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Multiplying their bounty

Niger, July 28, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Idriss Leko/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Rabi Issifou. Photo: Idriss Leko/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jeremy Barnicle/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Part of the garden cultivated by the group. Photo: Jeremy Barnicle/Mercy Corps

Four years ago, a widespread food crisis in the West African nation of Niger threatened the lives of nearly 3.5 million people in more than 3,800 villages. The crisis was largely caused by catastrophic drought and crop-killing insect swarms that brought Niger's meager agricultural system to its knees. Without the power to grow or purchase food, families went hungry.

Since the crisis struck in 2005, Mercy Corps has worked alongside communities to find ways to strengthen food security and lessen Niger’s cycles of hunger. Women like Rabi Issifou are making that happen.

Rabi and seven of her neighbors began working a small garden plot on land belonging to Niger's Environment Extension Service. With the Service's permission, they decided to garden the land for a year as an experiment. (Typically, in many parts of the country, staple crops like millet, sorghum and cassava are all that families plant during growing season. These crops form the basis of diets in the village; anything else is viewed as a risk.)

Rabi's small group of women tasted enough success in growing fresh vegetables for their households that, after that first year, they applied for a grant through Mercy Corps' Community Health and Livelihoods program. Through this grant, the women were able to fence and prepare a 21,600-square-foot plot of land — six times the size of the original garden.

This expansion drew the attention of more women in the village, so now 15 women work in the garden and share its production.

The garden's bounty is used mostly for consumption within the women's households, but Rabi says that some of the produce is given to other women who are not in their group, or to the teachers whose school is near the garden.

In southern Niger, groups like Rabi's are helping meet the needs of more than 400,000 people. That's critical in a country where one-fifth of the population is at risk for chronic malnutrition. Communities are working hard to protect against food crisis.

"I'd like to express my appreciation for various reasons," Rabi says. "Vegetables used to be hard to find at market. Now, we have vegetables in our garden that are not even at the market.

"Most importantly, our gardening has improved our diets in each of our households. Many times we harvest cabbages, lettuce or potatoes to make our evening meals and our sauces taste better."

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Nigerien women like Rabi are bringing much more to the table these days.