By Jennifer O’Riordan
A women’s group in the small village of Issoufouri, Niger is bringing local food shortages under control through its efficient management of a cereal bank. The women-owned and operated facility caters to the community’s grain needs while also generating income.
“The villagers have confidence in themselves and are proud of their productivity,” observed Bisa Williams, U.S. Ambassador to Niger, after visiting the cereal bank in Issoufouri.
The cereal bank began operating with 10 metric tons of grain and within a year it had catered to the local communities needs and replenished that initial stock with an impressive 13.64 metric tons of grain. The bank also has a grain mill that generates income for them, while reducing their workload as they no longer have to pound the grain by hand.
Ambassador Williams, who lead a delegation to the Zinder and Diffa regions, visited communities where Counterpart is implementing programs to fight seasonal and chronic food insecurity, child malnutrition and wetlands protection. They are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
William Noble, USAID Director in Niger, and Moustapha Niang, Counterpart International’s Country Director, and several other regional delegates accompanied the Ambassador on her November trip.
A similar facility in Sissia, located about 1,100 km from the capital Niamey, was provided with 15 metric tons of grain through the assistance program. Two years later the cereal bank, one of 200 supported by Counterpart, boasts a stock of 18.25 metric tons and continues to function as an invaluable resource for the local community.
“During what is known as the “lean season”, which usually runs from May until September, food stocks in villages such as these can run very low,” explains Counterpart’s Moustapha Niang. “Without a ready supply of food many families struggle to survive and children in particular suffer from malnutrition.”
The group then moved on to the health district of Gouré, where they met with the area’s Chief Doctor and his senior staff. They discussed how the provision of healthcare has improved with the supplies and training provided through the Multi-Year Assistance Program.
The last stop was Anassaoul, where the group visited a community wetland area covering a cultivable area of 144 hectares. Before the program began, less than 10 farmers were cultivating the wetland area due to a lack of water-drawing equipment and other farming supplies.
With Counterpart’s help, today more than 200 farmers are generating substantial income from the land by cultivating corn, cassava, potatoes and cabbage.
“The villagers have already replicated the system and want to teach it to others,” said Ambassador Williams of the visit to Anassaoul. “That is assistance! That is partnership with Nigeriens.”
Counterpart is helping Nigerien communities cultivate land in 13 fertile farming areas and work to stabilize the soil on 74 hectares of sand-dune, a process which includes the distribution of nearly 1,800 fruit trees. In addition, some 13 agricultural input stores for farmers’ groups are being established; vulnerable women have received 450 goats; and flour mills have been provided to 5 women’s groups.