Tchima and her community in Niger get a little help from CARE to overcome the lean season

Tchima Ibrahim IroTchima Ibrahim Iro is only 40 years old, but her eyes and her wrinkled face bear witness to a life of hardship.

A widow and a mother of six, she has no means to support herself and her family, and relies on other people’s handouts.

“Last year I was less exposed, as people produced more and I could get more from begging. But this year, with the drought, I receive less.”

Having less food during the months leading to harvest is not new for people of Niger and other countries in the Sahel region of West Africa.

CARE provided income to families like Tchima’s so they can buy food ahead of what is commonly known as the ‘lean season,’ the gap between the time people run out of food stocks and the next harvest. People receive cash in exchange for part-time work in projects identified by their communities, or as cash support in the cases of families where nobody is able to perform manual labor. 

Since neither Tchima nor her children can work, she received cash.

“Without this support, I would not have been able to feed my children’s mouths. Now I can buy food for my family.” 

The commune of Sarkin Yamma, Niger, where Tchima lives, consists of vast expanses of semi-arid lands. The sandy tracks that lead there cut through a barren-looking landscape; a flat monotony only broken by a few lonely acacia trees, camels, and bridges over dry riverbeds.

Even for people who know how to survive in such a hostile environment, small weather variations can have a big impact. 

The last few months have been particularly dry. The wet season started later than usual and rains were fewer and far between, affecting crops and the survival of cattle, people’s main sources of income and nutrition. 

“Unfortunately, I do not have any land nor animals – not even a chicken,” explains Tchima, “so my biggest problem is to have food during the lean season.”

With funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department and the World Food Programme, CARE supported more than 11,000 families in the regions of Maradi, Tahoua and Zinder. 

Participants work six days a week and get a cash payment of 25,000 CFA francs ($50 US) a month. The work is completed in the morning, so people have time to make additional income the rest of the day. In households where nobody can perform work, people receive the same amount of cash. The community selects the households that will be involved and a committee addresses any complaints. CARE’s partner microfinance institution, Asusu, handles the payments. 

Even though the primary goal of this activity is to inject cash so people can cover their immediate basic needs, it also brings longer-term benefits to the communities, which propose and select environment and infrastructure projects where the participants’ manpower will be used.

In the case of Sarkin Yamma, people are turning an unused piece of land into pastures. After removing weeds, they seed grains which will germinate during the rainy season and create a new area for cattle to graze. 

Tchima is aware of the benefits of this project for the community. “Independently of how much money I make, we are part of a village. It contributes to our solidarity link. We will have a grazing area for the future.”


Originally published in 2012


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