“Water is life. But here, water is beyond life.” The tone is set. Issoufou Abdou Djibo, Head of Food Sovereignty at SWISSAID Niger, knows what the blue gold means to the people he visits during his projects. Water gives rhythm to the life of villages, women, children, and all the people who live from crops or raise livestock. “For it, they risk their lives every day. Not even to drink it, but to water their crops and feed their livestock.”
More influential than oil
“Before, the capital of Niger was Zinder, because there is a lot of oil there. But there are no water resources. So the capital was moved to Niamey, where the groundwater are full. This shows how important water is, much more than oil,” explains Issoufou with conviction. This race for water is not new. In Niger, the women of the Fulani ethnic group have always sung: “Interests guide the steps. The interests are the resources, and the resource is water.”
Niamey is located in the west of the country, in a region watered by many rivers and streams. This region is where the majority of the communes supported by SWISSAID Niger are, such as Soucoucoutane, Tillabéry, N’gonga and Harikanassou. “Hari” means water, and “kanassou” means “who becomes fat when he sees it”. To understand: “One is satiated just by seeing the water”.
Optimal use of resources
Water is present, but not easily accessible. The level of rainfall has decreased over the last decades. It rains more intensely, but less regularly. The arid land and the silted-up river have difficulty absorbing violent storms, and the resulting floods cause 70% of water-related natural disasters. In addition, wells are drying up faster. “Before, when it rained, we had reserves for 4 to 6 months, but today there is only enough for 1 month,” says Issoufou. A well is used for everything: washing clothes, dishes, washing, cooking, drinking, but also for irrigating crops and watering animals. Under these conditions, the lack of water can quickly lead to tensions.
The aim of SWISSAID projects is to support peasant families in adopting resilience in the face of increasingly difficult climatic conditions. This resilience is mainly achieved through water management. “Everything is done with the aim of saving water. This is what motivated me to join SWISSAID. Agricultural activities are environmentally friendly, agro-ecological production requires little water and does not pollute the soil. The farmers are taught to use only what their crops require and they count the number of watering cans needed for each plant,” explains Issoufou.
Water is essential to the people in the projects, and it is at the heart of all SWISSAID activities.
Beyond the optimal use of resources, the projects also aim to protect the population from accidents and diseases. “This dangerous archaic well was our only means of water extraction and for lack of choice we were condemned to make do with it to safeguard our dignity,” recalls Chéfou Manomi. This 39-year-old farmer lives in the commune of Soucoucoutane. It is thanks to the income from the production and sale of white onions that he and his two wives manage to support their 10 children. However, the aging infrastructure and the drying up of wells have led to a massive abandonment of the production sites of “El Soucoucoutane”, as the locals call it.
The partners on the ground are responsible for rehabilitating the wells with more sustainable technologies, securing their access and facilitating the drawing of water. This is the important work that has been done in the commune of Soucoucoutane. The rehabilitation of the wells in this region has made it possible to keep the tradition alive and ensure the food security of the inhabitants. “The project responded exactly to our one and only concern: the rehabilitation of the white onion production site in Soucoucoutane,” explains Chéfou.
“This dangerous archaic well was our only means of drainage and for lack of choice we were condemned to make do with it to safeguard our dignity,” recalls Chéfou Manomi, 39, who lives in the commune of Soucoucoutane. “The project responded exactly to our one and only concern: the rehabilitation of the white onion production site of Soucoucoutane,” explains Chéfou.
A beginning and an end
With sustainability at the heart of SWISSAID’s work, the projects provide the beneficiaries with all the keys to managing and sustaining the improvements. “A project is like a word, it has a beginning and an end,” says Issoufou. But here again, the conditions must be well thought out. Water has become an economic issue. “We place management committees at these wells, but in fact we give power to some, which creates inequalities. I have come across committees that ask for 15 CFA francs for a can of water. This is a huge daily expense for a Nigerien,” he recalls. SWISSAID Niger is aware of this problem and makes sure that the management committees only ask for the bare minimum as a contribution to allow everyone to have access to it, and to make their budget available in a transparent way. Thus, once established, the wells are managed in an independent and sustainable manner.
Issoufou concludes: “Basically, the real problem is that nothing is treated with respect anymore. Everything is considered plastic, to be taken and thrown away. The same goes for water. Yet, like humans, it too will one day disappear.” Let’s hope that with the best use of resources, its disappearance will come as late as possible.
Solidarity makes us strong
On the field
Water is a sensitive subject. Sometimes sacred, often coveted, it is a resource that must be shared by many people from different worlds. The implementation of our projects must therefore be monitored by people who know the terrain, the local culture and the dialects.
Awareness-raising on water use is done by village development committees, composed of local people from the village. These committees are trained in basic techniques and pass on their knowledge to the farmers. This creates trust and better learning among the target population. In addition, SWISSAID employees specialized in gender or agro-ecology, called “focal points”, do a close follow-up by regularly visiting the different sites. The villages are familiar with the Foundation, which has been present for many years. Thus, the various local relays are well integrated and the information is accepted among the villages.
The beneficiaries also facilitate the transmission. Exchange visits between farmers’ associations help to capitalize on best practices. Fairs or open houses are also organized so that other communes can benefit from the knowledge acquired.