Established in 2008, IARBIC is a five-year, EUR 6 million project which aims to intensify agriculture in Niger. According to FAO’s most recent hunger statistics, Niger has succeeded in reducing undernourishment threefold in the last two decades. It now affects one out of every eight persons, as compared to almost one in three in 1990-1992. Between 2008 and 2013 the project has resulted in: 264 input shops created (including 75 that had already benefitted from EU-funding) which brings to 783 the total number of such shops (including those established in previous years and by partners that have followed the IARBIC example); some 375 farmers’ field schools and 750 demonstrations being organized that reached almost 7 500 farmers, half of them women; 100 warehouses for ‘warrantage’, now available to some 100 000 farmers; and the establishment of a EUR 653 000 guarantee fund for eight farmers’ federations representing 164 000 farmers.
In trying to improve agricultural productivity, IARBIC has promoted innovative micro-financing schemes to provide smallholders with what they so painfully lack: money. The project is supporting an inventory credit system known as ‘warrantage’, under which farmers, rather than selling at harvest time when prices are low, stock part of the harvest and use it as collateral to obtain credit from a bank.
In Danja, Niger farmers’ organizations run by women have managed to enhance their incomes and yields using this micro-finance scheme.
Tchima Ibrahim’s harvest has been good: almost 3 500 kg of millet from a plot of 3.5 hectares. Half of it she has kept for her own needs, while the other half can be sold if need be. For the moment, she is holding on to it.
Rather than selling at harvest time, when everyone else is doing the same and prices are low, Tchima, a 52-year old mother of seven, uses her crop as collateral for a bank loan.
Many women from Danja and surrounding villages in southern Niger have followed the same practice. They belong to one of a number of farmers’ organizations under the umbrella of a union that Tchima Ibrahim herself heads. Altogether, they are 137 female farmers.
Using the loan money, the women have been engaging in income generating activities by producing peanut oil to sell to the local market. Others raise feeders for sale. The revenues come as a welcome addition to their household income and can also be used to buy seeds and fertilizer for the next planting season.
At the same time, part of the returns flow directly back to the farmers’ organization to which the women belong. “And that,” says Ibrahim Doubou , the local representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, “is a good illustration of how IARBIC’s integrated approach works.” Because micro-finance does not stand alone. It is a means to strengthen farmer organizations, which themselves are at the heart of the approach, as they are well placed to provide smallholder farmers with the means to increase their yields and with the knowledge to use them.
Tchima Ibrahim estimates that her harvest of 3 500 kg is five times what she would have produced in the past. Part of this is due to training, she says. They started with IARBIC support in 2009 until the revenues were enough for the organization to foot the bill itself, just three years later.
Tchima learned how to select the seed variety best suited for her particular plot of land. She uses two varieties of millet seeds, called “zatib” and “sossat”. Another lesson she learned regards the “micro-dosis” – or the amount of fertilizer that most increases production. Tchima shows how you pick the right dose by taking three fingers full from a bag of fertilizer. “You put that in the hole first,” she explains, “then you add the seed and cover it all with earth.”
Right now, Tchima is waiting until “the monsoon starts blowing” to sell her harvest. She refers to the lean season, when food stocks start to run low and prices climb. With the proceeds, she intends to repay the loan and pocket the difference.
But, what if prices do not go up? It has been four months since she has harvested and the price of millet is still the same. Tchima is aware of this, but she is confident they will start rising soon.