In the village of Mari in Niger's Tillaberi region, all but one of the 99 women are named Bella, signifying that they were once slaves of the Tuareg. These desperately poor women live in one of the most food-insecure regions of Niger — an area that has been further threatened by below-average rainfall during recent rainy seasons.
Rain for the Sahel and Sahara (RAIN), a nonprofit whose goals include empowering the nomadic and rural peoples of Niger with food security, stepped in several months ago with a plan to set up a garden cooperative for these women, all of whom are involved in ongoing courses in nutrition, health and organic gardening techniques.
Unfortunately, the project ran into unforeseen problems. The fence the women wove by hand of thorny bushes was not strong enough to keep animals from breaking into the garden. After the government dammed a nearby seasonal lake, water from the lake seeped into the well they depended on for irrigation. Even if this well were to be repaired, RAIN engineers say its capacity will be diminished.
TPRF recently partnered with RAIN to fund emergency measures to make the Mari cooperative garden viable, including the installation of a new well, drip irrigation systems strong fencing.
The project was rolled into RAIN's School Market Gardens initiative, which uses gardens such as the one in Mari as a platform for enabling communities to generate their own sustainable food source and, at the same time, to provide their children with access to education.
This is accomplished by situating the gardens sites at schools, where the produce they yield will provide fresh vegetables to supplement the millet schoolchildren eat for lunch. The program has been shown to improve attendance at school by 20 percent, said Bess Palmisciano, RAIN's executive director.
“Support for the food security of the students is absolutely critical,” she said. “Direct actions aimed at keeping children in school are key factors in regions where the nomadic lifestyle, early marriage and child domestic work are in competition with education, and where children’s nutrition, vaccination and primary health care are weak.”
TPRF previously partnered with RAIN in 2010, funding emergency food aid and animal feed to nomadic communities following a severe drought in Niger's Agadez region.
Photos courtesy of the Rain for the Sahel and Sahara Staff.