Need for Holistic Development

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2006 at 6:45 pm

I came across this in my daily Google News Alerts about Niger:

ReliefWeb » Saving children’s lives during Niger’s nutrition crisis

I haven’t had enough time to do a proper serious web blogging/reporting effort to find out the whole picture of what relief and development is going on in Niger in the wake of their famine last year. But what I see from an article like this is a kind of half-way effort to help Niger.

The 2005 famine is history, but the repurcussions – families took a huge financial hit having spent precious capital keeping themselves alive – are still a harbinger of NGO intervention. So, when we see a UNICEF press release like this – we must try to understand that Nigeriens need much more than more plumpy nut more quickly – they will need money, and their environmental challenges need to be mitigated.

The former is relatively straightforward – Nigeriens need money to buy grain, animals and livestock, and to repay their debts from last year. This can be done through various voucher and food-for-work projects. It is inherently more sustainable to aid Nigeriens in this manner, at this point in their emerging crises. Obviously, to keep people alive you hand out stuff for free, but while we all have the chance Nigeriens would much rather help themselves and take advantage of earning opportunities.

The latter option, environmental development, is more complicated and long term. Niger’s environment is under enormous pressure to support the current population – something like 90 percent or more of Nigeriens are subsistence farmers dependent on rain-fed agriculture, the rest are dependent upon their livestock being able to graze. When there is only about 200-400 millimeters of rain per year (that is less than sixteen inches at the most) to go around, and constant risk of locust plagues and droughts, Nigeriens need to have lower-risk options for subsistence.

That involves a concerted effort at contre-saison gardening wherever possible in the non-rainy cold season (October-March), as well as better irrigation and use of their seasonal rainwater – damming it up, creating water holes around which fields and gardens can be irrigated. And as important – tree planting. Nigeriens cut down trees like crazy, even though they know how important they are for their environment. They need the wood for cooking. There have been some great developments of late in the Nigerien coal industry that should be encouraged. Also, even though it is not a native species, since it is already a commonplace village tree – the Neem tree should be more effectively utilized.

Obviously, this is all very long term stuff, and in an economist’s manner we’re assuming lots of other things would be working, like the Nigerien Federal Government. But without the key things I mentioned above – money (or capital if you will) and environmental enhancements, there will be another run on Plumpy-nut in the coming months and years.


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