Sahel food crisis: Women as silent agents of change

by Plan International | @davtox | Plan International
Friday, 28 June 2013 20:58 GMT

Mamou, seen with her husband Seyni, used micro-finance loans to tide over hard times. Credit: Plan

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Moumouni Hamadou has had a bad year. In fact, the last few years have been the roughest for the 45-year-old father of six who lives a remote Nigerien village in Dosso Region – about 145kms south-west of the capital, Niamey.

Since October last year, Moumouni and his family have survived on just one cup of porridge a day. That’s all the food they can afford.

“We had so much but now we have no more ‘family silver’ to sell,” says Moumouni. “Last year, when the crops were looking healthy and promising, trouble struck. Just at the time that we expected the millet to mature, the rains stopped and we had a very bad harvest. We could reap just 10 measures (about 50 bowlfuls).”

“It did not end there, this year again the crops were growing well until we were hit by an insect infestation. As a result, a large part of the crops was destroyed. I had to replant and then we were struck by floods,” he adds.

In Nakin Fada, in the same region, a farming community of about 10,000 people is going through a similar situation. Their last crop of millet and maize was destroyed due to lack of rainfall. They lost their main source of livelihood. However, here, the farmers are being supported by community development organisation Plan International which set up a microfinance project in the village – mainly targeting women. There are 11 groups in the village with 400 members.

Hawa was one of the first women to become a member. Her group is called Bonkaney, meaning “luck” in the local Zarma language. Hawa has regularly saved and has been able to borrow up to three times her savings which has helped to keep the family afloat during hard times.

“My whole family is affected by the food crisis. Last year my harvest was only 50 measures. We usually produce around 3,000. However, thanks to micro-finance project we have not gone hungry,” she says.

“I always had the ambition to be able to send my stepson abroad so he could earn a decent wage and send money back home. Last year I borrowed 10,000 CFA (US$20) to send him to Ghana where he found a job. He regularly sends home about 5,000 CFA a few times a year. I was able to pay off the loan in less than a year,” says Hawa.

The Bonkaney group also owns a farm where the women produce peanuts: a side job to their main role as housewives. “The profits from the sale are divided among the members,” explains Fati Soumana, one of the group’s officials. “In our spare time we can reap 10 sacks of peanuts which we sell at 7,500 CFA (US$15) per sack,” she says.

The idea behind the farming business is to be able to reap enough to provide for family meals each year and sell the surplus to earn enough money to send the children to school and pay for all the other household necessities.

Fati’s group is growing in size and wealth and she dreams that one day, they will be able to lend women up to 1 million CFA ($2,000).

Plan Niger’s Micro-finance Coordinator for the Dosso Region, Issa Laouali, says a key part of the scheme is training women in financial management, savings and other money matters which will help them if they want to start a business. Some groups have successfully launched business ventures. One such group has set up a corn mill which earns them 200,000 CFA per month.

In 2011 there were 5,106 members in groups across the region with total assets of 5.5 Million CFA ($11,000). In 2012 the number of members increased to 7,437 owning assets worth 17.9 million CFA ($35,800).

This project is just one approach being used by Plan to lift children and their families out of poverty and empower them to be able to support themselves, even in times of crises.

(Note: This case study was researched in second half of 2012)