19 June 2012
‘The past wasn’t like this. There were problems but we had things to eat. This year is the worst.’
The words of single mum Binta Adam are underlined as we watch her prepare food for her four children, and a neighbour’s child, who she is looking after.
Dried leaves, picked from wild plants, are being added to a mashed cassava mix in a desperate attempt to boost the nutritional value of what can scarcely be called a meal either in terms of calorific value or quantity.
Our translator, whose family hails from this region, tries a bit of it and later reports feeling pain in his stomach.
But Binta and her family have no other options.
Bringing on crops in such a tough growing environment while caring for a family is all-demanding even in the most benign conditions, let alone when they conspire to bring on a disaster.
Normally Binta would expect to harvest three 100 kg bags of ground nuts, two bags of beans and five bags of millet.
But last September she harvested just two tins of ground nuts and four tins of millet.
Poor rains were the first signs of trouble and then the grasshoppers came. What little crops did come through were eaten by an invasion of the insects within a week.
‘I cried when I saw the grasshoppers because I have children to feed and I couldn’t do anything to stop the grasshoppers.’
Binta has no husband to provide for her and the children as he walked out on them four years ago, his whereabouts unknown. Nor does she have any livestock which she can sell.
So she has to leave the children in the care of her eldest daughter, aged just nine, while she goes out fetching grass which she sells to make a little money to buy cassava.
‘I leave in the morning because it is very far and I’m not back till after 6pm,’ says Binta, who admits the family are physically becoming weak.
‘In the past you could go into the bush and find trees and plenty of grass but now there’s little grass left.
‘Because of lack of food, most of the men have left the village looking for work in Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Benin. But even they are facing problems finding work and only a few are sending money back.
‘The men have left their children without food and that means it’s difficult for women to take care of them. Women have to do so many things and all the work.’
Soon Binta will be planting her next crops but admits: ‘Only God knows if the next harvest will be good enough.’
Having lost a two-year-old child to hunger in the 2010 food crisis and last year needing to get treatment for another one suffering from malnutrition, Binta knows all too well the painful reality of Niger’s food crises.
‘My prayer is that God will provide so many things for us - the rain and the harvest - so I can take care of my children.'
WHAT TEARFUND IS DOING TO HELP
Seven Tearfund partners in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger are responding to the food crisis, helping crop growers and livestock producers with emergency measures.
Depending on the location, they are distributing food, running cash-for-work projects, selling food at reduced prices, supporting grain banks and introducing market gardening.
As so many people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, cash-for-work schemes provide an invaluable income boost when times are hard. People get paid for activities that benefit the wider community, for example, planting trees to protect the soil and building barriers to prevent the encroaching desert.
Market gardening is helping communities diversify their food beyond staple cereal crops, such as millet.
Partners are providing training, tools and seeds so people can produce a variety of vegetables. Growing tomatoes, cabbages, onions, carrots, peppers and aubergines not only boosts people’s diets but provides them with cash crops to supplement their incomes.
Grain banks, seen in operation above, enable people to buy food at reduced prices in times of shortage. After each harvest, a family will put a sack of grain into the bank, plus extra by way of ‘interest’.
Tearfund partners have been working in vulnerable communities for many years, often alongside local churches, to improve livelihoods and to reduce the risk of disasters.
They have long term plans to strengthen people’s resilience, for example, by diversifying incomes, introducing drought-resistant crops and improving farming techniques and water sources.
Working closely with communities on such solutions ensures such projects are owned locally and therefore have long term viability.
Printed: 22 May 2013 22:04:12