Niger: Everybody depends on the Earth to survive

Dan Bouga

The farmers of Dan Maza Idi village in Niger have a saying. "Everybody depends on the Earth to survive."

Unfortunately, climate change is making survival more difficult in Dan Maza Idi and villages like it across Niger. Years of erratic rains and longer-than-usual dry periods have made it increasingly difficult to grow millet, a staple of the local diet.

Dan Bouga, a 55-year-old farmer in the village, works hard to feed his six children. But no amount of hard work can produce rain. Traditional millet seeds used in the region take three months to grow. With some recent rainy seasons lasting less than two months, Dan's harvests have plummeted.

In 2009 CARE began working with Dan and other farmers in the village to help them devise sustainable ways to improve millet production. Dan was one of several people who, with CARE's help, switched to new millet seeds that produce crops in just two months and can be replanted the following year. Along with new seeds, farmers received training on how to successfully cultivate this new crop.

The first year Dan planted the seeds, the rainy season arrived late and lasted just two months. But because he was growing a newer, quicker variety of millet, his fields filled with strong, healthy-looking cobs. Dan grew enough millet to feed his family and had enough leftover to store and sell, despite the shortened rainy season.

"This surplus will allow me to have money to look after my family," he said in 2009. "I can pay for health care and buy clothes for my children."

The severity of this year's drought has pushed the entire Sahel region into an enormous food emergency. More than 15 million people are in need of emergency food assistance. CARE is appealing for £20.7 million to assist one million people at risk in Chad, Mali and Niger.

The people in Dan Mazi Idi and thousands of villages just like it need outside help to endure the lean months before the next harvest. It is a humanitarian imperative to help them now and avoid an even more severe crisis in the future.

In Chad, Mali, and Niger, CARE provides access to food, trains nurses to identify and treat malnutrition, improves water and sanitation, and promotes hygiene. And CARE provides essential household items and hygiene supplies to people in Mali displaced by conflict, as well as to Malian refugees who fled across the border into Niger.

With more support, CARE can maintain and expand programmes like the one that has helped Dan Bouga and his family support themselves. But time is running out. Families in and around Dan Mazi Idi village are so hungry they have already begun eating their seed stock to survive. Dan and his family have managed to hold on to their seeds so far. Even if they plant the seeds, there's no guarantee there will be enough rain for them to grow anything at all. But unlike some of their neighbours, Dan and his family will at least have a chance.

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