Here, we will introduce the motivation for undertaking research on Niger as well as the issues encountered in this research.
An Arid Land: Savannas and Sahara Deserts
At the southern margins of the African continent’s Sahara Desert, there is an area called the Sahel zone.
Niger is one of the countries located in this zone. In Africa’s Sahel zone, under the influence of the monsoons that develop in the Gulf of Guinea, the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) moves north, and rain falls. Therefore, as you move north the amount of rain decreases, until the Sahara Desert is reached. In the Sahel zone, yearly rainfall is 150-500 mm. It can be generally divided into a steppe climate (semidesert, 150-300 mm), dry savanna (300-500 mm), and Sudan savanna (500-1000 mm). The Sahara Desert has a rainfall of less than 150 mm per year. Since in such areas old sand dunes begin to move, the 150 mm isohyetal line is sometimes called the desertification front.
This kind of rainband creates a unique ecological zone. In the Sahel zone, if one moves from east to west, the natural landscape does not change markedly, whereas it does if one moves from north to south.
People Live in Various Ways:
Ethnic Diversity and the Richness of the Local Culture
The different ecosystems created in as a result of different levels of rainfall exert a large influence on people’s lives. People shape their lifestyles in accordance with the natural environment. In deserts and steppes (semideserts), which are very dry, Tuareg and Arab people live nomadic lifestyles raising livestock, mainly camels. These pastoral people migrate to the Sahara Desert in the north during the rainy season, and in the dry season move back to the south. The dry savanna is an excellent pastoral area, and there the pastoralist Fulbe (Fulani) people raise livestock, mainly cattle. While some of the Fulbe and Tuareg people are nomadic, others live in farming villages.
There are also cultivators such as the Hausa, Zaruma, and Kanuri who cultivate pearl millet, sorghum, cowpeas, and peanuts using rainwater. In the Sudan savanna zone, sorghum, maize, cassava, yam, and peanuts are cultivated using rainwater. In this harsh natural environment, the people need to be hardy to survive.
Issues in Niger
１）Desertification and Food Shortages
Desertification problems (land and soil degradation) lead to a decrease in crop and livestock productivity, which causes poverty and food shortages. The latter increases the gap between rich and poor, and creates political instability in West African countries where coups d’état are relatively common and lead to the imposition of military regimes. Gaps between the rich and poor, food shortages, and the spread of poverty are also the root cause of terrorist activities. Thus, anti-desertification measures are an important issue for the state of Niger.
According to World Development Indicators 2012 (hereinafter, WDI 2012), 42.1% of boys and 37.5% of girls in Niger who are under five years old are underweight. Due to land that is easily degraded and droughts that accompany large changes in rainfall, there are massive fluctuations in agricultural production that cause food shortages when the harvest is poor. With international support continuing in the form of emergency food relief that is sent almost every year to farming villages, the development of anti-desertification technologies and stable food production are also important issues.
２）Changes in Rainfall and Droughts
There have been many reports recently of abnormal weather throughout the world, and the Sahel zone is no exception. During the 2011 rainy season, from the middle of August onwards there was no rainfall, crop yields decreased in farming villages, and people suffered due to food shortages. During the rainy season the following year, in contrast, rain fell incessantly negatively impacting harvest yields and damaging houses. The Sahel zone is an area in which there have always been large fluctuations in rainfall, and these variations have a major impact on people’s lives.
３）Rapid Population Increase
In the Sahel zone, the population is increasing at a rapid rate; in Niger, it is 3.7% per year. At this surprising and extremely high rate, in twenty years the population will double. Moreover, it is expected that the population of Niger itself, which was 15 million in 2010, will increase to 60 million by 2050. According to WDI 2012, while the total fertility rate, or the number of children a woman will bear in her life-time, has decreased slightly (7.8 in 1990 to 7.1 in 2010), it still remains at an extremely high level. The rapidly increasing population imposes a considerable burden on the natural environment – it leads to the expansion of farmland, an increase in the number of livestock, and the growth of consumption in cities.
４）The Issue of Poverty
The Human Development Index (HDI) that was released by the UN in 2013 ranked Niger last out the 186 countries listed. While this HDI was calculated based on new criteria, in the past as well, almost every year Niger was ranked last or as one of the worst three countries. To formulate the new criteria, the following data about Niger was used: a maternal death rate of 590 per capita (100,000), a total fertility rate of 193.6 for women between 15 and 19 years old, a National Assembly in which only 13.3% were women, and a population in which only 7.6% of men and 2.5% of women under 25 reached a junior high school educational level.
Furthermore, according to the World Bank’s WDI 2012, 50.2% of the population make less than 1.25 dollars a day, and 75.3% make less than 2 dollars. While it cannot always be stated unequivocally that people with a higher income are rich and people with a lower income are poor, these are the data on Niger.
We do not engage in research based on the prior assumption that Niger is an entirely poor society. However, it is also a fact that these rankings reflect one aspect of this society. Thus, we must consider how these issues can be addressed.