Friday, August 05, 2005

Perspectives sur la situation au Niger

Voici un mot d'un ami et ancien collegue qui est basé à Maradi:

En réalité, la crise alimentaire est localisée dans quelques zones pastorales et agropastorales du Nord Maradi, Tillabéry, Zinder et de quelques département de la région de Tahoua. Elle a surtout été causée par la rareté des dernières pluies de l'année passée et, par des dégâts importants des criquets sur la culture et le pâturage, entraînant ainsi la hausse des prix des céréales et les crises chroniques de malnutrition des enfants. Dans ces zones de taux élevé de sous-alimentation, évidement le niveau de mortalité infantile est très élevé. Voilà en un mot la situation. Mais elle n'est pas générale dans tout le pays. Ce sont les médias qui font d'une situation localisée, en situation nationale.

The New York Times has an article that, without clarifying this aspect, does attempt to look at different dimensions of the crisis, including chronic risk of famine, Niger's Anguish Is Reflected in Its Dying Children.

Among other things, the topic of poor agricultural technniques / tools / use of inputs was mentioned. This is true, but the solutions tried before haven't had much impact. One of the main avenues to improving agriculture is not more research or money, as important as these are, but more education of farmers. In fact there are a lot of issues intertwined in perpetuating rural poverty, and in the Sahel where rain is uncertain, turning that into annual risk of food shortfall or worse. But if there is to be a hope for any fundamental and long-term changes, it will require a concerted effort for education. And that should necessarily be done to the maximum extent possible in the farmers' first languages - which does not mean to exclude French or English, but if you are going to talk with farmers about farming etc., and expect them to discuss among themselves, best to use their languages from the start.

In the case of Niger, the language issue is one that is actually in its favor. Hausa, spoken by about half the population (not to mention millions south of the border in Nigeria), is a major language with a literary tradition. It would be easy to discuss all aspects of agriculture (and related aspects of rural economy) on any level of complexity in this tongue. Zarma, spoken by a quarter of the population and closely related to Sonrai spoken in eastern Mali, cannot lack adequate vocabulary either. Similarly, Fulfulde and Tamajak in Niger are dialects of major regional languages spoken by pastoralists, who have been surviving in this environment for ages. Why not put some resources into working in these languages for education and rural renaissance?

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