Improving food security in Niger
Hadabi Haoua Bizo is one of the few women mayors in Niger. This sturdy local celebrity heads the commune of Kiéché. She has launched many initiatives for the local inhabitants and in particular for women and girls. One of her worries are the region’s recurring food shortages.
”One of the great assets of Kiéché is that it is close to the Dallol Maouri water sources. It is one of the few regions in Niger where market gardening is profitable,” declares Hadabi Haoua Bizo, the mayor of a commune of approximately 58,000 inhabitants that is located in the arid plains of south-western Niger. To do something about dwindling food reserves, the authorities of Kiéché have put in place a system to provide women easier access to land. If they pay an annual fee, village women receive a plot of land from land owners which they can cultivate. The fields can be irrigated thanks to nearby wells that have been built by the commune.
Starting at dawn, the women of Kiéché work in their market gardens. Where they live, the rainy season lasts only four months. So it has always been a real challenge to produce sufficient fruits and vegetables. Now, in addition, the climate is changing. The rainy seasons are shorter, while more violent downpours destroying arable land alternate with bouts of drought.
A women at the heart of politics in Niger
Hadabi Haoua Bizo, the mayor of Kiéché, has a strong personality, Even though this has not always been so.
“I started my career in education. In my job I was often confronted with the harsh facts of life. We all want our children to enjoy good education. To escape poverty, children need to learn, but in Jougala, the village where I grew up, the first primary school was only built in 1994! That is where my desire to go into politics was fostered. In Niger, there are many problems that require structural solutions. So, soon I understood where my personal area of interest was, namely in politics.”
In 2004 such a choice was not an easy one; it actually still isn’t. “Even though I enjoyed the backing of my family and my husband, around here the world of politics is and remains primarily a male realm. I still often hear that women remain subordinate to men: They must run the household and look after the children and they cannot interfere with public life in any way whatsoever. Such views were an extra reason for me to pursue my plan and go into politics.”
Hadabi has given the signal that women who want to be involved must be allowed to do so and come up for their rights. Today, she raises awareness among the families in her village. “In the past, I did not dare speak in public, but today you can put me in front of an auditorium – even with a thousand men – and I will speak out loud. ”
In Kiéché Hadabi is a real ambassador for women’s rights, and she is the spokesperson of the commune’s women. She helps them obtain an income of their own, to overcome traditional gender bias and to discuss sensitive issues. This really creates opportunities: ”I am aware that a complete change in the mentality is not for tomorrow yet. But I feel I have planted an important little seed, which slowly but surely will grow.”
Protection against food shortages
The women cultivate tomatoes, onions and cabbages in the dry season. That way they not only diversify standard meals by adding vegetables to a diet that is based on millet but they also generate revenues as they can sell their surplus on the local market. With that extra income they can purchase even more varied foodstuffs (rice, sugar, meat, etc.) or pay school fees for their children.
But not everything goes smoothly. On the market, local produce must compete with cheap imports from Nigeria, explains Hadabi. ”To counter this, we have recently built a warehouse where we can store onions. For us it is more interesting to sell them when prices are up. ”
The first results are encouraging. There are more vegetable varieties available and yields have improved. “Women become financially independent and more children can attend school. In such a situation the whole community wins. ”
Prepare for the future
Yet, the women’s enthusiasm is dampened because of lingering uncertainty and the issue of land ownership. In Niger, rural women in particular suffer from discrimination and inequality. They have practically no income to speak of and most of their activities focus on survival. Where household spending is concerned, wives have little to say. And since men traditionally own the land, only the sales of farm produce fund family needs.
Hadabi is worried about the future: “The whole commune has benefited from the market gardens... Even the land owners. They lease out land year after year, yet they offer land that is farther and farther away from the wells. And consequently, men now work the best plots of land,” whereas women worked hard on making those plots profitable. “But women claim the right to cultivate the land they have worked on the preceding years, in order to benefit from the efforts they have made. And, thus, they claim the fruits of their work.”
That is why the commune is taking new initiatives. “We support revenue-generating activities. For instance, the most vulnerable women receive three nanny goats and a billy goat, which they have to ‘repay’ when breeding is launched well. And, as citizens see what can be achieved with public funds, they are more willing to pay the taxes they owe! Which provides us the means to invest even more in our commune.”
To learn more: Read the reflection paper “Amélioration de la sécurité alimentaire des femmes vulnérables" (in French)
Women, the heart of the family in Niger, play a key role in food security. A UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme) study also showed that a child's chances of survival increase by 20% where women participate in household spending decisions.
Approximately 25% of population suffers from food insecurity
80% of the population is rural and primarily lives from agricultural productivity
Some achievements of the programme
41 market garden sites installed on a surface of 110 hectares
More than 3,200 women practice market gardening on a plot of land
93% of beneficiary households eat 2 meals a day (against 74% in 2012)