By Julie Lorenzen in Niger
For many families in Niger, the gap between harvests has become stretched out by the drought that has been experienced all over the Sahel region. The Red Cross Society of Niger aims to help them bridge that gap with a programme of support that includes both money and seed distribution.
In the village of Sesané Haoussa, 45-year-old Khadi Zola works a field. She carries a large metal tub filled with dried grass seed which she spreads neatly over the half-moon shaped piles of soil dotted around the field. When the rain comes, the grass will grow, provide a secure food source for the villagers’ cattle. For her efforts, Khadi receives payment from the national Red Cross society which will then help to provide for her family until the next harvest.
Khadi said that before the project was launched, getting enough food to survive was a problem. “We only ate once a day and were often sick, I myself lost a lot of weight,” she said. “My one child was not able to walk due to starvation, he was simply too weak. Now we are able to eat twice or three times a day and I started gaining weight again.”
This year Niger, like many other countries in the region, have been hit by a severe drought, and the drought has had a knock on effect on the food supplies of up to 18 million people. As well as diminished stores, the cost of food in markets has increased, but incomes are down.
And so the 1.5euro that participants in the project make each week has a massive impact on the community’s ability to survive.
“It is a really good job, because it makes eating possible. Without this work my life would be really hard. This drought is not normal, and last year the harvest was bad, so we have no food in stock,” Khadi said.
As well as short term relief, the families also need long-term solutions that allow them to be prepared for future shocks. Aside from paying the workers, The Red Cross Society of Niger is providing families with seeds in preparation for the next harvest, and is also helping villagers plant 20-25,000 rubber trees. These will help to secure revenue, when they have grown in 4-6 years.
The rubber trees also have another function; their network of roots act like a sponge, sucking in and retaining the water when it rains, helping to keep the ground fertile and preventing soil erosion.
Pierre Kana, leader of the project, said it was the combination of short- and long-term options that would help the community thrive. “We are strengthening the resilience in the villages against future droughts,” he said.