Africa, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

NIGER: Caring for the River, Reaping the Benefits

Ousseini Issa

NIAMEY, May 10 2011 (IPS) - In anticipation of growing sorghum during the coming rainy season, Hamadou Abdou and his son are busy preparing the soil on the family’s farm in Bougoum, a village in the west of Niger.

Abdou and his son are building up beds in the form of a crescent moon. “I learnt this technique for upgrading soil that has become unproductive through the land salvaging activities carried out as part of a programme that is combating the silting up of the Niger River bed,” Abdou tells IPS.

He adds: “Last year, I harvested nearly two 100-kilogramme bags of sorghum from this piece of land which I hadn’t worked for several years, because it was so arid. This year I hope the yield will be even better.”

Back in the capital, Niamey, Ichaou Galadima, national coordinator of the programme to reduce siltation in the Niger River basin, explains further: “Subsistence farmers learned the half-moon technique (in 2008) and tried it out on gentle slopes that have been silted up, in our sites of intervention.”

The Niger Basin Project Against Siltation

The farmers were trained by technicians from Galadima’s project. “This programme, which involves 45 villages located in the river’s western catchment area, started in 2005 to expand and strengthen the initiative that had been launched two years earlier by the Nigerien authorities in Bougoum,” explains Galadima.

“The five-year programme has been piloted by the Niger basin authority in Niamey and also includes Burkina Faso and Mali, at a total cost of 22.9 billion CFA francs (around 51 million dollars),” Seyni Seydou, regional coordinator of the programme in Niamey, tells IPS.

The Niger River, which runs for 550 kilometres through the southwest part of the country, has for decades been faced with the phenomenon of siltation of its bed, accelerated by the severe desertification of the catchment areas, according to environmental experts.

“As there’s practically no more vegetation to reduce the force of the runoff, the water creates ravines through which large amounts of sand and other debris are flushed into the river,” Souley Altiné, an environmental technician at Niamey, tells IPS.

Galadima’s programme is focused on slowing this phenomenon, which is seriously compromising socio-economic activity around the river. The measures taken include building berms, stabilising sand dunes, and planting trees. He says they have also allowed agricultural land to recover and reduce the flow of sand that the stream waters carry into the river.

Seydou ticks off the programme’s achievements in 2010: 47,338 hectares of protective measures and other measures to combat siltation.

“This includes 15,926 hectares of sand dune stabilisation, 25,629 hectares of rehabilitation of previously-damaged land, and 5,783 hectares of river bank protection.”

Success beyond reducing silt

At the Bitinkoji, Yetter Allah, Karey Gorou, and Bougoum sites, which include all the villages on the outskirts of Niamey where the river passes, IPS noted the restoration of vegetation to land that seven years ago was completely bare.

“We have gained a lot, not only in terms of money for this work. We are also now well-organised to promote local development,” says Hama Sadou, a smallholder farmer from Bougoum.

“From the construction of the berms, I earned a bit over 3,000 CFA francs a day (about $6.50). Due to the profitability of this work, in the last few years, many of the youth have not joined the seasonal exodus,” Sadou tells IPS.

Women have also benefited. “We have used them in the project to stabilise the sand dune, for carrying stones and growing seedlings, which is not as hard as digging for the berms,” says Galadima.

Bintou Abdou, a 30 year-old woman from Bitinkoji village, confirms enjoying some measure of financial autonomy thanks to the programme. “With the money that I receive on the site, I got into selling doughnuts, and thanks to this I am able to dress my children and see to some of the school related expenses,” she tells IPS.

Maïmouna Boubacar, another woman, has taken up raising small livestock. The 40-year-old says she now has 13 goats and seven sheep, as well as poultry, which today form the foundation of her household’s finances.

For Daouda Mounkaïla, an inhabitant of the Karey Gorou village, one of the most important gains of this programme has been the creation of village committees for the management of natural resources.

“The hay that we harvest on the restored sites is sold, and the money is deposited into a bank account that will take care of the village’s infrastructure needs.”

Republish | | Print |

patrick bet-david: books