Putting the right inputs in the hands of Niger’s farmers
€6 million multi-donor FAO programme in support of agricultural input shops run by farmer organizations achieves double yields
27 June 2013, Niamey/Rome - A five year, €6 million multi-donor initiative to intensify agriculture has achieved yield increases of up to 100 percent in over half of Niger's farmer villages, FAO said today ahead of a high-level meeting on renewed efforts to end hunger in Africa, where Niger will present its new hunger reduction strategy.
According to FAO's most recent hunger statistics, Niger has brought down undernourishment threefold over the last two decades, now affecting one out of every eight persons, as compared to almost one in three in 1990-1992.
But vulnerability persists. The UN has warned that 800 000 people may need food aid this year, a consequence of the recurrent crises the Sahel region has experienced due to drought, high food prices and political upheaval.
Since September 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture and FAO have been supporting the intensification of agriculture by strengthening a network of cooperative input shops with €6 million in support from Belgium, the European Union (EU), Luxemburg and Spain under a programme known as IARBIC.
"IARBIC provides smallholder farmers with the means of production to improve their yields," said Aboubaker Waiss, FAO's representative for Niger.
Good practices developed by this programme have been included in Niger's new hunger reduction strategy, "Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens" (3N), such as input shops run by farmer organizations and improved access to financial and advisory services.
This strategy will be presented during the High-Level Meeting of African and international leaders in Addis Ababa on 30 June-1 July, set to create a renewed partnership for intensifying efforts to end hunger in Africa.
Between 2008 and 2013, 264 input shops have been built, including 75 with earlier EU-funding. When combined with shops built in previous years and by partners that have followed the IARBIC example, the total number now reaches 783.
Through this vast network, well-priced and good quality agricultural inputs, ordered by the farmers organizations, are reaching over half of the agricultural villages in Niger, where average yield increases of 100 percent for sorghum and 81 percent for millet have been registered.
In addition, IARBIC has provided a wide range of skills to farmers, ranging from the full agricultural cycle to management and accounting for a farmer organization or a business, such as an input shop.
It all started in 1982, said Mahaman Sani, former Director General of Niger's Ministry of Agriculture. Researchers began looking into the right doses of fertilizer needed to increase productivity of Niger's staple crops, such as millet and sorghum.
Increased productivity was, and is, considered one crucial way to improve food security in Niger, where low soil fertility and rapid population growth put heavy pressure on rural people's ability to feed themselves.
In 1997, Mahaman Sani added, when researchers had finally established the "micro-dose" of fertilizer for each of the crops they studied, a new question arose. How do you bring this knowledge to those who need it, Niger's smallholder farmers?
The strategy that eventually emerged focused on cooperative agricultural input shops as the best channel to put the right qualities and quantities of inputs in the hands of the rural population, supported by training through farmer field schools, as well as advisory services.
In trying to improve agricultural productivity, IARBIC has also promoted innovative micro-financing schemes to provide smallholders with what they so painfully lack: money.
First, the project is supporting an inventory credit system known as ‘warrantage', under which farmers, rather than selling at harvest time when prices are low, stock part of the harvest and use it as collateral to obtain credit from a bank.
The credit enables them to buy inputs for the next planting, or to engage in other income-generating activities. Women benefit in particular - it allows them to improve the diet of the family or to send their children to school.
Secondly, IARBIC has set up a €653 000 fund as a guarantee for loans requested by eligible farmer organizations. It lowers the risk of losses in the event of default, encouraging lenders to make money available.