Too often, natural disasters, political upheaval, or household-level emergencies can erase development gains in agriculture and access to health and education services, setting already vulnerable families back to square one. Resilience means that individuals, households and communities have the ability to get ahead of, mitigate, and/or recover from these shocks and continue on the path to development.
The Sahel region of West Africa faces a number of development challenges including high rates of poverty, low agricultural production and productivity, low education levels, poor infrastructure and market access, limited access to safe water and health services, weak governance and rule of law, as well as significant gender inequality. In this environment, individuals and communities are limited in their ability to prepare for, recover from and mitigate the negative impacts of shocks and crises, whether at the household or regional level.
Two U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded programs in Niger and Burkina Faso, Resilience and Economic Growth in the Sahel–Enhanced Resilience (REGIS–ER), implemented by NCBA CLUSA, and Resilience and Economic Growth in the Sahel–Accelerated Growth (REGIS–AG), implemented by CNFA, are addressing these challenges in close partnership.
With an integrated, system-focused approach that builds foundational skills—such as agricultural production and functional literacy—and promotes market linkages for the most vulnerable members of society, REGIS-ER and REGIS-AG are combining their expertise to build resilient communities.
The RISE of integration in the Sahel
Beginning in 2013, USAID’s Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE) partnership, in alignment with national and regional programs, has worked to stop the cycle of recurrent crises and corresponding dependence on humanitarian aid in the Sahel. Based on joint analysis and planning, RISE brings together humanitarian and development assistance to address the root causes of persistent vulnerability.
Both REGIS-ER and REGIS-AG promote the resilience of local and regional food systems. As a multi-sectoral resilience project, REGIS-ER focuses on the following solutions: intensifying climate-smart agricultural and animal production, strengthening natural resource management, improving health and nutrition practices, increasing access to potable water, improving sanitation practices, and diversifying economic opportunities along with promoting community-level savings and lending. All this is done through a self-reliance system of local institutions or platforms (including municipality councils and Community-Based Solutions Providers) to deliver and propose, in a sustainable way, these resilient solutions to people.
As a value chain development project, REGIS-AG builds on this system by strengthening vertical and horizontal market linkages in selected value chains, strengthening access to crop and livestock inputs and services, facilitating access to formal financial institutions, and improving the enabling environment for private sector investment. Both projects seek to empower women, promote disaster risk management and facilitate inclusive growth.
RISE investments are layered, sequenced and integrated with existing humanitarian and development assistance to give an estimated 1.9 million of the region’s most vulnerable individuals a real chance to break the cycle of crisis and decrease the need for humanitarian assistance in the future.
Increasing agricultural production
Although most families in Niger rely on subsistence agriculture, agricultural production and productivity levels in the country are among the lowest in the world. Traditional orientation of production activities, the challenging production environment (erratic rainfall and high soil temperatures), low fertility in fragile and degraded soils, and insect pests all contribute to low yields. Moreover, farmers have traditionally relied on the local market to absorb their production, which causes prices to drop at harvest time and creates a disincentive for increasing production.
In 2015, REGIS-ER trained a producer organization of 22 farmers in Tanghin village of Burkina Faso’s central-north region in conservation agriculture and farmer-managed regeneration techniques that improve soil moisture and fertility. Through the hands-on demonstrations—which included techniques for minimizing soil disturbance, proper spacing and seed timing, and organic manure and fertilizer—Korgho Gouri, a farmer in Tanghin, relates the experience of his community: after piloting these techniques on 54 acres of cowpeas, average yields nearly doubled. With such impressive results, four new groups of farmers, including two women’s groups, decided to adopt the techniques during the next season. Groups were able to take advantage of a warehouse credit system, facilitated by REGIS-AG, to sell their crops at higher prices. This system allows producers to obtain credit with their stored cowpeas serving as collateral to purchase agricultural inputs or conduct income-generating activities.
Building literacy for market linkages
Beyond cowpeas, livestock production and marketing hold great promise to help vulnerable families improve nutrition (by consuming animal byproducts such as milk), to build an asset base and to increase household income through sales. In particular, small ruminants are indispensable for food security and income generation in the Sahel. Goats and sheep are typically the only livestock owned by the poorest families and are often used as a “bank” from which animals can be withdrawn when there is a need for cash. However, small ruminant producers face droughts, limited access to land, insufficient water supplies, lack of quality grazing and difficulty obtaining quality animal inputs such as veterinary medicines.
In Niger, REGIS-ER provided the Soudji producer organization, founded in 2011, with small ruminant production training. Learning to care for, breed and keep goats and sheep healthy provides extra income for families and draws down the risk of their “bank” assets.
However, no members of the Soudji producer organization could read or write, hindering their ability to fully benefit from production training and market linkage facilitation. REGIS-AG trained all 30 of the groups’ members (28 women and two men) on reading, writing and basic numeracy in one of its functional literacy centers in Niger.
Increasing functional literacy builds participants’ capacity to manage their farms by accurately recording expenses and revenues. Literate participants can also better care for their animals by reading livestock medicine labels. It also increases participants’ capacity to enter into formal market transactions by developing marketing strategies and negotiating with financial institutions to obtain credit. Moreover, literate participants can make more informed decisions regarding a variety of household issues including nutrition, health care and sanitation.
After production training from REGIS-ER and participation in small ruminant value chain business market development workshops facilitated by REGIS-AG, in which producers and buyers have the opportunity to make deals, Soudji sold three sheep for 122,000 FCFA ($233 USD) to a local buyer. In a context where most households earn less than $400 USD a year, this sale represents a major enhancement to members’ livelihoods.
This small example has been replicated through enhanced market links for groups with the right training support and foundational skills, layered from both projects.
Supporting animal health to build an asset base
The collaboration between REGIS-ER and REGIS-AG is also helping individuals profitably engage in poultry production and marketing, an income-generating activity that is almost universally practiced among poor households. Most poultry production is practiced by women at the household level for home consumption or sale in the local community. Village producers also sell birds when they need cash to pay for school fees, clothing, special events and food not produced at home, providing an important coping strategy for households facing regular and irregular economic burdens.
However, animal health presents a fundamental problem for traditional poultry producers with high bird morbidity and mortality, particularly in chicks. Access to veterinary services is limited and poor management practices are common. Newcastle Disease and Avian Influenza are of particular concern since they are highly infectious and can have high mortality rates. For example bird mortality due to Newcastle Disease can often reach 40-70 percent of unvaccinated rural poultry in Niger. The vaccination rate for Newcastle Disease is well below 10 percent in Niger and around 30 percent in Burkina Faso, putting producers at risk of losing their entire flock.
In Burkina Faso, Sambo Ouedraogo, a volunteer village extension worker, participated in REGIS-ER’s livestock-breeding program, known locally as habbanaye. He learned how to care for and breed the chickens, and then passed the original hens to another community member to breed their own flock. He started with 14 chickens in 2014; a year later, he had 80. Since then he has sold chickens for income and continued to pass off hens to other families, building his business while also spreading the assets throughout the community.
As a village extension worker, Sambo had been delivering quality poultry health services to many clients in his community for some time, but he wanted to expand his capabilities and increase his market. In 2016, he participated in a REGIS-AG training to become a livestock auxiliary service provider where he learned to vaccinate sheep and goats (in addition to refresh training on poultry) and how to sell animal health products and provide instructions on their safe use.
Sambo is now a part of a REGIS-AG and REGIS-ER supported private sector-led network of private vets who supervise livestock health auxiliaries. REGIS-AG and REGIS-ER signed a memorandum of understanding with the private vets to develop this network and, in this context, REGIS-ER invested in small kits for each livestock auxiliary, providing them with essential equipment to conduct their work.
REGIS-ER provided kits for over 80 livestock auxiliaries and 60 poultry vaccinators. In Niger, these entrepreneurs were serving more than 4,000 clients in 2018. This network brings animal health services closer to the project participants, increasing access for needed vaccinations and supporting local business entrepreneurs. Vets and livestock auxiliaries help to reduce animal mortality by increasing availability and use of immunizations, veterinary care and technical advice. Expanding the network of animal health services with auxiliary service providers gives entrepreneurs like Sambo the opportunity to develop their own business while also supporting increased livestock productivity in their communities.