Climate change in Niger

Alyaa Abo Shahba, Tuesday 13 Jun 2023

Climate change is seriously affecting Nigerian farmers, who are suffering from the double onslaught of floods and droughts, reports Alyaa Abo Shahba from the West African state of Niger



On 5 June, the world celebrated World Environment Day, an annual event which emphasises the importance of preserving and protecting the environment from the growing effects of climate change.

From the west of the African continent, specifically Niger, Al-Ahram Weekly monitored the suffering of people due its effects, among them increasing floods and droughts. Women and children are suffering in particular, as they are among the most vulnerable groups.

“300 Dead and 300,000 Homeless” said the news headlines in Niger in October 2022 after floods that have been taking place periodically over the last five years in the country, one of the largest in West Africa but whose territory consists of 80 per cent desert.

There are no bodies of water in Niger except the Niger River, whose water level is now so low that it is difficult to navigate.

Winter now means floods every year in Niger, with the sky opening its doors and flooding and destroying the homes of hundreds with unprecedented intensity.

Even so, according to WaterAid, an international non-profit organisation founded in 1981 as a response to the UN International Contract for Drinking Water and Sanitation, nearly 13 million people now lack clean water in Niger. The country is largely made up of desert, and it is one of the least developed countries in the world. With severe droughts, poor soil conditions and the gradual spread of the desert now increasing as a result of climate change, more than 12.8 million people today lack clean water, or nearly half the population.

During the Ninth Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD-9) held in Niamey, Niger’s capital, early in March, President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum warned against the growing phenomenon of “climate refugees”, people who are forced to leave their lands due to climate change and putting additional pressures on neighbouring countries.

 A World Bank report in 2021 indicated that in the light of the acceleration of the global water crisis as a result of climate change, precipitation fluctuations are expected to be one of the factors contributing to such migration, with women and children being among the most vulnerable groups though the least able to move easily.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also estimates that homeless women are more vulnerable to sexual violence.


WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT: “Women and children are the most vulnerable, especially in Africa, as they lack resources and have limited access to information and movement restrictions, all of which increase the intensity of the impacts of climate change on them,” said James Murombedzi, head of the Climate Change Division at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

“The UN works with governments, ensuring that contributions to adaptation and mitigation serve gender issues and contribute to minimising the impacts on the most vulnerable,” he said.

Jean-Paul Adam, director of the Technology, Climate Change, and Natural Resources Division at the ECA, told the Weekly that “violence resulting from climate change has its harshest impact on women, children not excluded, so one of the major aspects needed to be addressed is looking at climate change from a gender perspective. That means getting to know the impact and its costs.”

Adam pointed to the need to involve women further in economic activities that could enable them to enhance their ability to withstand climate change, as well as in the agriculture sector, in the latter case giving women further empowerment.

As well as directly assisting women in resisting the impacts of climate change, this would also create a significant increase in productivity across the African continent. Greater training and financing of women’s economic projects could be a major driver of economic growth across Africa.

Adamo Oumarou, chair of the board of Young Volunteers for the Environment, an NGO working on environmental management, sustainable energy solutions and agroecological practices, explained the major problems Nigerien farmers face.


 The most prominent is the lack of water resources amidst the growing necessity of meeting the population’s need for food as numbers increase, he said. This is being exacerbated due to the long and recurrent droughts exacerbated by climate change, in addition to the lack of arable land and already limited access to water.

Most of Niger’s population live on arable land in the south and west of the country. The country’s economy and its people depend mainly on agriculture, especially on corn crops and raising livestock, Oumarou said. Global warming has increased the challenges farmers face, threatening food security, sustainable development, and economic growth.

Temperatures in the Sahel region are increasing 1.5 times faster than in the rest of the world, he added, as a result of climate change, and this is exacerbating already difficult weather conditions and increasing pressures on communities and agricultural resources.

The monsoon season in Niger extends from April to September, but the distribution of rain is problematic in terms of location and degree. The monsoon sometimes comes late, as has been the case over recent years, and when it rains, it pours, causing floods and resulting in losses in the agricultural sector.

Finding permanent water resources throughout the year is a challenge to agricultural communities in Niger, Oumarou said, as they are forced to find alternative ways to irrigate their lands during the remaining time of the year. Much remains to be done in terms of access to water, even as the country has a large reserve of groundwater.

Oumarou said that the agricultural sector in Niger is characterised by small-scale producers, often families with children working on the land. Women and children can be the first victims of the agricultural sector’s issues, since as the rain decreases, the men can decide to travel looking for a better future for their families. The women are left at home, sometimes being forced to work in towns as housemaids or engage in small businesses, which is difficult due to a lack of resources.

Other women may engage in mendicancy to meet their children’s needs. The absence of the father and the preoccupations of the mother can also affect school-dropout rates and lead to the spread of malnutrition in certain areas.


LACK OF WATER: Haruna Abarshi, an expert in agriculture and food security who works for several international programmes in West Africa, defends the interests of livestock breeders in Niger with regard to securing pastoral land, food security, and preserving animal health.

He told the Weekly that Nigerien farmers are suffering from a lack of water supplies on land being used for pasture, as this is the poorest among other sectors. This was leading to a decline in the profits generated from agriculture, with this decrease in income affecting all family members, including women and children.

Abarshi said that the movement of farmers from one place to another searching for water has put pressure on their ability to provide for their families at the same time. Floods are destroying production systems, and farmers gathering in fertile areas, in some cases overgrazing them, can make things worse by destroying sustainability and increasing climate change.

He said that the global carbon market could contribute to improving the agricultural sector in Niger, provided that it employed standards compatible with the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDRs) of carbon dioxide and other emissions for Niger and that there was transparency governing the functioning of the market.

Mohamedo Seraji Adamo, director of a local institution in Niger specialising in farmers’ welfare and protecting and preserving the environment, said that the country’s farmers face multiple problems, on top of them climatic risks resulting from large fluctuations in the amount and timing of rainfall.

Most of the country’s farmers derive their income from the exploitation of natural resources, but such high fluctuations are leading to highly damaging droughts, he said.

He referred to several examples of the sufferings of farmers in Niger because of climate change, such as what happened in 2012 when losses due to drought amounted to more than $70 million, according to the World Bank. Damage caused by floods between 1990 and 2020 is estimated to have affected more than three million people and destroyed around 7,100 local areas as well as more than 255,000 homes.

The losses of the agricultural sector amounted to about 205,000 hectares of crops.

Higher temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, extreme climate phenomena, pests, and disease pose enormous challenges to farmers with small properties, resulting in lower crop yields, Adamo said.

Disruptions caused by climate change have led to a significant increase in food insecurity, resulting in emigration and displacement from rural areas. Conflicts between rural producers over the management of natural resources and access to them have also grown in number.

The disruption of waterways and the lack of availability of water resources, leading to a reduction in crop yields, have resulted in an increase in conflicts over land, as well as disputes related to water resources. Some farmers and herders may be attracted to agricultural practices that destroy the environment, as well as arbitrary logging to meet local energy needs.

In Tillaberi in southwest Niger, where people depend on agriculture and raising livestock, herders are trapped between the effects of climate change that dry up pastures and conflicts that prevent them from leaving the area, Adamo said. Such disputes generally take place in winter between livestock owners and farmers in the region, often between farmers, herders, refugees and homeless people.

The issue of access to land is also a fundamental one for all agricultural and pastoral communities in Niger, as men are the heads of families and the custodians of inheritance. This exacerbates land insecurity for women and children, with climate change increasing inequality among poor farmers, women, and marginalised communities.


WOMEN THE MOST VULNERABLE: Regarding the situation of women in the agricultural sector in Niger, Roqaia Abdou Ghili, a member of an association promoting farmers’ rights, said that women working in the agricultural sector in Niger usually work on their fathers’ or husbands’ land.

In some areas, they may be paid workers, but they only benefit from the work until harvesting. Abdou Ghili said that the current legislation in Niger is sufficient to protect women’s rights from exposure to violence, whether from a partner or at work.

Many women are willing to establish their own projects selling food products, she said, and the state has provided incentives encouraging women to be entrepreneurs in agriculture, with financing available for investment or participation in marketing. 

But there is still the problem of the constant decrease in water resources, leading to the displacement of people from one place to another. Women are in danger of becoming the “weakest link” in this situation as it is more difficult for them to move, Ghili said.

The solution could lie in enabling Nigerien women to acquire land in larger areas and on building the economic capacities of women, in addition to increasing funding to support their projects.

Ngone Diop, director of the Sub-Regional Office for West Africa (SRO-WA) in the UN Economic Commission for Africa, which covers 15 countries in West Africa, told the Weekly that women and people with disabilities should be integrated more into civil society by creating platforms expressing their ideas and being organised more fully.

This would require greater education and awareness, Diop said, adding that there are several relevant networks and women’s councils working locally in Niger, but there is a need for these to be connected more widely.

At the same time, they should retain their African identity, she said, so that they can offer meaningful contributions and express African priorities.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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