19-09-2011 | Africa

NIGER: North Tillaberi in the grip of Violence and Drought

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The International Committee of the Red Cross recently provided over 27,000 farmers and herdsmen with three-month food rations and special seed to generate rapid harvests. Communities living in the Tillaberi region, to the north of the capital Niamey, are among the most vulnerable in Niger. Farmers and herdsmen are facing recurrent food insecurity in a context of persistent drought. In recent years, livestock has been decimated and harvests have been insufficient to feed the population.

The violence that has been rampant since intercommunal clashes began in 2008 is being exacerbated by the proliferation of weapons in the region. Throughout this period, a climate of fear has hindered trade and farming. Farmers have sometimes been forced to abandon the fields furthest from the villages while rural markets - places for economic and social exchanges between farmers and herdsmen - have been deserted. Herdsmen fleeing the clashes have had to leave behind their livestock and thus their only means of subsistence.

In 2010, the ICRC decided to considerably increase the aid begun in 2008 for farmers and herdsmen affected by the combination of violence and poor harvests. Since the programme began, almost 200,000 people in this part of Niger have received food aid, seed or other essential supplies from the ICRC.

Although violence between farmers and herdsmen has died down, clashes in the same area between herdsmen from Niger and Mali have caused 50 deaths in recent months. Livestock theft and disputes over access to water and land are the main causes of these confrontations. Recently, the governments of Niger and Mali have engaged in peace-making efforts in an attempt to reconcile the two communities. For the local people, this period of respite may be short-lived if the harvests planned for the coming weeks are insufficient to feed the population. Extremes of weather have already disrupted the farming season. Rodents, locusts and caterpillars also threaten future harvests.

Video Story 

In Tizegorou, a farming village 200 kilometres from the capital city Niamey, Hamani Almoundou is no longer able to feed his family. Repeated droughts as well as soil degradation have made farming difficult. And intercommunal fighting has only made the situation worse. Hamani, 45 and of Zarma origin, speaks of people dying, the hostilities making it impossible to till land far from the village, the slowdown in trading and the scarcity of goods at the markets.

Hamani is one of many to benefit from ICRC assistance. As soon as he receives his ration of seed, he rushes to the fields to sow it. There is no shortage of farmland, but the earth yields little. If rainfall is sufficient, the seed should produce a harvest in two months.

In Arné, nomadic Peul families occupy a dozen straw huts - a total of 160 people, according to the chief of this stockbreeding community. During filming, the women and children are kept hidden from view. The chief explains that the men have taken the herds out to graze, often far from the village. Repeated droughts have diminished livestock populations over the years. To make ends meet, some herders have therefore decided to farm as well as tend their animals, though the unpredictability of the rainy seasons means their efforts are often in vain.

Chief Boubacar Tiousso speaks of the community's fear during the fighting, how they had to flee for their lives, and the loss of livestock. He also talks of the droughts and how they have decimated herds, bringing his community to the brink of famine. He recalls the recent attacks on herdsmen and the fear that past tensions will resurface.


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