project zone. Constructing water catchments called “half-moons” in the Earth is one way of preventing soil run-off and controlling the exposure of seeds to water, holding water in low rains and protecting seeds in case of flooding. By reshaping the soil into these structures, participants can reclaim their land from the elements, either as arable land for their crops or as grazing land for their livestock.
Additionally, a borehole and irrigation canals will be installed in the Sanam project zone with provisions for the participating communities and the municipal council to maintain them, and Africare is helping producers fence off land in selected villages to prevent livestock from grazing in gardens.
In total, the project has reclaimed 5,052 hectares of land and distributed 1,895.14 tons of millet, cowpea and oil among 5,887 households. Moreover, the millet and cowpea were sourced from Nigerien farmers. Because enough cereal was available in the country, just not in numerous zones, this strategy not only enabled speedier delivery of the food, it also supported the Nigerien economy in a time of crisis.
Women from Sanam learn to create natural agriculture perimeters. Photo: Africare/Niger
Mr. Ezza Soba, Chief of the village of Sarki said, “The BuildeR project is a real salvation for our people. In a bad year like this one, all the villages are emptied of their able-bodied people who migrate to urban areas and even outside of Niger in search of work to feed their families. With BuildeR, today these able-bodied family members have local jobs in their villages without being exposed to risks related to migration.” By providing resources necessary to survive and meaningful work to prevent future crop failures, BuildeR is helping communities stay intact and gain strength in the face of severe adversity.