Niger: Hope and worries in Moujia


After a severe food crisis in 2010, women founded an association of grain banks to prepare for times of hardship

Niandou Ibrahim, CARE Niger, October 21, 2011

Niger: Hope and worries in Moujia image 1
Moumouni Alkassoum, manager of the union of cereal banks for women of Moujia.Photo Niandou Ibrahim, CARE.

Last year, 20 percent of households in Niger were affected by a devastating food crisis. The village of Moujia, located between the cities of Konni and Tahoua in the center-west of the country, gave a picture of the situation at that times. (see story from 2010)

Drought and parasites had completely destroyed the crops, and in order to survive, people were forced either to migrate or to do menial tasks for little pay. Like in Alhou Abdou's household, made up of six children and his wife, the villagers fought day after day to feed themselves. Even though they decreased the number of meals and portion sizes, they often went hungry.

CARE provided 100 kilograms of grain to Alhou's family through a large-scale programme of free grain distribution, in cooperation with the Niger government and the World Food Programme (WFP). The other households in the village that were suffering from the food crisis all received the same support. This external aid was combined with the stock from a grain bank that the women of the village had implemented to meet the food needs of the families.

The women's small grain bank had a huge impact on the entire community. Inspired by this victory, and knowing that food crises appear every three years, the women were motivated to expand their idea of an "association of cereal banks" in the region.

The system Matu Masu Dubara ('clever women' in the local Hausa language) is made up of savings and loans groups that are managed by the villagers. These groups enable the creation of multiple village projects in several areas, such as health (providing training and equipment for nurses), education (literacy and awareness about girls' education), environmental protection (growing trees and orchards), food security (creation of village grain banks), and even recently, entering political arenas to elect women to influence local and national decision making processes.

Alhou's wife Hadja belongs to the network of "Tammaha" (hope) groups in Moujia, which started a cereal bank in 2002. The bank served its purpose every year because even in years with good crop yields, more than 60 percent of households cannot meet their food needs with their harvests alone. However, in a year of crisis, like in 2010, the Moujia bank couldn't withstand the high demand for grain.

Hundreds of Mata Masu Dubara women from Niger also started cereal banks in their communities. Under the leadership of these women, 19 other community grain banks in the surrounding areas came together to form an association of banks: a storehouse with enough stock to come to the aid of smaller banks in case of stock shortage caused by a high demand in times of food crisis. "To do this, each of the 20 groups contributed a total of 1,000,000 cfa francs, or 2,100 USD, that was used to buy the start-up stock. CARE, with financing from the Norwegian Agency of Development Cooperation, then helped with the construction of a store and management training for the designated women, who would oversee the operation of maintaining the stock. WFP contributed 27,000 kilograms of cereals. It was a real pooling of resources," explainsMérido Moussa, director of the Matu Masu Dubara women association in Moujia.

Today, the association of Moujia banks provides a permanent stock of supplies in the area. While the market price of a 100 kilogram sack of millet is 19,000 fcfa (40 USD), the village banks can sell it for 18,000 fcfa because the union provides it at a lower cost of 16,000 fcfa.

"The women are so clever,"whispers Alhou Abdou, while looking lovingly at his wife. "Normally the grain stock set aside by the women would have been enough to fill the gap left by the poor yields that we're seeing this year. But we're still facing hard times because our brothers had to come home from Libya," he adds solemnly. They had lost their jobs due to the political unrest in North Africa.

As of August 31, 2011, evaluations have shown that the crops will not come full circle in 2,496 farming villages throughout Niger, affecting an estimated population of 2,885,673 men and women. The rate of severe malnutrition among six month to five year old girls and boys is at risk of increasing in 2012.

In addition, the socio-political movements that unfolded in Cote d'Ivoire and Libya affected 200,000 migrants working abroad. The thousands of migrants who returned to Niger between February and September came home to extreme destitution, adding another challenge for vulnerable communities like Moujia. "150 village youth had to flee Cote d'Ivoire and 50 others came home from Libya empty-handed, whereas previously they were the principal source of income for Moujia," confirms Mahamadou Abdou, the Imam of the local mosque.

CARE Niger is committed to respond to the urgent challenges of this situation, while continuing to contribute to the resilience of the households in Moujia and in hundreds of other communities.