Building climate change resilience in Niger to keep hunger away

Recurring droughts in Niger caused pastoralists to have lost a huge part of their cattle. Oxfam's partner AREN gave Namata goats to sustain her family during the dry period of the year. Photo: Tom Saater/Oxfam
Recurring droughts in Niger caused pastoralists to have lost a huge part of their cattle. Oxfam's partner AREN gave Namata goats to sustain her family during the dry period of the year. Photo: Tom Saater/Oxfam

Climate change is a global threat. It is now affecting every country on every continent, but it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people – those who rely on rain to grow crops, live in poorly built structures in marginal areas and lack savings or insurance – who are hit the hardest.

In the Bermo region, in the south of Niger, climate change has a serious impact on the pastoralist community. Recurring droughts led to soil erosion and caused farmers to have lost a huge part of their cattle. Each year, part of the community has to leave the region with their remaining cattle in search of food and water.

This means surviving is even harder for the ones left behind. When the cattle farmers are gone, their families still have to eat, drink and live. For them, it is a time of scarcity and being hungry.

Together with its partner AREN (Association pour la redynamisation de l’élevage au Niger), Oxfam works in Bermo on sustainable income generating activities to make the population more resilient to climate change and food insecurity.

Generating new income through small business

Yagana Boukar, 50, with her trade, trying to sell things for a little income.

Through a cash for work program, we help women who have been left behind to start a small business – like buying or selling clothes – so they are able to sustain themselves and make their own living.

Yagana is from Zarwaram, a village located at the edge of Lake Chad where she used to sell jewelry and makeup products. Out of fear of Boko Haram she fled her village and is now living in the Diffa camp. Oxfam gave Yagana a cash for work grant which she has used to start a small trade business

AREN has set up Artizani, an organization that trains people to generate more income and manage it, for example through making and selling artisanal products.

In the crafts and arts space of the village, people make different jewelry, clothing, embroidery, and traditional leather items. When they started out they used to travel to the capital Niamey to sell the items, but now business runs so well that orders are coming in directly from the capital.

The income generated from sales are divided in two: one part is invested in new tools and materials to keep making the crafts, and the other part is invested in the household.

Storing cereal when food is scarce

Ouma Bermo, in the middle of the photo, is the president of the cereal storage bank which was set up by AREN with the support of Oxfam. AREN has trained the communities on how to manage the bank.

The cereal bank helps communities get through periods of hunger. Cereal is bought when it is in abundance and prices are low. When food is scarce, people can access cereal stored in the bank. This allows them to anticipate price fluctuations and makes the population more resilient to food insecurity.

Preserving milk when the cattle is away

Marjama Hoodi is president of a local milk factory. The money she earns makes her independent from her husband. She can buy stuff for herself and send her children to school.

Oxfam’s partner AREN constructed a small milk factory where milk can be kept at cold temperatures. The community can also use the factory to produce cheese and yogurt, which get sold locally and regionally.

Women in the community received 12 cows, so there is still milk and income when the cattle is away during the dry season. Changing the way milk is produced and preserved to avoid waste helps the community shift towards being more resource efficient.

Getting clean water from a dryland

Ardo Ado Maazou is one of the village leaders of the pastoralist communities and in charge of the water point of the region, constructed by AREN.

The community is trained to sustain the well and has received equipment to measure the quality and depth of the water. Since its construction, the health of the animals has improved, and people no longer have to go as far to get water for the household. “We also learned techniques to improve the soil. It makes the grass grow again, there is food for the animals. And it helps to decrease bushfires,” says Ardo

Due to persistent violence by Boko Haram in the region and the drying out of Lake Chad, large groups of people have fled. Despite poverty, political instability and permanent food insecurity in the country, the refugees are being cared for in camps around the village of Diffa, near the border with Nigeria. However, scarcity of clean water is a major issue and a challenge for the host community.

Oxfam has drilled several boreholes to provide drinking water for both the refugees and the communities hosting them. For 2000 CFA per month (or $3.5 USD) each family has unlimited access to water. The money is used for maintenance of the solar panels powering the pump. We have also established a water committee and trained them in the maintenance and management of the water and energy source.

Urgent action is needed now

The vulnerability to extreme weather of small-scale farmers and pastoralists in the Sahel region made 24 million people reliant on humanitarian assistance this year alone.

Climate change is already devastating lives across the world – and the poorest most vulnerable people are being hit hardest despite not having caused the problem.

Governments can still avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, but they must act now.