As the “lean season” draws to a close and Niger looks forward to a bumper harvest, WFP is shifting gears to ensure that the hungry have money to buy the new food. Schemes providing cash in exchange for work on community projects are one way WFP is helping to protect markets and keep food accessible.
ROME— Most years, Mam Kadaouda, a widowed mother of six, makes a living growing vegetables on her small plot of land in southwestern Niger. But drought in the Sahel region of Africa ruined her crop and pushed her—and millions of others—to the edge of survival.
After a long, hard “lean season” this summer, Mam, 54, has come out on the other side with reason to feel optimistic. The rains this year have been abundant and her vegetables are growing nicely. In the meantime, she’s earning cash by planting trees, which will help to protect her community from erosion and make the soil more fertile.
Rising hope and lingering concerns
While the outlook improves in Niger, stubbornly high rates of malnutrition are still causing concern in its eastern neighbour, Chad.
“This money will help me buy food and cook for my family,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I held this kind of money in my hand,” she admits, explaining that since the drought hit, she’s gone deeper and deeper into debt in order to feed her children.
As the lean season hit its peak this summer, some 4.76 million people in Niger—including Mam— stayed fed thanks to rations of cereal, oil and beans provided by WFP.
More than 600,000 children, like Mam’s two-year-old grandson, received their own special nutritious rations of corn-soya blend, vegetable oil and sugar enriched with the vitamins and minerals their growing bodies needed to be healthy. And their families received a ration of staple foods, too.
But with the October harvest in sight, WFP is increasingly looking to “cash for work” projects and other cash initiatives, so that when the time comes to pick Mam’s vegetables in her village of Tolkobey Fondobon, her neighbours will have money to buy them.
“We have every reason to expect a strong harvest this year,” says WFP Niger Country Director Richard Verbeeck. “That’s why we’re being careful to scale back food distributions, to avoid distorting the markets.”
According to Verbeeck, “cash for work” programmes will enlist an estimated 38,500 people around Niger, who will plant trees, build walls and take part in other community-building projects.
Each participant will be employed for 50 working days over a period of two months, receiving 1,000 CF Francs per day (about US $1.80).
In a country like Niger, which ranks at the bottom of the UNDP Development Index, this income will mark a welcome beginning to a hopefully plentiful harvest season.