5 Minutes of Inspiration: How Women are Turning Desert into Farmland

5 Minutes of Inspiration: How Women are Turning Desert into Farmland


By Emily Janoch

Women VSLA groups in Niger have figured out how they can mobilize communities to turn desert back into useable land at 20% of the costs of a traditional cash-for-work program. Find out how.

As is so often the case — especially in Niger — the answer to getting better results faster, cheaper, and with more community buy-in is: ask the women there how they would do it, and then do what they tell you.

The Drylands Development Programme (DRYDEV) puts farmers in charge of improving water management, food security, and rural economic development in the drylands of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, and Kenya. CARE runs the Niger component of the project, which works with 51,336 people (50 percent of whom are women) in 5 communes.

What have we accomplished?

  • Land is becoming fertile: More than 12,000 community volunteers to regenerate 1,209 hectares of land, planted 23,000 trees, and put 5,352 hectares of community land under sustainable NRM practices.
  • There is more water available: Communities report that the water levels in local wells have risen dramatically, and that getting water is easier than when the program started.
  • Impact is cheaper: All of these activities are accomplished for 19 percent of the cost of traditional cash-for-work programs.
  • Families are producing more food: Farmers are reporting higher yields on their crops, sometimes 3 times more than they were getting with the project started.
  • Women can access credit: 6,200 women and 2,118 men got access to a cumulative $40,000 of credit through VSLAs, and 4,707 farmers were able to access formal credit.
  • Businesses are stronger: Local seed businesses growing improved and shorter-variety seeds have been able to produce 60 tons of improved seeds for farmers to source locally.
  • Farmers use better practices: More than 16,246 producers are using new rainfall harvesting and conservation agriculture techniques on their fields.

How did we get there?

  • Female farmers support healthy nutrition and economies in their communities. Put communities (especially women) in charge: The project operates by putting women’s Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) at the center of planning activities and mobilizing community support through Community Innovation Platforms.
  • Build on existing structures: The VSLAs work with local groups to create and support 33 watershed maintenance plans.  Instead of a traditional cash-for-work program, DryDev provides specific support to innovation platforms to support the watershed maintenance plans.
  • Support the most vulnerable: The community platforms provided interest free loans to 800 extremely vulnerable farmers so they could get the inputs they needed to adopt new techniques.
  • Connect to businesses: The innovation platforms mapped local input suppliers and made connections for communities so they could get high quality inputs at reasonable prices. Sometimes, the innovation platforms even offered loans to input suppliers so they could acquire higher-quality supplies and better meet producer’s needs.
  • Monitor results: Communities are also engaged in monitoring the program results. 48 commune-level surveillance committees track results and ensure that plans are carried out. They sign agreements with local experts to provide services and report back to community stakeholders on progress toward goals.

Want to learn more?

Check out the most recent program report here. Learn more about CARE's women's empowerment work here.

Special Thanks

Led by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), DRYDEV is funded by the Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The project runs from 2013-2018, and has a total budget of $5 million.

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