With Vast Arable Land Lost Yearly, Niger Gets Support To Tackle Desertification

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By Akanimo Sampson

Humanitarian agencies have warned that periodic droughts, floods and land degradation caused by over-grazing are aggravating the existing vulnerabilities in Niger, and putting population at risk.

Since Niger’s economy is largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, making it vulnerable to adverse climatic conditions, it is estimated that more than 100,000 hectares of arable land are lost each year in the country due to desertification.

This troubled African country since 1975 has been celebrating National Arbor Day on August 3, which also doubles her Independence Day, by encouraging citizens to plant trees and organise environmental events. Both are essential to combating desertification across the country.

To mark the day, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) supported the initiative “One Migrant – One Tree” which saw more than 100 migrants from IOM’s transit centres in Niamey, as well as members of disadvantaged neighbourhoods, plant trees this past Saturday.

“Often people look at us as being a nuisance or a burden,” says Ousmane, 19, a migrant from the Central African Republic, who is staying at IOM’s transit centre in Niamey. “It’s good that we have the opportunity today to show that we can also help, that we can make a difference. These trees are proof; they will be the legacy we leave behind in Niger.”

The initiative One Migrant – One Tree supported by the European Union, within the framework of the Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism, is part of Project All Migrants, managed by JEMED, Jeunesse en Mission Entraide et Développement (Youth in Mission for Mutual Aid and Development) since 2014.

JEMED is a Christian non-governmental organisation that supports the Niger government’s efforts in its fight against food insecurity and environmental degradation due to climate change. As part of the organisation’s activities, JEMED assists migrants in transit who reside in poor neighbourhoods in Niamey.

The organisation provides food, non-food items and medical assistance when needed, but also organizes outreach activities and, upon request, refers migrants to relevant organizations or one of IOM’s transit centres in Niamey.

To mark the 44th anniversary of National Arbor Day in Niger, 70 migrants staying in disadvantaged neighbourhoods were mobilised, along with 30 migrants from IOM’s transit centres in Niamey.

As recommended by the authorities, the species chosen were mango trees or other species which provide shade. They were planted in the courtyard of school No. 5 in Niamey’s Koubia neighbourhood.

“It’s important to include migrants in such initiatives and make them feel valued in their host communities”, said minister Paul Abdoulaye Zagre, founder of Project All Migrants. “On one hand, we are working towards saving the environment; on the other, we are creating a fraternal bond between migrants and community members.  At the end of the day, we are more similar than we care to admit.”

This newly created green space will provide a better living environment for the school’s students, while also enabling them to grow an eco-conscious mentality. The students, along with the teachers, were sensitised during the day on environmental issues and climate change, but also on how to take care of the newly planted trees.

“This is a great opportunity for migrants and community members to come together and work towards the same goal,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Niger. “We are happy to work with JEMED on this day of learning and awareness-raising about important issues such as the environment, while we create strong bonds between different members of the community.”

During the one-day activity, the migrants had the chance to discuss their migration journeys and hopes for the future. “This is a wonderful initiative. Not only will the planting of these trees make a big difference for children going to our school, it is also an opportunity for us to meet people from all over the continent,” added Adamou, 36, who lives in the neighbourhood. “This is a good reminder that in the end, we are all brothers.”

To address the economic issues related to land degradation, IOM also implements a community stabilisation project in Agadez, funded by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which aims to integrate migrants in host communities and facilitate the restoration of degraded lands.

Through the same project and with support from UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), IOM also provides one-week training sessions in agricultural techniques for migrants staying at IOM’s transit centre in Agadez, as they wait for their departure through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme, under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Regeneration.

In another development, a United States Government delegation visited Kilip community early this August, eager to see the sustainable water supply and climate resilient agriculture project installed there in 2016 in response to the El Niño-induced drought.

As part of its project, IOM drilled 17 boreholes, giving access to safe drinking water to over 65,000 people across three provinces, namely Jiwaka, Enga and Chimbu.

Jointly funded by USAID and the European Commission, IOM’s Enhancing Climate-Resilient Agriculture and Water Supply in Drought-Affected Communities in Papua New Guinea project targeted the most-affected villages in the three provinces.

IOM also conducted participatory health and hygiene education instruction to some 15,777 beneficiaries in the communities most affected by drought. Also, part of the project: Pump-minder trainings for selected 30 community members in the targeted areas, where IOM equipped beneficiaries with practical skills, tools and personal protective gear to carry out maintenance for 17 boreholes, which will help guarantee their maintenance and sustainability.

These pump-minder trainings were complemented by water-user committee awareness, held for the selected 150 community champions to ensure local ownership and equity of access to the water sites.

Three years on, Kilip villagers and neighbouring communities continue to experience the benefits under the project.

During the visit by the US Government delegation, community members highlighted several benefits arising from the project including improved food security, access to safe drinking water and a decline in disease outbreaks.

“Our children would always get sick in the past. We no longer visit the clinics regularly like we did before you [IOM] came to Kilip community. The education IOM gave us, and the borehole you drilled here benefits over 5,000 people in Kilip. We are a healthy community”, said one beneficiary.

IOM also implemented a sustainable agriculture intervention through technical trainings to 100 master farmers that reflect the understanding and improvement of the local and indigenous farming practices. The training focused on promoting community resilience while encouraging the use of locally developed hybrid varieties of crops and vegetables.

Enhancing the resilience of local communities and building the capacity of local farmers in sustainable agricultural practices is contributing to long-lasting impacts. Beneficiaries of rice farming (training, tools and seeds distribution) now are recording three harvests each year and reporting improved food security and resilient livelihood.

The rice farmers were proud of the 20 tonnes of rice their farms have yielded and noted that as their capacity to harvest rice grows, their ability to process rice was limited. They thus requested support for additional milling capability.