Thursday, February 25, 2016

Off to Africa!

Hi All --

This is John with a quick note.  I'm headed off to Africa for 2 weeks -- 5 days in Benin with the Songhai Centre and 8 days in Niger with Dov Pasternak and the Farmers of the Future project.  You'll remember Father Godfrey Nzamujo, founder of the Songhai Centre, and Dov, father of Farmers of the Future, from our EPN Hero series.  I'm delighted that Peter Wentworth, our newest EPN board member, is joining me in Niger.  With all his international experience and keen insight, Peter added real value on last year's trip to Rwanda and Kenya and I look forward to his contributions in Niger.

EPN's key project in Benin is the Songhai Women's Capital Fund. The fund provides low interest loans to women graduates of the Songhai Centre to start their own agricultural ventures. Currently 25 women participate in the program.  Results of their ventures have been mixed so we're anxious to identify ways to improve their success rate.  We'll be combining site visits with internal discussions to hammer out a specific plan of action.

Father Godfrey, John and Judy Craig with Songhai Women

In Niger the focus is Farmers of the Future. We're wrapping up the pilot phase of the project. Our original pilot villages are at a critical stage. After three years of training and technical support we are withdrawing backing from the women's garden associations to determine if they are ready to truly be independent and self-sustaining. At the same time we're finalizing plans to open a 5th site.

          FOF Woman Farmer in the Tree Nursery

It will incorporate all the learnings and best practices gained from years of testing to create a showcase for Farmers of the Future and demonstrate what it can achieve. Finally, we'll be meeting with several organizations to explore potential partnerships to begin scaling the program.

Should be a great trip!!  I'll provide updates from the field, internet connections permitting. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Niger: A great place for EPN to work

As I mentioned in the previous post, John will be traveling to Niger in the upcoming weeks to visit the site of the Farmers of the Future. Niger is one of the world's most challenging places to live, economically speaking. But when it comes to reducing extreme poverty, Niger is a great place for EPN to work. Here’s why.

Niger: Quick Facts

Population: 19,113,728 (2014 census)

Capital: Niamey

Bordered by: Nigeria, Chad, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Libya (a pretty neighborhood these days)

The Great Mosque in Agadez, Niger

  • Aïr mountains (a cooler region with altitudes over 1800 meters)
  •  Ténéré desert (where temperatures often exceed 122 F)
  •  The W National Park (home to buffalo, hippo, lions, antelope, and elephants) 
  • The Great Mosque in Agadez (mud-architecture with 27-meter minaret)
  •  Neolithic rock engravings – some in museums, others left in remote areas

Ténéré desert - sand dune between Fachi and Bilma, Niger

Languages: French (official government language), and 5 main local languages: Hausa, Songhai, Fula/Fulbe, Kanuri/Beri-Beri, Tamasheq/Tamajaq 

Motto: “Fraternité, Travail, Progrès” which means “Brotherhood, Work, Progress.”  

Geography & Climate
Niger is the largest country in West Africa; to give you a sense of its size, its area is just under two times that of Texas. It has one of the hottest climates in the world, and as such has been nicknamed “the frying pan of the world.” Over 80% of its land is covered by the Sahara Desert, and only 0.02% of its area is covered by water. 

People & Culture
Over 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim. Some of the people are nomadic or semi-nomadic, following ancient grazing routes.

Subsistence Farming
The vast majority of the population of Niger survives by subsistence farming, which means that they only raise enough animals and grow enough crops to meet the family's needs. Women are often left for long periods of time while their husbands look for work in town centers or graze the herds. In their absence, the women farm the land and care for children and elderly relatives.

Cattle, sheep, and goats are the main herds that graze the land, and millet, sorghum, and cow peas are important agriculturally. But when the rains are poor, people really struggle. Rainfall has been decreasing over the last 50 years and severe droughts have led to pronounced food shortages as recently as in 2005 and 2009. Agricultural experts are engineering crops that will grow quickly to take advantage of what rains do fall.

The more fertile land in southern Niger, near the Niger River
While most of the land is too dry to grow crops, Niger’s southeast and southwest corners have more fertile soil. In the southwest lies the Niger River Basin, which Niger shares with eight other countries. The Niger River supports farmers, cattle grazers, and fishermen from all these neighboring countries, and it is thus a very fragile region. In order to preserve it, they have developed one of the world’s most progressive river management systems: The Niger River Basin Authority, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the Niger River’s resources are used judiciously and that it benefits the local communities.  

Farmers of the Future
Perhaps you remember reading about our EPN Hero, Dov Pasternak?  Dov lived in Niger for 10 years and has worked with thousands of rural farmers in the country.  For all the challenges they face, Dov describes Nigeriens as some of the most kind-hearted people he has met anywhere in the world.  And Dov has seen a lot of the world!

Farmers of the Future nurseries - Niger
Dov is the father of the Farmers of the Future project, and has developed a range of techniques to grow hardy vegetables even on severely degraded land. He’s helping Nigeriens rethink agriculture, to view it as a business and not just a means of survival. Using irrigation to grow and sell high value vegetables, farmers generate significant profits which they can use to purchase essentials and raise their standard of living. John will be visiting Niger in March along with Dov and reporting back on the progress with the Farmers of the Future program. 

The need is great in Niger, and EPN is making great gains there. Stay tuned for more!

For more about Niger, check out these articles and websites: 

The World Bank: In the Niger River Basin, Countries Collaborate on Hydropower, Irrigation, and Improved Water Resource Management (March 2015)

Our Africa: Niger (SOS Children's Villages)