Niger: Even Farmers find the cupboards bare

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By Kalle Lindberg in Niger

For a farmer in a poor country, Boureima Garba who lives in Kourtéré village in Niger, is fortunate. He has plenty of land. He has gone to school and learned to read and write. His village is situated close to the Niger River where he can fetch water. And since the capital Niamey isn’t far away, he has access to a market where he can sell the surplus of what he reaps. In spite of this he worries every single day about how to make the food last until the next harvest in September.

“We are frightened, we are very frightened,” he says. “It’s hard to make ends meet now. So how will we manage until September?”
Boureima’s daughter Fati sits in the shade outside the family house chopping onions, one of the many vegetables that her father cultivates in the family garden. Her mother and her siblings are indoors in the single room of the family house.  The two sacks of rice stacked in a corner make up the family supply of food.

“Even if I could manage to produce some food, there will be those who have nothing, nothing at all,” Boureima explains, showing with a move of his hand that he means the other farmers in the vicinity. “When you have nothing you are forced to leave. That goes for all heads of families. If they see their children crying and have nothing to give them, they will leave so that the children can’t see them.”

In the yard outside the house, the family goats trample the red sand. The cows are off grazing elsewhere. In a compound nearby, made out of dry thorny branches, Boureima keeps his supply of hay for the animals. The compound is huge, but the pile of hay is modest.

“My supply of hay is almost finished,” he says. “And I don’t know where to find more. How will this suffice?”

The latest rainy season was a disappointment to the farmers of Niger. The rains were far from sufficient to provide good harvests of the traditional basic food millet and pasture for the animals. That’s why there’s now a shortage of food for both humans and animals. The next rainy season will start in June. Then those farmers who haven’t already eaten their very last grains can sow and wait for the next harvest that is due in September.

“I have made a calculation,” says Boureima. “You have to calculate to make sure that the food lasts. We are approaching the month of April and then there is May, June, July, August and September. That’s a long time. We will have to be careful, very careful. We will reduce our meal size. If my wife usually takes a kilo and a half she will now take a kilo or less.”

The yard in front of the family house sits next to a grove of trees where a walking trail winds in the shadows beneath the leaves. The trail ends in an open place with a view of the river a few hundred meters away. Here some kids are fetching water from a well. Boureima’s neat vegetable garden is situated next to the well. When the well runs dry, which it does on a daily basis, Boureima’s children and wife have to carry water from the river half a kilometer away.

“If I had access to more water I would cultivate my other garden. I was planning on planting potatoes there. But due to the lack of water I had to abandon it and grow some potatoes here among the vegetables instead.”

The lack of water also stops Boureima from fetching more than one harvest of rice from his fertile fields closer to the river. And when the rainy season doesn’t bring as much rain as usual, as was the case this year, the harvest of rice becomes modest.

“Here I have aubergines, tomatoes and corn,” says Boureima and bends down to pick some mature vegetables. “With what I manage to produce here I really don’t know if we’ll be able to make it until September. It isn’t easy.”

Photo: MÿRTVEDT, Mari. A/R¯de Kors