CRS Work in Niger
Simply having enough food and water is a problem for the people of Niger. When there is not enough money for food, children are forced to work. Catholic Relief Services Niger helps families increase the amount of food they grow, encourages women to earn money through microfinance plans, and provides training for hundreds of teachers. CRS also supports more than 100 schools, enabling thousands of nomadic children to go to school instead of being forced to work.
Agriculture and Food Security
CRS began working with farmers in 2000 through a program that provides food to those who help conserve soil and water. Farmers build "half moons"—plots of land that conserve water—and stone borders which slow rainfall runoff and capture sediment. In exchange for this community work, they receive bulgur wheat, corn flour and sorghum. In 2006, more than 77,000 people benefited from this program.
CRS also works with sesame farmers in Niger's western Tera district. Through CRS' partners, farmers are taught agro-enterprise techniques such as how to identify markets and better farming practices. Since the project's inception in 2002, sesame production has increased nearly tenfold. Farmers have applied these new skills to the production of other crops, sharing their knowledge with their children and neighbors. A rural radio station operated by the participating villages has also helped spread agriculture, health, education and cultural information in the area.
In 2005, poor crops, a locust invasion and market failure resulted in a crisis that left one-third of Niger's population near starvation. About 26 percent of grain production was lost. Families that didn't have enough food were forced to buy staple foods such as millet, sorghum and rice at inflated prices. In order to meet basic needs, many families sold their valuables or took high-interest loans.
In 2006, CRS responded by sponsoring seed fairs, supplying farmers and gardeners with coupons to purchase seed. CRS also distributed vitamin A (important for eye health) and food to malnourished children in remote areas. In 2006, the government of Niger and CRS came to the aid of more than 380,000 children who were treated for malnutrition in over 949 centers nationwide.
In July and August of 2006, heavy rains devastated the city of Zender. CRS and our partner Caritas Development Niger distributed kitchenwares, blankets and mosquito nets to more than 700 families who had lost their homes and possessions.
Health and Nutrition
The well-being of a population can often be gauged by the health and nutrition of its women and children. In Niger, where chronic food insecurity and poverty are common risks, CRS and our partners work to improve the health of mothers and children. Through the Food Security Initiative in Niger, CRS' partners train traditional birth attendants; promote exclusive breastfeeding, immunizations, and pre- and postnatal care; and conduct other public health services.
CRS supports an extensive nutrition program through our emergency program. In 2006, more than 20,000 malnourished children were treated at government health centers in the departments of Tanout, Dogondoutchi and Dakoro through CRS partners Helen Keller International and Caritas Development Niger.
In Niger, the literacy rate is just 15 percent. Primary school education enrollment is less than 32 percent in rural areas. The statistics are worse in the remote regions, home to the nomadic Wodaabe and Tuareg ethnic groups. With families traveling up to 25 miles a day during the rainy season, children learn to manage livestock on a daily basis, but many do not learn to read and write. CRS leads a U.S Department of Labor-funded consortium that combats child labor in Niger. By 2006, the consortium's extensive accomplishments included producing a documentary on child labor in the gold-mining region of Komabangou and establishing:
- 30 adult literacy centers
- 12 grain banks and 12 school pharmacies
- 4 groups for nomadic mothers
- 22 schools for nomadic children
- 4 vocational centers for youth
CRS also works with schools in the pastoral Bermo district. By promoting interest among parents, providing children with meals at school and advocating on behalf of the communities, CRS Niger and Caritas Development Niger have encouraged more than 1,000 children from 24 communities to enroll in 12 schools.
The goal of CRS' microfinance program, initiated in 2000, has been to enhance women's access to credit so that they can start small businesses and better provide for their families. CRS' biggest success in this area is Caisse Albaraka SA.
In 2006, Caisse Albaraka SA became an official microfinance institution with its own board of directors. Caisse Albaraka's objective is to reduce poverty by promoting income-generating activities in the regions of Dosso and Tillabéry. The loan portfolio is in constant progression, thanks to a high demand for microcredit from the participating communities. At the end of September 2006, the total loan portfolio was $371,852 for 6,057 clients through 120 active women's solidarity lending groups. The reimbursement rate for the quarter was 100 percent.