Niger, a land of shepherds and farmers that lies at the junction of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, is among the poorest countries in the world. AVSF has been supporting Nigerien livestock farmers since 1986 in terms of animal health and has been helping livestock farmer organizations defend their access to pastures and improve the way they manage these pastoral spaces.
Precarious food security for nomadic livestock farmers
In addition to frequent droughts, Niger also faces recurrent humanitarian crises, which have been aggravated recently by the arrival of scores of refugees from the conflicts in Libya and Mali. The major food crisis resulting from this influx of people, the collapse in cattle prices, and the explosion in grain prices are all having a particularly crippling effect on the already poor rural populations. Livestock farming, which constitutes the savings of livestock farming families, plays a major role in Niger’s economic development. However, the health and food security of the herds remains shaky. Nomadic livestock farmers and their families have very limited access to medical services due to a severe shortage of medical workers. The recurrent droughts are limiting the availability of water and fodder, and disputes with crop farmers over access to land are becoming more common as a result of increasing climate variability. Finally, animal products are still processed and sold on a small scale.
Long-standing activities in livestock farming and in mobile animal and human health
AVSF began working in Niger in 1986 in the field of animal health. AVSF assisted livestock farmers belonging to pastoral organizations in the management and distribution of vaccines and medicine by establishing village pharmacies, and the association supported local poultry farming as well. AVSF continued to work with its long-standing partners (regional and national livestock farmer organizations in Niger), establishing local veterinary health systems in pastoral zones by training village animal health assistants. AVSF also advised and assisted these organizations in the participative drawing up of pastoral laws. The active participation of these organizations in the process of drawing up a pastoral code led to Niger becoming one of the first African countries to officially recognize and guarantee the right of livestock farmers to have access to pastoral resources. The challenge still remains, however, for AVSF and its partners to secure the right to education, literacy, and both human and animal health for nomadic populations (men and women, adults and children).
It was in Niger that AVSF conceived and developed its mobile health system for both humans and animals. The system entails veterinarians working with doctors or nurses and travelling day in and day out across the Saharan desert from one livestock farming encampment to another in their all-terrain vehicle in order to provide nomadic populations access to human and veterinary health services. In addition, AVSF carries out programs to teach people about processing and food hygiene in the production of cheese and other foods of animal origin.