SWISSAID began its activities in Niger during the great droughts of 1974. The decision was taken that year to launch a long-term agricultural programme in the Tahoua region, in northern Ader, with the aim of increasing the amount of land available for cultivation, protecting the land from erosion and supplying drinking water to the local population. These objectives are still current but the SWISSAID programme has expanded to include other regions in Niger (Tillabéri and Dosso) and has also diversified, as these images show.
Since the 2002 government reform which recommended decentralisation, municipalities in Niger have had greater autonomy and must deal with greater responsibility. The problem is that the central government does not provide them with the necessary financial resources to set up public infrastructures. That is why SWISSAID supports municipal authorities in their search for new sources of finance. For example by taxing livestock sold at the communal market! By supporting the livestock rearing sector through the establishment of vaccination corridors, together with areas for slaughter and for selling livestock products which are controlled by the municipal authorities, SWISSAID helps to boost the economic prosperity of this business sector whilst providing the authorities with tax revenues.
Demographic pressures force many Nigeriens to seek arable land in the north of the country. In the meantime the Sahara continues its inexorable progress southwards. Where humans meet the desert there is an inevitable water shortage. SWISSAID and its partner municipalities then take up the technical challenge of drilling wells, sometimes more than 100 m deep, in the semi-desert areas of the Sahel. SWISSAID brings water to the gates of the desert but also helps to keep it clean by building latrines. There are numerous advantages for local people: having wells and fountains close by lightens the load for women, clean water and hygiene keep diseases at bay and irrigation improves soil fertility.
Although emergency aid is not the norm for SWISSAID, whose primary focus is a long-term development programme, when Niger suffers a terrible drought, as was the case in late 2011, we obviously get involved in the joint efforts involving the government and international aid to help starving families in the regions in which we work. In early 2012 SWISSAID therefore distributed seeds to farming families and helped to rehabilitate land which had suffered the effects of drought.
One of the special features of the Niger programme is warrantage. This system, which involves paying an advance for harvests, allows a farmer to obtain money quickly, without selling the fruits of his labour cheaply. He receives a good price for his harvest and it is stored in a communal warehouse until such time as the demand for grain is at its highest. It is then sold at a healthy profit and the farmer repays the advance received. In the meantime he uses the money he has borrowed to develop other income-generating activities and support his family. A simple and effective system.
SWISSAID invests around CHF 1.5 million each year in its programme in Niger. Its office is in Niamey and it is headed by Adamou Moussa Abba. The team is made up solely of Nigeriens. There are many advantages to this: a better understanding of socio-cultural and geo-political situations, an understanding of local languages and support for local skills.
On 19 November, it is World Toilet Day. What many people may smile about has a serious background: sanitation systems are in scarce supply in impoverished countries and the consequences are devastating. For that reason, donations support the construction of latrines – and drinking water supply systems. This gives women and children more time and energy to work and learn and generally improves everyone’s health.
In Niger, there is a dramatic water shortage. Women and girls spend half a day filling their canisters. The water is often contaminated with bacteria and the infant mortality rate is high. More and better wells and simple sanitary measures are already making a big difference.
There is too little of everything: water, food, seed, fertile fields, even trees. This is typical of Abala region in the Sahel country of Niger. Local millet seed is the bringer of hope – the seed is appetising for humans, but the birds avoid it.
A hot, dry region, 90,000 men, women and children and only 208 water collection points with many of them faulty or dried up – the prospects are not good.
SWISSAID is active in 21 villages to make sure the water begins to flow again.
A cure has been found for corruption: transparency and democracy. Both involve lots of hard work. A legal inspection of the Sahel state Niger ranked 106 on the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International.
More and more people and less and less to eat – this is the alarming conclusion. But the people of Birni N’Gaouré in Niger are hanging in there. With the support of SWISSAID they are battling the crises – and improving their lives little by little.