Africa, Development & Aid, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

Niger Herders Count Losses, Plan For the Future

Ousseini Issa

EKRAFANE, Niger, Dec 9 2010 (IPS) - Bacharou Gorel had 300 head of cattle before the food security crisis began in Niger. Today he has only 53 left.

Cattle near Zinder, in southern Niger. Credit:  Anne Isabelle Leclerq/IRIN

Cattle near Zinder, in southern Niger. Credit: Anne Isabelle Leclerq/IRIN

“I lost 249 cows, all died of hunger and thirst, for want of timely assistance,” said Gorel, a major stockholder from Ekrafane, in the northwest of Niger.

In the same region, Hamado Sambo lost 41 of the 50 cows that were his pride and joy. “I’ve got just nine presently. Rebuilding my herd is difficult. We’ll need at least a decade, maybe two, during which there isn’t another crisis like this,” Sambo said.

From Tilabéri in the west, through the central region of Maradi, and into Diffa in the far east of the country, no region has been spared this massive loss of livestock, according to Harouna Abarchi, from AREN (the Association for the Revival of Livestock in Niger), a non-governmental organisation based in Niamey, the Nigerien capital.

Niger carried out a general census of livestock in 2007, and found the country had 34 million animals, including 10 million cattle. Experts from the Ministry of Livestock and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organiszation are carrying out a careful assessment, but AREN’s preliminary estimate is that 60 to 70 percent of livestock have died.

Dr Sahabi Barthé, an official in the Livestock Ministry, puts the losses still higher, at least 80 percent. “These tremendous losses are due to the failure to help herders at the right moment. It was when the animals were totally exhausted that the first assistance began in July 2010.”

The catastrophe has aggravated poverty levels for nomadic women who make a living from the sale of milk and milk products. “We no longer have milk to sell to earn money,” said Maïmouna Ag Zeïdi, a resident of Abala, in the west of the country.

“Action should have begun following the early warnings in January. Food for the animals should have been put into storage in the pastoral zones; this wasn’t done,” said Ibrahim Yahaya Touraroua, a farmer and herder, and consultant for the international NGO Oxfam Novib, based in Niamey.

“The lack of fodder in sufficient quantities contributed greatly to the losses that were recorded. The authorities and their partners are now setting up depots everywhere they are needed,” Bilal Adamou, a herder from Abala told IPS.

To prevent a recurrence of the losses, herders and ministry officials recommoned increasing the number of storage points where animal fodder can be bought.   According to Abarchi, the needs assessment from the 2009 season shows demand for 16,000 tonnes of fodder; unfortunately, the government has only requested 10,000 tonnes from its partners.

For Touraoua, the second essential strategy to protect against future losses is the careful management of grazing lands, which are constantly exposed to devastating wild fires. Abarchi says more than 300,000 hectares of good pasture has been destroyed by fire in recent months.

In response, the government and its partners have begun constructing fire-breaks in the countryside, and involving herders in the construction.

“We are providing labour for the digging of trenches to prevent fire from spreading and destroying forage wherever it occurs,” said Adamou.

But Touraoua says it’s necessary to send tractors out to all rural districts to help speedily create the fire-breaks.

A third strategy to protect livestock from devastation is strengthening the capacity of herders to move, to look for pasture wherever it’s available – even in neighbouring countries.

“There are presently many problems at this level, that’s why we are calling for the effective application of Economic Community of West African States’ policy on the free movement of goods and people,” says Abarchi.

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