Niger: what you need to know

Concern is helping hundreds of vulnerable women in two local communities in Tahoua hit hard by lack of rain and a failed harvest last year. And if they have children under the age of two, they are also given a month’s supply of bio-fortified flour. Photographer: Darren Vaughan/ Concern Worldwide
Concern is helping hundreds of vulnerable women in Tahoua hit hard by lack of rain.

Five facts to explain why this landlocked country is one of the poorest in the world.  

In 2016, the UN rated Niger the 2nd least developed country in the world with chronic high levels of malnutrition the norm and a growing population. We look at why this country is one of the world’s poorest and what work can be done to support its vulnerable communities.

1. Food production in a harsh environment

Landlocked Niger is not just one of the world’s poorest countries, it is also one of the hottest. Four-fifths of the northern part of the country is desert and one-fifth of the southern part is savanna, making agricultural production a challenge. That’s without the erratic rainfall patterns and frequent droughts. The impact of this on livelihoods is significant as the economy, and the largely rural population, are strongly reliant on agriculture.

When the rains do fall, it is a short season, and there have been a number of climate-related food and nutrition crises since 2000, including a significant crisis in 2005. 

Balkissa

Balkissa Matsallabi’s daughter, Malika, has recently recovered from malnutrition after receiving a lifesaving high-energy peanut-based paste.
Balkissa Matsallabi’s daughter, Malika, has recently recovered from malnutrition after receiving a lifesaving high-energy peanut-based paste.

Balkissa is a mother of six who lives with her husband and children in the village of Toudouni. This year, her youngest child recovered from malnutrition after receiving treatment from a Concern-supported health centre. She explains what life is like for her and her family:

We don’t have any real way to earn money. My husband used to go to the Ivory Coast but because of problems there he hasn’t been for two years. These last two years have been very difficult – more than before.

Balkissa

2. Food and nutrition insecurity is above the World Health Organisation’s ‘serious’ threshold

This vast country has a population of 19.8 million, most of whom live in rural communities. Estimates state that 80 percent of these rural communities are in extreme poverty. As a consequence, there is a low-life expectancy of just 62 years. 68% of Nigeriens are less than 24 years old  and gender disparities continue to challenge the country’s development.

42.2 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and 10.3 percent are acutely malnourished. Diets lack the necessary vitamins and minerals. As a result, over 73 percent of children under five and almost 46 percent of women of reproductive age are anemic.

Hadijatou Cheihou

Hadijatou Cheihou, 57, lives in the village of Gao Moussa which has become well known locally as a fine producer of groundnut (peanut) oil. Photo: Chris de Bode
Hadijatou Cheihou, 57, lives in the village of Gao Moussa which has become well known locally as a fine producer of groundnut (peanut) oil. Photo: Chris de Bode

Hadijatou Cheihou is from a village near Tahoua and has benefitted from a project Concern started in her village in 2013. She said, “People here rely on agriculture and sometimes you can’t produce enough food. There are always people in the community who don’t have enough food.”

The project initially provided 30 women with some sacks of groundnuts along with a machine to shell them and training on how to extract oil. Now over 90 women in the village of Gao Moussa are producing groundnut oil and the small kuli kuli snack (crushed and pounded peanuts fried in oil). The oil is sought after and people travel from over 45km to purchase it. She said:

The project has helped a lot… this is an activity we have learned and will continue. We can do it forever because we have the knowledge.

Hadijatou Cheihou

3. The politics impacting the people of Niger

Niger gained independence from France in 1960 and French is still the official language for this largely Islamic country. The country fell victim to a series of coups following its independence and experienced single-party and military rule until 1991. Since 1993, there have been various democratic governments but the country has minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop and support its large and vulnerable population. There is a high rate of illiteracy and many of the population rely on radio as a news source.

Compounding this already unstable situation, are the increased security concerns caused by insecurity in Libya, spill over from the conflict in Mali, and violent extremism in north-eastern Nigeria.

4. Niger is one of the highest growing populations in the world

Niger is growing at a rate of 3.9 percent a year making it one of the highest growing populations in the world. It also has the highest total fertility rate of any country in the world. This means that in 2016, it was averaging close to seven children per woman.

More people means an increased strain on the already limited resources. For a country reliant on subsistence farming but at the mercy of extreme conditions and weather, this is a problem. Food production is simply not able to keep up with population growth.

5. So, what can be done?

While the government has made considerable investments in expanding basic services such as health and assistance programs since 2010, confronting widespread malnutrition and poverty is limited by the financial and logistical constraints.

This is why many people rely on international agencies like Concern. Since 2005, Concern has been delivering a health, food security and education programme in the Tahoua region. This includes preventing malnutrition by strengthening the healthcare system and providing training and support in the form of medicine, therapeutic food and equipment. Concern has also supported the Ministry of Public Health to manage and prevent severe acute malnutrition among vulnerable children.

But it is not just about providing support when people are in need. Concern is working to ensure that the people of Niger also look forward to a healthy and resilient future. This includes working with the most vulnerable families to enable them to successfully grow their own food and help them find alternative ways to earn a living.

Salifou Ahment

Salifou Ahment, a 70-year-old farmer from Kossoma, used to struggle to feed his livestock during the dry season when grassland becomes scarce. Now, instead of having to travel miles to buy food there is an animal feed ‘bank’, established by Concern.
Salifou Ahment, a 70-year-old farmer from Kossoma, used to struggle to feed his livestock during the dry season when grassland becomes scarce. Now, instead of having to travel miles to buy food there is an animal feed ‘bank’, established by Concern.

When grass was scarce and animals had nothing to eat, farmers in the village of Kossoma had to travel to market to purchase animal feed often at a high cost. In 2013, Concern helped establish an animal feed ‘bank’. The bank, run by the community, keeps animal feed in stock all year round and sells to local farmers at a fair and affordable price. This simple project ensures that the village can create a sustainable system that benefits the community.

Bello Salifou, who is the president of the committee, said:

The main problem for this village is that there is no easy access to food supplies. What was once very far is now directly at our door.

Bello Salifou

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