Niger: Pastoralists most at risk in current food crisis

CARE urges donors to pay special attention to livelihoods of cattle breeders

TARKA, Niger (August 03, 2005) - Even as relief reaches hungry people, the food crisis in Niger threatens to have devastating long-term effects as cattle breeders, a crucial part of the local economy, watch their herds starve. Herders, with a long and proud tradition of independence in this landlocked West African nation, are losing their only productive assets, along with their dignity, as their cattle die or as they are forced to sell them off at a fraction of their real value.

"We have heard of desperate behaviors, like pastoralists committing suicide after the death of their last animal," says Marie Monimart, CARE program manager in the Tarka region. "What is most shocking is that these pastoralists are well known for their expertise in cattle rearing but now that their animals are starving and too weak to move, you see men wandering aimlessly, in a daze, not knowing what to do or where to go."

The loss of their animals has both practical and social implications for these nomadic tribes. On a practical level, they are deprived of their most immediate source of livelihood and thus make a quick descent into the poverty trap. "Apart from the hunger, a pastoralist without his animals also loses his dignity," says Monimart, adding that when herders lose their animals, they are forced to go to the city, beg for money or become shepherds, a shameful notion in their culture.

To make matters worse, the market value of cattle continues to plummet. Desperate pastoralists sell their starving cows for $6 to $8 to middlemen. But profiteers can sell the smoked meat from a slaughtered cow for about $130 in nearby Nigeria.

In addition to food aid to the people of Tarka, CARE is distributing cattle feed -- 180 tons so far -- to prevent the depletion of pastoralists' life assets.

"The situation in most of Niger is already critical, but this is precisely why we must focus our attention on preventing long-term damage and on preserving the assets of the most vulnerable," says Amadou Sayo, acting country director for CARE in Niger. "The pastoralists depend on their animals for subsistence and their identity is also tied to them. Food aid must be targeted to meet the specific needs of each segment of the population."

CARE has been in Niger since 1974 and has focused much of our work in building the capacity of households and communities to avert and manage periodic food crises. The villages where CARE has implemented long-term programs have been less affected by the famine due to the communities' reinforced capacity to cope with stress. Nevertheless, the scale of the current crisis has overwhelmed many farmers and pastoralists who must now sell their own productive assets in order to survive.

CARE is responding extensively to the current food security crisis, reaching 143,000 people with food aid in the Tarka region alone, and launching a program aimed at reducing malnutrition among 28,000 children and 17,000 women. CARE is seeking $5 million from the American public for our urgent relief programs, including food procurement, distribution, therapeutic feeding and livelihood rehabilitation work. Now and in the coming 18 months, CARE's goal is to ensure the nutritional stability of approximately 850,000 people in 121,500 households in the hardest-hit districts of Tahoua, Maradi, Diffa, Zinder and Tillabéri.

A $25 donation can buy approximately 111 pounds of millet or 89 pounds of rice, which is enough to feed a household of five people for two weeks.

Media Contacts:

Atlanta: Lurma Rackley, CARE USA,, (404) 979-9450