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Niger: Pastoralists facing major hardships

Habiba and her family

As we  drove out to visit our programme in Zinder, Niger this week, we came to a sudden stop in the road to let some camels cross.

The camels and their herder were followed shortly by a procession of tall men with cattle, goats, sheep, then a mother, a son, two donkeys and five daughters. The mother, Habiba, is the only woman in this group, the only female older than her 11 year old daughter Zara.

Habiba’s youngest child, aged just seven months, clung to her back. She had the yellowed, brittle hair of a malnourished child. The next youngest girls clung to the top of their donkeys, also showing sings of malnutrition. The eldest girl, Zara, worked the flock and tended her sisters with startling efficiency. The entire group – people and animals – were desperately thin.

This family are part of the Fulani tribe that roam around northern Africa with their livestock. Her family was heading south-east, they’d heard there was food for the animals about 167km to the south-east of Zinder. They were happy to make the long journey on foot to find out.

The Fulani tribe travel all over Africa with their herds, from Egypt to Sudan, Ethiopia and Chad, to Niger, up to Libya, Algeria and beyond. They are some of the hardest families to reach in a food crisis.  They are almost constantly moving to find better pasture for their families and preserve their wealth and livelihoods.

Despite their hard lifestyle and harsh environment, research by Save the Children has found that the pastoralist groups, like Habiba’s family, are generally better nourished than agriculturalists who rely on the land for their livelihood.

But Habiba told me that this had been the hardest time for her family in years. There hadn’t been enough food anywhere and some of their livestock had died. She explained: ‘There is no food here in Niger. We’re going to Nigeria where it’s green’.

Later that evening a massive thunderstorm erupted, and the rain has barely stopped since. Houses across Niger are collapsing under the weight of the water. Families are now at risk of water borne disease and pneumonia. The newly-planted crops are submerged.

Unless the rain becomes more regular soon, another year’s crops may fail. If that happens, this food crisis – already affecting more people than any other food crisis this century – is going to escalate even further leaving pastoral and agricultural families across Niger even more desperate.

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