In December 2021, the empty grain stores in Niger – which are actually filled with grain at this time to bridge the off-season – made us fear the worst. SWISSAID initiated rapid and targeted emergency aid. We procured and distributed 62 kilograms of fast-growing seeds that the farmers needed to survive over the next few months.
The distribution campaign went well and the sowing took place shortly afterwards. In the meantime, the fast-growing seeds have flourished: in about 3 weeks, the first harvest of amaranth and lettuce will take place. Soon the first food packages will also be distributed. The package contains 50 kilos of rice, 10 litres of oil, 5 kilos of sugar, as well as 10 kilos of millet flour and powdered milk for the small children. The common goal of the emergency relief operation: to feed more than 5,000 households of the most affected families until the saving harvest in late summer.
«In the current situation, we can only feed ourselves for three months on the millet we have harvested, whereas in a good year we can harvest for ten to eleven months. But the seeds will help us to tide us over.» Zalika Tahirou
At the beginning of February, Nicole Stolz, Head of Development Cooperation and Programme Officer Niger, visited the community of Fabidji in the Dosso region to see how seed distribution is done on the ground. She reported to us:
Nicole Stolz, SWISSAID was able to buy the seeds in December thanks to local seed banks and distribute them to the families as early as January. How far has the maturation of the plants progressed?
It is going well. SWISSAID has been able to distribute a total of 62 kilos of seed so far. They have been distributed to 2,500 households in the affected communities, eight community centres and two “blue schools”. The first harvest will be possible in about three weeks. First, the farmers can harvest the fast-growing and well-satiating amaranth, but also lettuce. Shortly afterwards, cabbage, moringa and finally beans will also be ripe. The rapid distribution of seeds in January was important. The grain stores, which are normally full at this time of year, are half empty. People eat their last seeds in the emergency. A disaster.
And how is the distribution of food packages going?
The food distribution is planned for the months of April and May. The last harvest that the farmers were able to harvest will last four to five months, i.e. until March. After that, on the one hand, the distributed food will guarantee the survival of the families in need, and on the other hand, the first vegetables of the new harvest. Thanks to the vegetables and the aid packages, the families can postpone the moment of terror when the store is completely empty until the summer. But by summer at the latest, a large emergency aid programme must continue to tide them over until the next harvest in October.
Then everything will go according to plan?
At the moment, yes, but we have big worries. Because the harvest of millet, the staple food in Africa, does not take place until October. We don’t know yet how we will bridge the time after the distribution of the food packages until October. We also don’t yet know if and when other aid organisations will be on the ground to fight the great famine. That is currently being planned.
What are the next steps?
We are doing our utmost to ensure that the World Food Programme of the United Nations also supports food distribution in order to avert this acute famine. At the same time, we are promoting better irrigation of gardens on the ground, which strengthens resilience. We also advocate for food diversification so that the diet of only millet and meat does not remain one-sided.
In the department of Dogondoutchi, especially in the community of Dankassari, the seed distribution campaign is currently going on without any problems. Soon, these people will also be supplied with the seeds they need to survive.
«The famine in Niger must be stopped. Niger is one of the most famine-stricken countries in the world. Climate-related droughts and floods are exacerbating the famine in conflict-ridden northern Niger. Many aid organisations have withdrawn. But we have stayed and are providing emergency and reconstruction aid from the comparatively safe Dosso.»
Nicole Stolz (pictured in the middle)
A disastrous season
In a normal year, the fertile rainy season lasts from July to October. This year, there was an extreme amount of rain in July, streams and rivers burst their banks and washed away seeds, germinating plants and fertile soil. For many farmers, the harvest failed – there was simply nothing there. The granaries remain empty and 2.3 million people in Niger are acutely threatened by hunger.
«Because of climate change, which brings heavy rains and floods, my store is never full because all the rain keeps destroying the whole crop. Our seeds are not adapted to climate change.» Fatouma Halidou