NIGER: Livestock Herders Plan Ahead

  • by Ousseini Issa (hamdallaye, niger)
  • Inter Press Service

'I have purchased a large quantity of feed for my cattle, with the proceeds from selling two cows from the herd I take care of — with the owner's consent,' says Hama, a Fulani herder from the rural commune of Hamdallaye in Western Niger.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Livestock and Animal Husbandry in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, the fodder deficit this year in Niger reached 16 million tonns of dry matter, posing a threat to the survival of roughly two-thirds of Niger's livestock.

Hama says the suggestion to stockpile food for his herd came from the Niger Association for the Revitalisation of Livestock (known by its French acronym, AREN), a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) based in Niamey, which seeks to develop new initiatives to enable farmers to adapt to climate change.

'The Association warned us of possible grazing problems very early this year, mostly because of poor rainfall. I had to sell one or two cows when prices were still good to be able to weather the rough times,' says Boubacar Belko, a shepherd who works with Hama.

'The same cow that you would sell for about 200,000 CFA francs (about $465 U.S.) less than three months ago will only get you 150,000 francs today ($348 US). And the price will keep dropping as animals lose their fat from lack of food,' Belko predicts.

'We no longer have enough milk to sell because animals are hungry. Four months ago, our herd produced 10 to 15 litres per day, but now we only get 5 litres,' said Maïmou Ibrahim, 46, a milk vendor from Hamdallaye.

In addition to stockpiling feed in anticipation of pasture shortages, AREN also supports animal feed diversification, securing pastures and advocates in favor of cross-border transhumance - seasonal migration of herds in search of pasture - said Harouna Abarchi, permanent secretary of the association.

'We also advise farmers on early transhumance and access to animal health services,' Abarchi told IPS.

To further refine these various interventions that aim, he said, to help farmers adapt to climate change, last year AREN launched rainfall and vegetation observation sites on both of the countries major axes of livestock movement.

'These observation sites - twenty for rainfall and seven for vegetation - are specific spots on the transhumance routes where we placed rain gauges to follow yearly variations in the amounts of rain collected,' Hassan Ibrahim, a member of the association told IPS.

'With the farmers help, we also observe changes in vegetation, and at the end of this three year phase, we plan on developing decision-making tools for political leaders and herders themselves,' says Abarchi.

According to AREN, the ultimate goal is to promote, the proliferation of watering holes and points of sale for animal feed, the cleaning up of water points, and the reintroduction of extinct forage species on transhumance corridors and in livestock living areas.

'We also want to improve farmers' ability to make the right decisions at the right time, such as the early establishment of livestock feed reserves, destocking to reduce drought-related losses,' Abarchi explained.

Boubacar Diallo, president of the (Northern Tillabéry Herders Council), an NGO based in Niamey, says this is a welcome initiative because it will strengthen the existing institutions.

'The acceleration of desertification has caused ponds to dry up prematurely in the grazing areas, which is a real headache for farmers. Digging wells in these areas will definitely be a great relief,' Diallo told IPS.

To supply farmers in the pastoral areas of the country, AREN has already launched 67 animal feed banks with an average capacity of 35 tonnes; there are 2,300 tonnes currently available to herders, according Abarchi.

At this point, the government of Niger has agreed to 'furnish 32,471 tonnes of supplementary food, with the assistance of technical partners and NGOs, mainly to cover the needs of breeding cattle which make up 70 percent of bovine livestock,' says Dr. Sahabi Barthé, an official at the Ministry of Livestock.

'We also plan to purchase 1,024 tonnes of supplementary food to be sold to farmers at subsidised prices,' Barthé told IPS.

But for Elhadji Kimba Gado, a farmer based in Niamey, 'stocking up isn't enough, the main thing is for prices to be affordable.'

In this regard, Ibrahim from AREN does not hesitate to criticise the government. 'In our banks the 70 kilo bag of food is sold at 3,500 CFA (about $8 US). The government wanted to price it at 6,000 FCFA (about $13 US) when even commercial vendors sell it at 7,000 FCFA ($16US). 'Finally, under our pressure, the government decided to reduce its price to 4,000 CFA francs (about $9 US),' says Ibrahim.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service