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Forced to sell cattle for a handful of dollars

Cattle in Zinder region, Southern Niger
Du bétail dans la région de Zinder, dans le sud du Niger (Anne Isabelle Leclercq/IRIN)

Nigeriens are likely to take years to recover from selling their weakened livestock at a fraction of its normal value due to drought in the Sahel region.

The drought threatens almost 70 percent of herds, according to rough estimates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“It can take up to 10 years to rebuild a herd with no assistance,” head of the Niger Association for the Revival of Breeding (AREN), Dodo Boureima, told IRIN. “Next year, people will not be able to survive off their livestock.”

With good rains and government and international support, herders are expected to recover from their losses in two to three years, said the emergency programme officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Nourou Tall.

In a country where almost three quarters of the estimated 13.4 million inhabitants depend at least partly on livestock, animals represent economic security: providing milk and meat for the family; money for food, education and health care; and a dowry in marriage contracts.

Pastoralists experiencing the greatest losses may be forced to change livelihood, to guard others’ animals, or to find work in towns and cities, said Boureima.

Supporting the stockbreeders

The director of pastoral development in Niger’s Ministry of Livestock and Animal Husbandry, Haido Abdul Malik, has been travelling across the country for the last two weeks to evaluate pasture conditions. He is alarmed by what he has seen: hardly any grazing land left; soaring prices of animal feed and weak or sick animals.

“We just met with a stockbreeder who had 50 animals that could no longer move. We saw several dead ones,” Malik told IRIN. “We have seen cattle worth CFA 150,000 (USD$300) sold to butchers for CFA 3,000 (USD$6). That is not even enough to buy one bag of food for the animals.”

To protect the poorest stockbreeders, organizations such as FAO, Veterinarians Without Borders (VSF) and the ICRC, have been buying some of the weakest cattle at higher than current market prices.

In the past two months ICRC purchased and slaughtered nearly 20,000 animals and treated another 60,000 against parasites, in northern Niger, paying the equivalent of two months worth of food, for three animals. The animal meat was redistributed to the most vulnerable community members.

A child with camels, donkeys and goats at the watering place near the village of Makanga, north of Tanout, Southern Niger

A child with camels, donkeys and goats at the watering place near the village of Makanga, north of Tanout, Southern Niger
Anne Isabelle Leclercq/IRIN
A child with camels, donkeys and goats at the watering place near the village of Makanga, north of Tanout, Southern Niger
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Forcés de vendre du bétail pour une poignée de dollars
A child with camels, donkeys and goats at the watering place near the village of Makanga, north of Tanout, Southern Niger

Photo: Anne Isabelle Leclercq/IRIN
A child with camels, donkeys and goats at the watering place near the village of Makanga, north of Tanout, Southern Niger

Agencies are also selling animal feed at below-market prices, distributing vitamins and vaccinating animals to protect them from disease.

Too late?

Early response from herders and international agencies has meant that even though animals are weakened, they are not dying in massive numbers, said FAO’s Tall. “Herders have learnt from the past crisis and moved with their animals when they were still able to; some sold animals when the market price was good; and bought animal fodder on time.”

But AREN head Boureima said outside help for animals had still come too late. Sahelian breeders sent a letter to their respective governments in late 2009 calling attention to the crisis. “It took months before they finally reacted. We could have averted this”, Boureima told IRIN.

VSF’s technical adviser, Stéphane Pil, agrees: “Animal fodder could have been provided earlier, diminishing the pressure on grazing land,” but he added, the response has been better and quicker than during the 2005 drought.

Preventing the next crisis

Niger is one of the countries most at-risk of climate-change-related drought, according to the World Bank.

Pastoralists’ traditional coping mechanisms will have to shift more drastically, given the environmental threats they face, said Pil.

“Traditionally, pastoralists move with seasons. [But] this way of living is threatened by climate change. Animals suffer more and more regularly from a lack of food during the dry season and this has dramatic consequences for the population.”

Government policies need to be developed to take this into account, said the regional humanitarian adviser, Jan Eijenaar, at the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office. “The sector needs to be regulated and stockpiles need to be made during good years.”

Stockbreeder Abdou Magagi backed up these views when he spoke to IRIN in April. “We don’t stock grass because when the situation is normal, we have nothing to do with it. [This year] we should have made stocks, but if the situation gets back to normal, no one will think about stocking any more.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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