Niger: “Food is the most basic need”

With help from CARE, Tachima has been able to pay off her debts and feed her children

Only 40, her eyes and wrinkled face bear witness to a life of hardship. A widow and a mother of six in Niger, Tchima Ibrahim Iro has no means to support herself and her family. She relies on people’s handouts. “Last year I was less exposed, as people produced more I could get more from begging. But this year, with the drought, I receive less.”

Having less food during the months leading to harvest is not new for people across West Africa. However, this year they are bracing for something much harsher. Drought, soaring food prices, and regional insecurity add additional pressure.

CARE is providing income to families like Tchima’s so they can buy food ahead of what is known as the ‘lean season’ - the gap between when people run out of food and the next harvest. Families receive cash in exchange for part-time work in projects identified by their communities, or as a handout when nobody in the family is able to perform manual labour.

“I am grateful to CARE,” explains Tchima. Neither she nor her children can work, but she still receives cash.

Without this support, I would not have been able to feed my children. Now I can buy food for my family.

Rising food prices

Sarkin Yamma, where Tchima lives, consists of vast expanses of semi-arid lands. The sandy tracks that lead there cut through a dry, barren-looking landscape. Even for people who know how to survive in such a hostile environment, small weather variations have a big impact.

The last few months have been particularly dry. The wet season started later than usual. Rains were sparse, affecting crops and cattle, people’s main sources of income and nutrition.

For Tchima, it is already generally difficult to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, I do not have any land nor animals – not even a chicken, so my biggest problem is to have food during the lean season.

This year food prices have risen hugely. Even better off homes are struggling to cope with a twenty percent increase in the price of sorghum, Niger’s staple food. For Tchima, it means a life at the edge of survival.

In addition to the drought, conflicts in the region have made it harder to bring food to the table. Most families send one person to work abroad for several months. They rely on that extra income during the lean season. This year many Nigerien migrant workers had to return home due to the conflicts in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Mali and Nigeria, putting a stop to crucial remittances.

This is also the case for Tchima. “My oldest child is 20 years old and lives away. I financed his departure to go find work, but he did not manage to earn anything,”

Stark choices

Families with limited resources must face the hard choice of whether to spend the little money they have on their children’s education or on food. “I regret my children could not attend school, but I cannot afford it,” laments Tchima.

For people trying to cope with the current situation, it makes no difference whether it is called ‘drought,’ ‘food crisis,’ or something else. Tchima explains the impact of hunger.

Food is the most basic need. Someone who has not eaten, do you think they can care about what they wear?

Debts repaid

While her neighbours help her out, Tchima ends up in debt.  “It is always debt in kind, for something to eat.”

In many cases, people have not got time to pay back the debt they incurred during the last food crisis barely two years ago.

CARE’s support has helped Tchima get back on track. "I have used some of the cash to pay back my debt and I have stopped begging – I will never forget it," she says with a smile. "As of now, I only have 5,000 (£6.25) CFA francs of debt. So, today after I get the 13,000 (£16.30) CFA francs from the project, my first reaction will be to repay my debt.

I will still have 8,000 (£10) left, so next I will buy some millet and cook it, and tonight I will be able to eat a big pot of porridge with my children.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.