Loans for storing crops help Niger’s farmers absorb climate shocks

01Jun 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Loans for storing crops help Niger’s farmers absorb climate shocks

Surveying his village’s stocks of rice, sesame, millet and other food in a storehouse piled high with bags, Amadou Hassane is satisfied - but still a little anxious about the oversupply of baobab leaves.

With the rainy season set to startsoon in Niger, Hassane and his fellowfarmers need buyers for their leavesbefore the rains come, driving theprices down as fresh leaves sproutand supply surges across the westernregion of Tillabery.

“Life is hard because it is difficult toknow when the first rains will come,”said Hassane, holding a list of eachfarmer’s contribution to the village’sstockpile.

“But we are lucky to have thiswarrantage system in place, becauseit means we can sell when the price isgood, rather than being forced to do soright away after harvest,” he added.

Because of a lack of storage facilities,many farmers across the developingworld have no choice but to sell theirproduce after harvest, usually at lowprices because supplies are plentiful atthat time.

Later in the year, they then need tobuy food for their families - but duringthis “lean season”, before the nextharvest, prices for grain and other foodare at their highest.

To add to their problems, incountries like Niger, in Africa’s Sahelregion, increasingly erratic weatherpatterns and unpredictable climateshocks - such as floods and droughts -are hitting harvests.

That has left many of the West Africanation’s 20 million people struggling togrow or afford enough food.

But a rural credit scheme that letsfarmers store their harvest and obtainloans against it - with the money paidback in the dry season when cropprices and sales income are higher - isboosting resilience to climate change,experts say.

The warrantage system is part of aproject launched in 2015, funded bythe U.K. Department for InternationalDevelopment (DFID) and led byCARE International, to help farmingcommunities in Niger access loans, andencourage them to diversify the cropsand products they store.

“Warrantage builds resiliencebecause by selling produce for higherprofit, you can absorb climate shocksbetter ... and avoid resorting to negativecoping strategies like eating fewermeals,” said Penda Diallo, a seniorresilience adviser at CARE.

Diversification keyThe warrantage effort is part of theBuilding Resilience and Adaptationto Climate Extremes and Disasters(BRACED) programme, which aims tohelp 450,000 people in western Nigerbecome better prepared for weathershocks by improving their access toclimate and weather information,strengthening village savings and loansassociations (VSLAs), and introducingwarrantage.

As part of the initiative more than500 people in several communitiesin the Tillabery region have begunstoring dozens of tonnes of cereal,vegetables and forest products suchas edible moringa tree and baobableaves.

Users - most of them women - turnin part of their harvest and are given aloan by a local microfinance institutionworking with BRACED.

The loan tends to be around 70-80percent of the value of their crops, withthe seasonal price difference meant tocover the costs of credit and storage.Given the increasingly threat of poorharvests due to the impact of climatechange, farmers are being encouragedto broaden the range of crops andproducts they grow and store, tobetter protect them against pricefluctuations and to give them stock tosell throughout the year.

“Varying and expandingwarrantage beyond one crop makesthe collective fund stronger, andencourages people to also turn tonon-agriculture ventures like makingsoap, oils and jewellery,” said AliBadara of Mooriben, a local partnerof CARE in Niger.

Improved weather forecasts -broadcast over the radio and via textmessages - and a drive to strengthenlocal savings groups both have resultedin more reliable harvests, which is nowmaking warrantage a viable option formore people, according to agricultureexperts.

“They all link together,” Badara said.For Fati Boubacar and many otherwomen in her village, being part ofsavings groups has allowed them toaccess loans. That has let them not onlyfocus on new ways to earn cash - suchas making health and beauty products- but also invest in improving theirfarming.

“Without access to the moneythrough our VSLAs, we wouldn’t havebeen able to increase our crop yield tothe extent to be part of warrantage,”