NIGER: Spelling their way out of hunger
Farmer literacy class in Magaria, Niger
MAGARIA, 13 August 2009 (IRIN) - Yaou Sadi, a farmer in south-eastern Niger, can remember almost exactly how much millet and sorghum he has cultivated, going back for years. Not knowing how to read or write, his memory is the most reliable record he has - until now. For the past three months, he has attended evening classes after working in the fields to learn how to write.
With US$30,000 from the Spanish government, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched 26 village literacy classes in March 2009 with hundreds of farmers in the central Tahoua and south-eastern Zinder regions.
More than 11 percent of the population in Tahoua lives in severe food-insecurity, according to the government’s most recent anti-poverty plan. “Many households are small subsistence producers and their domestic production cannot cover their food needs for more than three to five months a year,” according to the government. Nationwide, almost three million people are food-insecure, with nearly one-third facing a severe shortage.
FAO’s national food security coordinator, Moutari Souley, told IRIN that by becoming literate, the farmers have a better chance to survive with agriculture. “Basic literacy allows them to manage better their harvests and services.”
Checking market prices, negotiating with buyers and keeping records have been impossible, Sadi told IRIN.
|If I forget, I lose all the numbers, all the information
In a thatched classroom in Magaria, 85km north of Zinder - the second largest city in Niger after the capital Niamey - Sadi crouched on the dirt floor to write slowly his name on the blackboard, deliberately pressing the chalk stub with each letter. “I started coming to classes three months ago,” he said, “Because I feared forgetting. If I forget, I lose all the numbers, all the information.”
Speaking in Hausa, the predominant language in his village Magaria, the farmer said his four children, all of them in school, help him when he runs into problems. He told IRIN he can now write numbers.
FAO’s Souley told IRIN the literacy courses, half of which are for women exclusively, also help women have more of a voice.
Rural women are responsible for more than half the food production in sub-Saharan Africa, yet have little access to time-saving equipment
or profitable innovations, according to the 2008 multi-agency Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook