Issaka, 47, a religious leader from Simiri in Tillabery region, inherited a 900-square metre field which he had cultivated with his father from a young age. Unfortunately, that field did not produce much. Sometimes, Isaaka’s family went without lunch or dinner. When this would happen, his children would cry and refuse to go to school the next day because they were hungry.
“I mainly cultivate gum Arabic and the Sahelian apple but the gum Arabic would never grow,'' he says.
Issaka still remembers the time when the harvest was not enough to feed his family or support the cost of ceremonies such as his child naming ceremony. To make ends meet, he went into debt.
“Since my harvest wasn't enough for us all year, I was taking credit with my relatives so that I could buy food,” he says. “I used to reimburse those debts with the support of my mosque members, and with the rest I would pay for clothes for my family.”
One year he only harvested only one 100 kg bag. “My wife was about to give birth,” he says. “According to our tradition, the eighth day should be the baby naming ceremony followed by a lunch. I was anxious and had to manage to find money for the ceremony."
Issaka struggled to provide his family with a varied and balanced diet and proper clothes.
“We only eat porridge or millet paste the whole year,” he says. “Sometimes that meal was not even enough for all the family. We would do more than a month without having a single piece of meat or fish. On top of that, per year, I would only manage to buy just one loincloth for my wife and the same for my children.”
In Niger, subsistence agriculture is the main activity of the population, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, many areas are subjected to dry weather conditions which make for poor harvests. For several years, the country has faced recurrent food crises leading to a deterioration in the nutritional status of the population in general and vulnerable groups in particular. It is within this framework that World Vision, through the Regreening Africa project, supports rural producers like Issaka to strengthen their resilience, their food security and their means of subsistence through agroforestry –in particular through Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), with a view to boost their agricultural production.
''When the Regreening Africa project came in our village, they identified 15 persons, including me, and we were trained in several techniques including transporting manure to fields, making zai holes, FMNR, and the maintenance of plants from the seed to the seedling production,'' says Issaka.
After applying what he learned, Issaka's crops increased considerably.
“I applied everything I learned in my field and it had an impact,” he says. “Before, my field was degraded but now I can even plant mangoes and guavas by season to eat with my family.
“For the Sahelian apple, I would only be able to harvest 300kg per year, but now I can have 1,200kg which I sell at 200,000 FCFA (US$400). The gum Arabic, which never grew in my field, also started to grow because it is a plant that takes a long time to grow,” he says.
Issaka also planted millet, sorghum, peanuts and sesame. He harvested 11 bags of millet, two bags of sorghum, and half a bag of peanuts and sesame which the family enjoyed.
I used to sow 10,000 plants per year but now I can sow up to 100,000 plants which I sell at 50FCFA (just under US$1) each,’ he says with a smile.
Thanks to the sale of all this abundant harvest, Issaka can offer a dignified life to his family.
"With sales from the Sahelian apple, we no longer only eat porridge and millet paste”, he says. “I buy rice, pasta, milk, meat, and fish to vary our diet. I can pay for my children’s school fees, their recess, and their health care without borrowing money. Last year, I spent over 300,000 FCFA (US$600) for the family health care and was able to pay for it without any problem. If my wife and children see clothes they like, they can buy them easily." he says proudly.
Issaka was also able to purchase oxen and a bullock cart. This cart made it easier to transport the water and clay he used to build his house.
“With the money I earned from my sales, I bought a bullock cart and two oxen at 457,000 FCFA (US$914). Without that cart, it would be impossible to build my house. If I had to hire a cart, I would have had to pay 1,000 FCFA (US$2) for each transportation, and it takes an unlimited number of turns. If I had to buy bricks too it would expensive because each brick costs 25 FCFA (nearly half of US$1) and I used over 16,000 bricks. After the construction, I sold the oxen and used the money for family needs. ''
Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop this champion from continuing to do great things!
“Despite the fact that COVID-19 slowed down sales mainly in the past year, I sold the products from my field and with the money I earned, I purchased two oxen at 250,000 FCFA (US$500)”, he says. “As for the money from the sale of seedling production, I bought animals which I raise; I sell them when I need money. Currently I have three sheep, guinea fowl, hens and doves."
Known in his village thanks to the different techniques he masters, Issaka trains his community in order to bring about a change in mentality.
"It’s true that field work is a hard work, so I decided to raise awareness among people who are not doing any activity”, he says. “Since I am a religious leader, twice a week after the prayer I do an awareness session on the techniques I learned with Regreening Africa. During the weekly Friday prayers, I also do the same sensitisations because at least 400 people from surrounding villages attend the prayer.”
Issaka doesn’t just train men.
“Since I am known to have the best seeds and to be the best at seedling production, I have trained nearly 200 women who are part of savings groups on seedling maintenance,” he says. “Currently many of them have customers who buy their seedlings. Some of them cultivate and sell the Sahelian apple to take care of their families.''
Issaka is grateful for the Regreening Africa Project as his children have regained the joy of going to school.
As for the formerly struggling farmer, his life has changed forever.
“Even after this project is no longer here, I will continue to practice everything I have learned because I do not want to relive what I have been through before”, he concludes.