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Dossier Tackling Climate and Disaster Risks in Development Cooperation

Agricultural project in Niger : Food security and sustainable management of natural resources

, par Pain pour le prochain , BHEND Jonas, KUNZLER Marion

Climate change affects poor people in particular. They often rely heavily on natural resources and have very limited capacities to adapt. The rapidly changing climatic conditions hence put years of development efforts at peril. Development projects, on the other hand, strengthen the adaptive capacities of local communities and contribute to reduce or increase greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, climate change is often not considered explicitly in planning and managing development projects.

Bread for all and HEKS take climate change more formally into account through a tandem of measures. The project’s impact on the adaptive capacity of the local communities and on net greenhouse gas emissions is assessed in a comprehensive and structured analysis. The Climate Proofing Tool provides guidance to carry out this analysis. Climate change workshops for partners in developing countries provide the basics needed to analyze development projects. Furthermore, the workshops raise awareness on the topic of climate change among the project coordinators and they foster the cooperation between different institutions working on climate change.

Niger, Poorest among the Poor Countries

Niger, located in Western Africa, is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. The population of roughly 15 million clusters in a small band in the semiarid south of the country, the rest of Niger (approximately 80% of its area) is covered by the Sahara desert and thus only sparsely populated. Economic activities reflect the climatic conditions : Close to the desert, people practice transhumance and their main source of income is stock-breeding, whereas in the wetter south, agriculture and gardening dominate. Due to the strong population increase, pressure on natural resources is high, and leads to severe overexploitation and conflicts between livestock herders and agriculturalists.

The official language in Niger is French, however, many traditional languages prevail, e.g. Hausa. The literacy rate is among the lowest in the world (28 percent of adult Nigeriens can read) and many of those illiterate do not speak French. Poverty is omnipresent with 85 percent of the population living from less than two dollar per day. Malnutrition, insufficient healthcare, a record fertility rate of 7.2 births per woman, and the population growth of about 3 percent per year are further indicators of the precarious situation in Niger.

The political situation in Niger escalated when President Tandja suspended the National Assembly and the Courts in 2009. The Constitutional Court initially ruled out a referendum that would have allowed Tandja to extend his mandate for a third term. Ruling the country by emergency decree for several weeks, Tandja managed to get the referendum through and was reelected in October 2009. The opposition organized rallies after the suspension of the Assembly and boycotted the elections, however, with virtually no effect. Apart from the constitutional crisis, riots in the connection with the Tuareg rebellion and terrorist attacks of the Al-Qaida or groups related to them destabilize the northern part of the country.

The work of HEKS in Niger focusses on development cooperation and humanitarian aid in the region of Tahoua. In collaboration with four local development agencies, different projects mainly aiming at improving agricultural production to prevent famines are supported.

Climate and Disaster Risks in Niger

Large parts of Niger are covered by desert. Only in a small band in the south of the country, the rains allow for agricultural production. Water is the limiting resource for economic activities, thus life in Niger strongly depends on whether the rains suffice or not. Precipitation increases from the arid north of the country with about 150 mm of rain per year to the semiarid south with up to 800 mm per year ; the rains also vary strongly from year to year and locally from village to village. Insufficient rains constitute the major climate risk in Niger.

Other climate and disaster risks important in Niger are heat waves, that strongly affect agricultural productivity and health, floods, bush fire and parasite attacks (mainly crickets). In addition, variations in the discharge of the Niger River strongly affect local communities in western Niger.

Climate model simulations indicate that the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations leads to warming and to an increase in precipitation variability. The change in total amount of precipitation is rather uncertain. These local climate changes translate to an increase in heat waves, floods and likely also in droughts (due to the increase in precipitation variability and increasing evaporation).

Analysis of Community-Level Project in Tahoua

The community-level project analyzed in Niger is located in the area of Guidan Ider. The Nigerien NGO Groupe d’Appui au Développement Rural – Recherche et Action (GADRRA) that runs the project seeks to improve food security and sustainable development in the region by a wide set of measures :

  • Varieties adapted to droughts and heat stress allow for yields even if the rains fail
  • Soil recuperation helps the farmers to increase their productive area
  • Small-scale and intensive animal husbandry provides revenues specifically for women
  • Sustainable practices such as agro-forestry and composting conserve the scarce resources
  • Formations strengthen the communal organizations, promote hygiene, and inform about HIV/AIDS and about conflict management.

In consultations with the beneficiaries impacts of the project on livelihood resources and the vulnerability to climate risks are identified. The consultations with farmers are split up by gender, in order to take into account the different realities of everyday’s life of women and men. The climate risks, coping strategies, and important resources identified by the group of women and men differ only by very little.

Discussion with farmers from Guidan Ider

There exists a whole set of coping strategies for most of the risks identified. Some of these strategies are sustainable and help to decrease the vulnerability of the population to the impacts of climate risks. The ‘Habanayé’ system, that allows farmers who lost their livestock to borrow animals and keep its off springs, is such a strategy that works well if only a small part of the farmers are affected. The exodus of men during times of food shortage, on the other hand, is an example of a coping strategy that is not desirable, as it generally increases the vulnerability of the women and children left behind.

The analysis of the importance of the different livelihood resources for the coping strategies and their vulnerability to climate risks indicate, that all natural resources and almost all financial resources are strongly affected. The project activities positively affect livelihood resources and thus strengthen the capacities to adapt to changing climatic conditions. Nevertheless, there is ample room for improvement of the project.

The analysis with the Climate Proofing Tool reveals that natural resources should be further strengthened. Especially water conservation and management activities could decrease people’s vulnerability to droughts considerably. It is shown that all revenue heavily depends on the natural resources. Thus, sources of income independent of natural resources could reduce the vulnerability to climate risks. Finally, there is no strategy to deal with parasite attacks which affect food production as well as human and animal health.

The project’s effect on mitigation of climate change is presumably positive, as soil conservation and recuperation, composting and other activities foster sequestration of carbon dioxide. However, the aspect of mitigation is in the precarious situation of the community in Guidan Ider clearly subordinate.

Climate and Disaster Risks Workshop in Niamey

The workshop organized and financed by Bread for all took place in October 2009 in Niamey. Local NGOs supported by HEKS and experts from the University of Niamey and the National Weather Service took part in the workshop. In presentations held by local experts and the facilitators, the participants were introduced to the topics of global climate change, its causes and effects, as well as adaptation and disaster risks strategies. In a series of group exercises, the participants learned to use the Climate Proofing Tool. These exercises culminated in a draft project proposal with a strong climate component. Finally, during a field trip to the nearby research institute ICRISAT, the participants were given the opportunity to learn about crops adapted to heat stress and droughts and innovative irrigation methods.

The workshop has been very successful. Even though the participants were mostly unaware or unfamiliar with climate change, they quickly adopted the topic and linked it to their own experience, as it is very prominent in the lives and project work of the participants. Mitigation of climate change has been much harder to communicate as it is of no priority in Niger.

The workshop also provided for a great opportunity to get together the different people dealing with climate change in Niger. We hope that this kick-off meeting initiates further collaboration and that a fruitful exchange between the experts from the University, the research centers and the government and the project coordinators takes place.

Lessons Learned

The analysis of a community-level development project in Sub-Saharan Africa with the Climate Proofing Tool proves that the tool is suitable also in this context. Furthermore, the application in Niger provides helpful insight in challenges and shortcomings of the analysis : First, the application of the tool requires a certain level of education and specific training. Second, the differentiation between climate and other risks is often very difficult and to a large extent meaningless. Thus, the former Climate Proofing Tool has to be adapted to allow for a more general assessment. Third, the language barrier posed difficulties e.g. loss of time and information, misunderstanding as well as a lack of technical vocabulary in Hausa. The very different background of the participants requires attention in the planning of future workshops. Illiteracy, on the other hand, posed a minor problem in the workshop, as people able to read and write were readily available to help those illiterate.

Furthermore, we learned that it is of utmost importance, that the schedule is adapted to local working customs and practices. Otherwise, participants quickly lose their good humor and are no longer committed to following the workshop.

For further information : Marion Künzler / Bread for all, In charge of the « Climate » workshops :


This article is available in french Analyse et atelier relatifs aux risques liés aux changements climatiques et aux catastrophes d’un projet agricole au Niger

« The workshop was very important. We learned how climate change is affecting our production systems (farming, animal husbandry and agriculture). » Workshop participant, Niamey

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