The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that a 5-year agricultural initiative in Niger, aimed at giving farmers better access to inputs and credit, has increased crop yields in project villages, sometimes doubling them. The FAO says the Nigerian government now plans to include this program in its new hunger reduction strategy.
FOA says that putting the right inputs into the hands of farmers can significantly increase crop yields.
Maarten Roest, a communications officer at the FAO, said that while the number of people who don’t have enough to eat in Niger has declined “drastically” over the last 20 years, an estimated one out of every eight people remain undernourished.
"There’s [been] huge progress in this country in terms of combating hunger, but there’s also quite significant levels of people that are vulnerable," said Roest. "This relates to climatic issues, specifically drought that hit this region in Africa. At the same time, there’s issues related to the recent political situation, which has not been too stable. There’s underlying issues that relate to demographic growth - there’s ever more people to feed. There’s also soil infertility."
Roest said that to help the country deal with some of these challenges, the FAO has been working with Niger’s Ministry of Agriculture to get farmers to produce more food on the same amount of land.
"The mechanism that has been designed to do this is through so-called input shops, where farmers get inputs for doing agriculture," said Roest. "We’re talking about seeds and fertilizer and tools and things like that. Input shops throughout the country run by farmer organizations to ensure that the right inputs get into the hands of the farmers who need them."
Roest said that since these input shops were first introduced in 2008, the productivity of basic crops in the country, such as millet and sorghum, has in some cases doubled.
He said there are now almost 800 input shops in Niger. This covers about half of Niger’s agricultural villages.
Inputs are not the only thing farmers lack. Roest said another key component of the program is access to credit.
"One of the systems that has been established there is a thing called "Warrantage,” which is if you harvest, you do not immediately sell it," said Roest. "But you go to a broker who puts it in stock and, in return, gives you a credit or a loan. With that loan you will be able to either buy better seeds for the next season or do other activities in your village to make money."
Roest said that once the lean season ends and prices begin to rise, farmers can then sell their stock at the higher price, pay back their loan and pocket the difference.
The FAO says that this system is especially beneficial for women farmers, who can use the extra money to send their children to school or buy more nutritious food for their families.
Roest said the government plans to incorporate both the input shop model and microfinance scheme into their new national hunger reduction strategy, called 3N, or Nigerians Nourishing Nigerians. The strategy was presented at a high-level meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa on Monday.