Africare: A Partner for Niger and the Sahel

 

November 16th, 2012

(Photo: La Présidence de la République du Niger)

The food crisis across the Sahel this year put almost 20 million people at risk of hunger, left more than three million children moderately or acutely malnourished and rendered one million children at risk of severe malnutrition. This prompted the largest humanitarian response the region has ever seen, which thankfully saved many lives. However, this response has not increased the capacity of the people of the Sahel so that they can withstand the cycle of crises that now repeats every few years.

Food crises are affecting countries in the Sahel with ever greater frequency due to rapid population growth; worsening desertification and environmental degradation compounded by climate change; stagnant agricultural productivity; high, volatile global food prices; and political insecurity— such as the present crisis in Mali, which has now spread to neighboring countries.

Africare, which began its work in 1970 in Niger, has been doing exactly what Sahel region countries are calling for —building the capacity of Africans to lead sustainable lives, regardless of the conditions. For over 40 years, our community-based and community-owned programs have actively engaged governments in the Sahel at all levels. We have stressed the need for nimble emergency response and strong social protection measures during times of crisis, as well as robust planning for and implementation of strong prevention measures when food is secure. (Read more about Africare: A Partner for Niger)

When there is an abundant harvest in years when rainfall and crop production are plenty, Africare implements livestock, savings, value chain support, and market-access interventions to improve and diversify livelihoods. We also invest in water, sanitation and hygiene and put heavy emphasis on investing in climate-smart agriculture, using low-cost, high-impact technologies for surveillance, seeds, fertilizer, water, and food storage and processing.        

Africare works diligently to support pastoralists, who often are affected by food-access issues earlier than other groups. We put gender at the center of our work as small-scale, female farmers provide the greatest proportion of household food, and tend to take responsibility for most health care decisions and the reinvestment in their families’ education. During harder times with low rainfall, pest infestations and price shocks, Africare employs community-based risk management strategies, and development activities are adjusted accordingly. 

In times of crisis, we immediately reprogram our work to focus on humanitarian activities, targeting aid to the most vulnerable populations. This includes providing support to communities that take in groups displaced by the shock; targeting cash transfers, food distribution, and cash-for-work programs to build community infrastructure; and creating health care opportunities for children and pregnant mothers.

Once a crisis has passed, our focus shifts to help pave the way for communities to restore their livelihoods and to address the root causes of vulnerability in disaster-prone areas.

The Nigerien government, much like Africare, is serious about finding long-lasting solutions that effectively alleviate poverty. It is providing strong leadership to break the cycle of poverty through its 2012-2015 economic and social development plan entitled, Nigeriens Nourish Niger Agriculture Initiative. This past Tuesday, at the Niger National Economic and Social Development Plan (PDES) Round Table Conference in Paris, Niger’s strategy received resounding support from the international community and secured $4.8 billion in pledges.

I had the pleasure of attending the Round Table Conference to explore the ways in which Africare can continue to support the Nigerien people. Africare shares Niger’s goal of long-term resilience against food-insecurity and will ever be a willing and steadfast partner in the country’s transformation.

 

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