I’m just back from Niger. I’m sure many of you have seen in the news that it’s a time of drought and hunger there. It’s difficult to be in Niger's countryside and see the parched earth, the desperation and hunger in people’s faces. The situation is worsened by refuges arriving from Mali and other neighboring countries that are experiencing war or fragile political situations. Despite the hardships they are suffering the people of Niger are proud that their country remains a peaceful, united one.
In this season when the land looks like endless sand and dust, it is almost miraculous to come upon a green RAIN school market garden. I visited the hamlet of Mari in Tillabery two weeks ago. The school’s garden was flourishing, bursting with vegetables for the children to eat. The gardener reported that about 40% of the produce is eaten by the children while 60% is sold to buy food staples such as grain and pay the garden’s expenses. A truly sustainable, long-term program for improving children’s health and nutrition, while helping their school.
At RAIN we believe in creating an integrated set of programs for developing livelihoods and supporting schools. In Mari we have a mentor program and are currently building a garden and teaching the 99 women of the Mari garden cooperative about nutrition and organic gardening techniques.
I met with the Mari school director. He told me that since 2009, when RAIN began its programs in Mari, school enrollment has shot up from 65 to 233 students. Bravo Mari! Bravo to all of you supporting RAIN!
Much gratitude and best regards to all, Bess Palmisciano
Many children in RAIN’s partner communities are semi-nomadic, and will likely grow up to become farmers like their parents. As in all partner communities, the school garden in Lemdou of the Tillaberi region of Niger acts as a living classroom where children, teachers and parents come together for training in sustainable, organic farming techniques.
Children and adults alike learn by practicing these methods, including drip irrigation, in order to better prepare them as stewards of development in their community. RAIN gardens provide nutritious food for students, help to keep the school in operation, and are a direct initiative to building a better future with and for the children through access to education, both inside and outside the classroom. Starting in 2012, RAIN will establish an experimental program in certain communities to instruct children, with a special focus on young girls, the principles of sustainable farming. In West Africa, it is the women who are often the primary planters and caretakers of crops. With this new educational program, RAIN hopes to effect measurable increase in food production within this generation. Your donation is not only increasing food security for schoolchildren and their families, but supporting a new generation of women who will teach the next techniques that will enhance the lives of all members of the community.
Our staff in Niger are just now concluding their most recent tournee (field research) to identify new garden sites in the coming year. Soon, those gardens will begin growing, transforming the surrounding community with the tools for a more food secure future. Happy New Year to all of you, from all of your nomadic friends!
Be sure to visit our new website as we add photo galleries, videos, newsletters and more at www.rain4sahara.org!
Bess Palmisciano, our founder and Executive Director, is currently touring the Agadez region, visiting our partner communities with RAIN staff Koini and Halima to check on garden progress, resolve issues and plan new gardens for the upcoming planting season. Some gardens in Agadez were damaged by floods, restoration of these will continue this fall. In the communities of Foudouk, Tadiben and Gougaram, new cereal banks and general stores have been established. Herding populations decimated by drought have been restored in numerous communities. These developments supplement the increased food security that the school market garden brings to each community.
In a partnership with The Global Hunger Foundation, this fall will begin a pilot program of teaching the principals of organic, sustainable agriculture cirriculum to children (with a focus on girls), hand in hand with lessons in gender equality, empowerment and leadership. Bess will soon be bringing firsthand stories and photos from our partner communities about the results of these exciting developments.
Also, be sure to mark your calendars for October 19 - on that day, you can make your donation count twice as much with a matching donation by GlobalGiving! GlobalGiving will match all donations that day, up to $100,000. If you've been inspired by the positive change you've been creating for nomadic families in Niger, this is a chance to create twice the change!
Until recently, RAIN solely worked in the Agadez region of Niger, the heart of the nomadic desert. Due to expansion and growth (in great part because of friends like you), RAIN has been able to answer requests for gardens from communities in the Tillaberi region. Tillaberi is a densely populated region of 2,200,000 people, located a four hour drive away from the capital, Niamey. Communities in Tillaberi are among the most food insecure in all of Niger, yet many receive little or nor assistance.
The five RAIN partner communities in Tillaberi are Lemdou, Tagantassou, Tangouchman, Bonfeba, and Ingui. Unlike Agadez, which is nearly all desert, Tillaberi borders the Sahel region, which has areas of green land, more conducive to agriculture. A primary goal of our market gardens is to build skills and improvements in sustainable communal agricultural practices. These remote pastoral communities have little experience in agriculture. In Niger drought is common – during times of drought pasture land is sparse and nomadic herders lose their animals – often their only source of food and livelihoods. They must gain skills raising crops to ensure future food security.
Skills which we seek to improve include community organization, building fences, installing and learning drip irrigation practices (new to much of Niger), biological pest control, crop rotation, sharing knowledge, harvesting, food storage and transport, marketing skills, and evaluating outcomes.
Each garden comprises four parties that work together - a monitoring committee, the master gardener, RAIN staff, and most importantly, individual community members themselves. Together with the monitoring committee, RAIN staff will visit each market garden to assess progress, evaluate if the garden has reached self sustainability, and engage in dialogue for feedback. The master gardener instructs the community on how to install, maintain and harvest the crops, and monitors the drip irrigation systems. The lion's share of contribution comes from the community - the parents, teachers, and leaders who come together and plant the garden, build fences, install the irrigation, and harvest and prepare the produce.
One 1,000 square meter garden with drip irrigation can produce almost three tons of produce in a single growing season. This year, the Lemdou market garden produced 80kg of melons, 10kg of corn, 8k of tomatoes, 11kgs of lemons, 60kg of cabbage, 70kg of salad greens and 41kgs of potatoes, among other crops. The garden has created two months of meals for 146 students at the school, and generated 40,000 fcfa ($80) in school supporting income, which goes a long way in Niger.
Some RAIN market gardens are incorporating poultry for the first time, such as at Tagantassou, providing sources of protein through the eggs and meat for the children.
In Niger, the next few months are know universally as "the hungry season." Not so for RAIN partner communities in Tillaberi! The families of these five villages extend their hearts and hands in gratitude to you for the important role you play in making food security a reality for them. Tanmeert.
RAIN's School Market Gardens provide food for students, income for the community and the school, and teach sustainable agriculture. How else can the garden provide increased benefits to the community?
The answer: solar ovens. In the remote regions of Niger where RAIN's partner communities live, electricity is not available, and refrigeration is not a viable option to preserve food. Traditionally, drying is the preferred method in the Sahara to extend the life of food from times of plenty through more scarcer times. Solar ovens were created exactly for that purpose, and increase the capacity of a community to store and transport food.
This valuable addition to our School Market Gardens is getting its very first try out in the village of Bonfeba in the Tillaberi region. Bonfeba has worked hard to plant their new garden and dig the communities' first well with RAIN. As the first crops come in, a women's cooperative will begin drying tomatoes, onions and peppers with the new solar oven. Tomatoes are an important staple in the nomadic diet, and along with the peppers and onion tops, fortify sauces for childrens meals and are the basis of many soups. When the first fruit trees come in, fruits such as mangos and papyas will also be dried by the women.
Once dried, the food can then be stored in jars and either kept for the school or sold in local markets, the funds to be invested back into the community and school.
We expect this to be a good stride forward towards food security for Bonfeba, and plan to introduce more solar ovens to future partner communities as an integral part of the RAIN School Market Garden program!
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