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Rural societies in the face of climatic and environmental changes in West Africa

Benjamin Sultan
Richard Lalou
Mouftaou Amadou Sanni
et al.

Part IV. Adaptation of farming systems, innovations

Chapter 20. An example of adaptative strategy in the face of food insecurity

Potato growing in the Imanan (Niger-republic)

Ramatou Hassane

Texte intégral


1The practice of growing potatoes is of major interest for the local populations. In the Imanan’s local government area, the yielding of the potato constitutes both a response to the food crisis due to climate changes, environmental instability, demographic increasing throughout the zone and the economic crisis that the country has overcome since 1980s. It is also a driven response due to a high increasing demand in fresh products (fruits and vegetables) of Niamey’s metropolis. Although the returns contribute significantly to farmers’ food requirements, the procedure for funding the crop puts them in a secondary position in relation to those who sell the crop on the market. For lack of financial resources, farmers have to sell their products to traders on a working-class market in Niamey—referred to as ‘the little market’. The traders supply farmers with seed and inputs on credit.

2The aim of this chapter is therefore to illustrate that potato farming contributes to improving the well-being of the population in the rural area of the Imanan and to analyse the determinants of the funding of this yielding.

Methodological procedure

3The choice of the local government area of Imanan is justified by the scale of single cropping of potatoes, the economic contribution of the crop and the diversity of farmers’ situations. Data were collected over a period of seven months (September to/and October 2011 and December 2012 to April 2013) in fourteen villages using a diagnostic survey, direct observations of crop management sequences, the supply of planting material and the sale of the potato crop. The approach was based on interviews with male and female farmers, development agents, elected officials and traders. A questionnaire completed by one hundred and twenty market-gardeners was processed using the Excel program to assemble quantitative data. The basic data are completed by bibliographical analysis.

Context of the study

4Imanan is a local government area [district] in the Filingué department in the Tillabéri region in south-west Niger. With a land escape of 506 square km, it is centred on part of the Dallol Bosso fossil valley in a narrow section not more than 5 km wide before it broadens again towards the north. It is bordered to the east and the west by sandy argillite plateaux. The population was estimated in 2011 at 36,767 persons (PDC, Imanan, 2012), made up of several ethnic groups: Touaregs, Haussa, Zarma, Peuls and Kanuri. The people live mainly on crop and livestock farming which is more subjected to both physical and anthropic pressures.

Worsening of the climate, a limit to rainfed agriculture

5Imanan has a Sahelian climate featuring precipitation that is small and irregular in time and space. According to Larwanou et al. (2005), the Filingué department is one of the arid zones of the Tillabéri region, with a bioclimatic aridity index of 0.17 to 0.15. Aridity takes the form of a permanent rainfall deficit. It is related to other climatic phenomena such as strong insolation, high temperatures, low relative humidity and strong evapo-transpiration. Average annual precipitation in Imanan from 2006 to 2012 was 430.5 mm, with precipitations occurring during three to four months (June to September), conditioning the annual production cycle for crop and livestock farmers. Aridity has caused the disappearance of certain temporary and permanent ponds, and the forming of several ponds, especially on the plateaux. The ponds have encroached on fields in the village of Tassi Sofo Koira on the western plateau. The local population says that the groundwater level has also fallen.

6‘The bush has disappeared, with almost all the trees’: this phrase that came up frequently in discussions with farmers refers to an accelerated decrease in vegetation, and even the disappearance of certain shrub and herbaceous groups. The worsening of the climate has been at the expense of plant cover, which is either replaced by traditional crops or over-exploited by graziers. On the subject of the valley of Imanan, Guillaume (1974) wrote that its rich pasture and flora, the presence of ponds and the shallow depth of the wells and the abundant fauna were all features to be considered in understanding the region as an area for the settlement of groups of migrant nomads (Peuls, Tuaregs and Bella) and the form their settlement had taken from pre-colonial times onwards. However, less than a century after their settlement, the rapid ecological deterioration of the local environment is considerable. The agricultural activities of the local populations have greatly suffered from the increase in aridity.

7Indeed, before the major drought of 1973 and 1974, rainfed farming met the requirements of the population. The latter was small at that time (12,185 habitants in 1975) and there was still sufficient livestock in the district of Imanan. Milk and the millet and cowpea harvests provided for the basic requirements of farms. The seasons were regular and rainfall abundant. Household food vulnerability started to emerge during the 1973 famine as a result of drought and agricultural policies that favoured the development of cash crops. It worsened after the 1984 drought. Since then, Imanan has experienced a succession of famines and food crises (1993, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2011). The years of shortages, the small number of days of rain (only 34 in 2012) and the very local nature of precipitations limit the development of crops and pasture. Fields that used to give more than 300 bundles of millet yield hardly more than 20 to 80, on the one hand because rainfall has decreased and is irregular and on the other as a result of soil degradation. Granaries are empty hardly a month after the harvest and at best ensure the survival of households for a few months. Many farmers thus suffer from a vulnerable situation as regards food or even from food insecurity.

8Food vulnerability means the probability that the food security of a household will be threatened by a climatic, social or economic shock. It is also ‘the inability of a person to anticipate, face up to, resist and recover after the impact of an event’(Bidou and Droy, 2007). Vulnerability affects the behaviour of persons (in terms of investment, protection patterns and adaptation strategies) and their perception of their own situation (Balla et al., 2009). Food insecurity refers to a situation in which the population does not have access to healthy, nutritive foodstuffs in sufficient quantities to cover food requirements. When this results from much more occasional and short-lived risk factors (droughts, floods, invasion by acridians, epidemics) it is considered to be conjunctural. It is described as chronic when the state of structural poverty of persons living in an unfavourable environment means that they do not have access to resources to cover their basic food requirements (Alpha Gado, 2010).

9There are no consumer surveys enabling the precise determination of the real movements in Imanan. The only data we have are those for the entire Filingué department (Fig. 1).

  • 1 The cereal balance is the difference between net production (production during the year of referen (...)

10It is shown in Figure 1 that requirements increase steadily at the rate of demographic growth whereas production increases unevenly, with years of surpluses alternating with years of deficits. The cereal balance1 shows that surpluses have tended to disappear during the run-up to the present period. There is a deficit nearly one year in three. While traditional cereals are still dominant, farmers observe a general trend for degradation of the food balance situation. With the degradation of their environment and worsening living conditions, they have developed subsistence strategies to adapt to the variability and singular nature of the situations experienced. Their abilities result in continuous change in the way potential resources are allocated and used.

Figure 1. Cereal balance in the Filingué department from 1981 to 2011.

Potato yielding as a dominant adaptive strategy

11The subsistence strategies of rural households concern mainly the sale of livestock, market garden crops, small trading, agricultural wages, and the use of solidarity networks and/or the migration of a family member (Drama Yayé and Alpha Gado, 2005). However, the features of these strategies depend on the severity of crises and on geographical location and also on gender, social status and the degree of vulnerability of the household (ibid.). Households do not therefore use the same strategies systematically. Furthermore, distinction should be made between old and new subsistence strategies.

12In Imanan, farmers’ food strategies were founded mainly on a search for more fertile land. They involved the clearing of new land and the exodus from Touareg concessions to the small valleys cut in the plateaux. Farming land on the plateaux had made it possible to leave fallow certain fields of the Dallol and this enhanced their regeneration at first. But the Touaregs’ desire for this land caused the shifting of the Zarma from Tondikandia, the neighbouring canton, to their plateau land to prevent it from finishing in the hands of the Touaregs. Some Tuaregs or Bella farmers who had cleared the land returned to the Dallol to maintain possession.

13In order to profit from animal and human faeces during the rainy season, farmers whose fields were not close the villages took their families to settle on the remote fields that belonged to them. This resulted in small compact hamlets called tiseged at the junction between several fields or sometimes on the land of one farmer. However, the tiseged became permanent because of the increasing sterility of Dallol soils and strong landholding pressure. Farmers settled on their land in an isolated manner to enrich the soil. This was first the case of poor Bella who had no livestock and wanted to manure their fields with their own faeces. The dispersion of the population resulted in the decline and sometimes the disappearance of the large villages. However, those who left maintained links with their native villages. They continued to maintain their abandoned concessions and paid taxes to the chiefs of their former villages. New norms then emerged that affected the population’s representation of the spatio-temporal concept of ‘village’.

14The hiring out of labour and the migration of one of more members of the household are longstanding phenomena in Imanan. There are two forms of work for other farmers: in the first case this is individual paid labour and in the second it is aimed at being collective and generally organised by rich heads of concessions, but with daily payment in kind or cash. Migration is an old tradition for good workers in the district. Distinction is made between migration of indeterminate duration and seasonal migration. The former does not seem to be very common today. It was strongly determinant before the decree of 1946 that forbade obligatory labour and consisted of massive departures for the British colonies in order to escape the constraints of forced labour in the French colonies. Seasonal migration is a regular and habitual phenomenon in the economic cycle of a large proportion of the population. The amplitude of this temporary exodus varies according to the quality of recent harvests. Some migrants who have slender resources and are not yet adult leave for other towns in Niger. The others prefer countries in the sub-region (Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Libya, etc.) where they do small jobs in return for pay, a large proportion of which is for looking after the family members who stayed at home. Migration has also concerned women for a number of years. On their return, those who go to the capital are considered to be more sophisticated because they have more resources and experience than those who have always stayed in their village.

15The use of new economic activities is representative of more recent strategies. These are the means used by most of the population to compensate for the inadequacy of agricultural production to cover minimum requirements. Distinction is made among other things between crafts, trade and paid work. Other smaller trades are practiced such as the sale of manure, wood, straw, etc. But the largest activity is market garden farming and mainly potato growing.

16This type of farming used to be a marginal agricultural activity. Counter-season crops were grown in compound gardens by women only. The small yields were just a complement within the framework of traditional subsistence farming. The only crop that developed was tobacco after the rise in price of that from Nigeria in 1898. It was grown by the women and sold by the men. Tobacco growing disappeared during the famine that hit the region in the 1950s even though competition with tobacco growers in the Ader had continued. Little importance was awarded to counter-season crops at the time. Their weak development was the result of ignorance as regards cultural techniques, input prices that were too high, the rigidity of land tenure structures and lack of confidence in the instructions of distant agricultural counsellors and supervisors (Guillaume, 1974). It was also related to the lack of outlets. Only a few concessions of well-off families had continued to maintain gardens or vegetable gardens, including that of the head of the canton at that time.

17A new type of garden has appeared in recent years: farms that are well-maintained during the dry season and where market garden crops are grown, marking a change in comparison with subsistence farming (millet, sorghum, cowpea, groundnut, etc.). Uncertain waiting for rainfall is replaced by irrigation and yields are increased by fertiliser application. While other crops are for on-farm consumption, potato is a cash crop.

18The Tuaregs of Imanan discovered the ‘patata’ of the Incas in 1954. A young market gardener was given a few potatoes in 1954 by a Frenchman called Bernard who was supervising the building of a road from Niamey to Filingué. A member of a family of immigrants from the eastern part of Niger (Diffa), the farmer had started market gardening operations in 1952. The idea of market gardening had occurred to him when he had migrated to Côte d’Ivoire. He reports that farmers laughed at him and thought that he was mad. A song was composed for him, ‘pompi may bada roua’—which means ‘the pump that gives water’, to make the distinction between irrigation and rain. Potato growing spread slowly during the first three decades after the crop was introduced in Imanan. Today, the crop has a prime position in farming traditions in the Bonkoukou geographic sector. It is fully part of local farming systems and accounts for 87.91% of the total area of 139.18 hectares devoted to counter-season crops in 2012.

19Initially aimed at providing complementary income for a few farmers, potato growing has now become a permanent adaptive strategy. Several factors have favoured its spread and development.

Factors involved in the diffusion of potato growing

20Diffusion covers all the processes that contribute to movement, to migration in geographic space and the effects that these movements give in return (Saint-Julien, 1985). The dynamics of potato growing has been generated by individual and collective stakeholders, local events and events outside the administrative district.

Internal factors

21Factors associated with local evolution and events concern demographic growth, the existence of lines of communication and the role played by local stakeholders.

22Indeed, pressure on land resources is preponderant in an environment subjected to strong demographic growth.

‘Much-divided areas of farm land, of the size of a ‘kurga’ or field are no longer enough to feed an increasing number of people’(interview of an old potato grower, Inatess, 13 January 2013).

23When extension is no longer possible because there is hardly any new cultivable land, the intensification of farming systems always outweighs extensification. Farmers can draw income from market garden crops especially as groundwater is at a shallow depth—2 to 5 metres— making it easier to obtain water for irrigation.

  • 2 Warrantage is a loan operation lasting for a few months in which the collateral is a stock of food (...)

24Local stakeholders have established a network of potato growers by setting up the Bonkoukou market garden crop cooperative. It was started in 1998 by a person from the district. The cooperative works on searching for partners, strengthening the capacities of its members, technical support in agricultural equipment and supplying the district with certified seed potatoes. It built a storage warehouse to improve keeping quality. The warehouse was to be the collection and storage point to stagger potato sales using the warrantage principle2. However, management problems (the managers of the cooperative used aid from partners for their own profit) mean that most growers do not use the system. In spite of these problems, new groups of potato growers have formed and so farmers can organise themselves better and those involved to can coordinate their actions better.

External factors

25External factors are economic, social and political. They consist in particular of intervention by development projects, access for growers to new IT technologies and to the market.

26Development project actions are focused on technical and financial support for farmers. Projects have developed collective market garden sites to provide land for certain farmers-especially women. They have dug individual wells on the farms of many growers. Thanks to them, most growers have discovered certified planting material imported from Europe and much sought after as its yields are higher.

27Use of motor pumps is certainly the water lifting method that has had the most effect on potato growing methods. The motor pump is connected to a drilled well or a modern dug well—that is to say a cement well. During the first decades of potato growing in Imanan water was carried out by hand from sumps. A bucket-like container was used to raise water. From 2000 motorised pumps were definitely adopted in Bonkoukou. Use of these then spread to the other villages. Drilled wells were introduced in the zone by well drillers from eastern Niger. They cost CFAF30, 000 to 45,000 according to the depth of the groundwater and the diameter of the tubes used. These two new methods encourage farming on a larger scale and the use of temporary and permanent farm labour increased.

  • 3 The ‘petit marché’ (small market) or Habou Ganda is right in the centre of the capital, Niamey. It (...)
  • 4 Maï Gida means ‘head of the family’ or ‘head of the household’ in Hausa and, by extension, ‘employ (...)

28Linked to Bonkoukou by 145 km of metalled road (the Filingué road), the capital, Niamey, has played a twin role in the increase in potato production. It is both the centre of supply and consumption. As a supply venue, the ‘small market’3 in Niamey is the main supplier of seed potatoes to Imanan growers. Since the first production of potatoes, the major part of supply of inputs for growers has been handled by wholesalers, referred to as ‘Maï Gida4, via the small market in Niamey. Niamey is a consumption centre, forming a reliable outlet for growers. As soon as it has been lifted, practically the entire crop is sold on the markets of the capital during a period of no longer than 3 months. Potatoes were long considered as a luxury vegetable that only wealthy people could buy because of their high price but consumption has now increased. It is increasingly part of the range of produce bought by urban consumers. The change doubtless results from the change in the eating habits of town-dwellers and the demographic growth of Niamey.

29However, technology that has been a success in one place will not necessarily succeed elsewhere. If the farmers in a region grow a certain crop then they consider it to be ‘profitable’ with regard to their needs and the resources and production facilities to which they have access (Ferraton and Touzard, 2009). The farmers have chosen potato from among all market garden crops because it is the most efficient. The average yield is 32 metric tons per hectare. As it has a short cycle —’three months at most’— it frees both land and labour from February onwards. It does not compete with traditional crops and is a profitable crop in terms of cash returns. Potatoes sell rapidly in Niamey at increasing prices (less than CFAF75 in 1980-1990 and now CFAF300 today). Potato production optimises farmers’ cash incomes and enables them to overcome food insecurity.

The improvement of the well-being of the population in the potato’s farming

30In cases of food insecurity, farmers’ cereal grain stocks are insufficient or lacking and a rise in price is followed by falling livestock prices. The major difficulty for households is then to accumulate sufficient stocks to cover their food requirements during the lean period. It is essential to be able to find cash to purchase the cereals required for the survival of the family unit. Potato growing is a palliative for climatic and fertility crises and contributes in different degrees to the subsistence and lives of households. Its economic impact is expressed in terms of on-farm consumption and opportunities for work and income.

31Potato is a vegetable with high nutritional value. According to Vandenput (1981), it is the plant that ‘produces the largest amount of food per day of occupation of land’. Whereas the first growers did not even know how to cook potatoes and grilled them above embers or cooked them in hot ash, forms of local consumption are now very varied. Potatoes are cooked as ragout or chips. They are also served with sauces. The leaves are picked fresh several days before the harvest and dried and cooked; they are used in couscous or dambu. The rest of the plant is used as animal feed.

32However, the proportion used for on-farm consumption is small. It accounts for only 4% of total production (Fig. 2).

33Small tubers called meno in the local language are those mainly concerned. When they sell their crop, growers always sort the potatoes. The large ones sell fast at a good price but it is difficult to find takers for small ones and these are sold at a very low price.

34Market gardeners generally have two or three beds of other vegetable crops, practically entirely for on-farm consumption. Growing potatoes gives farmers access to other vegetables (onions, lettuces, cabbages, tomatoes, peppers, etc.). This reduces their expenditure on vegetables, increasing their cash reserves. They break with their eating habits and eat a variety of vegetables for a certain time like, as they say, ‘Niamey people’.

35Market gardening is also a competitive activity that opens up a new type of employment prospects for a fair number of persons who face unemployment. Practiced in towns, it helps many people to overcome their food problems and to improve their living conditions. There are full-time or part-time jobs for the various categories of person involved (Mukadi and Tollens, 2001). There is no work for farmers during the dry season in Imanan. Rural labour operates for hardly more than 3 or 4 months a year—that is to say during the rainy season crops. Working during the dry season gives farmers something to do while earning extra income. Potato needs paid labour—more than traditional crops. Monthly wages vary from CFAF12, 500 if the worker is housed and fed to CFA 20,000. The use of paid labour enables young people and those with limited resources to earn enough to live during the three months of the potato production cycle.

Figure 2. Distribution of potato production.

  • 5 The poverty threshold is the level of the well-being indicator that shows if a household is poor ( (...)

36One of the parameters of food security is the financial ability of households to obtain foodstuffs, whence the advantage of having at least some income. In Niger, the National survey of household budgets and consumption (Enquête nationale sur le budget et la consommation des ménages) performed in 2007-2008 by the Institut national de la statistique (INS) set the poverty threshold5 in 2008 at CFAF150,933 in urban areas and CFAF110,348 in rural areas. Operating accounts for potato calculated using the evaluation method described by Ferraton and Touzard (2009) show that, on average, farms where water is lifted manually and that do not use external labour generate a net margin of CFAF 229,290.36. The figure is CFAF467, 318.83 for farms with motorised irrigation and that use paid labour.

37The results shown in Table 1 show that potato growing earns income for farmers that is well above certain thresholds. Indeed, when they have sold their crop, more than 70% of the farmers show gross returns of more than CFAF200,000 and the figure is more than CFAF500,000 for 30% of all growers. The returns depend on the farming system used. The more this is motorised, the more a farmer can invest in the crop and increase his profits.

38The income earned is used first to pay debts incurred within the framework of production. It is then invested in the purchase of cereal grains with priority going to millet, maize, rice and sorghum. It appears that 85.47% of the farmers surveyed buy cereals. This enables them to store production placed in family granaries and use it as seed for rainy season crops. Once the family’s cereal grain requirements have been met, heads of households invest in livestock. Purchase of livestock thus depends on the profit from production and the level of family consumption. Livestock can be sold throughout the year to meet requirements such as farmworkers’ wages, health expenses for members of the household, the schooling of children or the purchase of seed for rainfed crops. Purchase of livestock mainly concerns small animals and income from potato growing contributes in a limited manner to the reconstitution of livestock numbers in the district. However, some farmers report that they had bought cattle thanks to the potato crop.

Table 1. Operating account for potato with and without motorised pumping.

Table 1. Operating account for potato with and without motorised pumping.

39Income from potato is also spent on the purchase of means of transport (motorcycle, cart and bicycle). It is also used very frequently for expenditure on a marriage, a baptism, clothes, building a house, etc. The main aim of farmers is often to marry for the first, second or third time or to organise the marriage of a close relation. Numerous marriages are scheduled at the end of the irrigated crop season and especially in February and March, whereas they used to be held at the end of the rainy season. Likewise, having a house in adobe is an exterior sign of wealth. This requires more money than building a hut, the typical dwelling in the zone. A concession in adobe is for farmers today is the equivalent of what is represented by owning a cement house for a town-dweller.

40Without the return from this resource, many farmers would have to sell part of the millet or cowpea to cover certain expenditure, whereas their harvests are too small to feed their families. Indeed, in the past the income from the sales of the cowpea crop was enough to cover the requirements of each household. Millet is not sold and cowpea financed expenditure on marriages, baptisms, clothes, etc. Even though cowpea sells better than the other crops, production has decreased considerably as a result of shortage of water and soil infertility. The income from potato is thus replacing that of cowpea.

41The potato crop also affects the profitability of traditional crops. Several farmers report that when millet is grown in market garden areas the yield is higher than in the other parts of a field. This results from the application of organic fertiliser. The crop is also reversing the longstanding trend for young people to migrate to seek means of subsistence. More and more young people are more interested in growing potatoes than in migration. They establish their own farms by buying land if they have not inherited any or farm land that their parents or relations let them use. Remaining in the village, they participate in rainy season work either by providing labour or by covering part of the expenditure (labour, food, etc.) required. They are involved in the management of district affairs through the group that they have formed.

42Income from potatoes also participates in the development of new economic activities. These include activities that bring in income (trade, fattening) handled in particular by women.

43Thus, thanks to potato growing farmers ensure the food security of their households for a certain period of time. Rainy season harvests provide only three months of coverage of the cereal grain requirements of most farmers, of whom 65% grow potatoes. The returns from potatoes ensure food security for 68.34% of farmers for up to six months and for more than a year for 8.33%.

Figure 3. The average duration of food stability conferred by the growing of potatoes and traditional seasonal crops.

44Whereas the administrator Taillandier wrote in 1953 that Imanan was characterised by a state of chronic shortage of food’, the district suffered less from the 2005 famine. Its food vulnerability index is the lowest in the Filingué department after Tagazar district, with 34 and 37 points respectively in comparison with 52 for Kourfey, classified as ‘extremely vulnerable’ (Balla et al., 2009). According to the local authorities, some villages have become self-sufficient and even show surpluses thanks to the potato crop. Thus, even the Kochilan sub-zone in the south of the district, which was more vulnerable because of division of land and the marked sterility of fields, is requesting less and less food aid.

45Indeed, the coefficient of cereal-grain equivalence of potato is 0.228. If the 92% of the production sold by the 120 farmers surveyed were invested in the purchase of cereals, they would obtain 48.78 metric tons. Potato growing makes a 36.71% contribution to the family budget in comparison with 33.86% for traditional crops and 13.92% for livestock. The rest of the budget is covered by income from small trading, remittances from immigrants and other activities.

46However, although potato growing in the rural district of Imanan is a way for farmers to break with monetary poverty and increase their resilience in the face of the food crisis, its funding is the subject of a fight for the upper hand between traders and growers.

Figure 4. The contribution of the main activities to farmers’ family budgets.

The funding mechanisms of potato production

47Distinction is made between two main funding procedures with reference to the different stakeholders: formal funding and informal funding. Subsidies, aid and gifts are part of the formal funding category. These form direct support for farmers from the public sector and development projects. It consists of inputs and farm equipment and services for farmers (training and technical assistance). Microloans are also awarded to solvent farmers.

48Informal financing is seen at several levels. For some farmers, the funds used for the purchase of inputs come from the sale of livestock (sheep and goats). Those who have children outside the district or abroad may ask for aids. Farmers also rely on the generosity of members of their extended family (brothers, cousins, uncles, etc.) who work in particular in urban areas. Two or three farmers, that is to say 15% of our sample, pool their resources with the aim of sharing the profits. Farmers also award microloans amongst each other. The loan contracts are verbal and no interest is involved. Nevertheless, when the crop has been sold the borrower may give some potatoes to the lender or thank him by giving a symbolic present. He can help him in his work or ask one of his children to do so on his behalf.

49In addition to mobilising local resources, growers call on informal external financing. This is the largest funding potential. Pélissier (2000) considered that gardening for on-farm consumption was being replaced by production sectors that require technical facilities and hence investment that small farmers could not make. They would need financial means for sustainable development operations on their farms, acquire motor pumps, purchase inputs and hire workers. For potatoes, this funding is from the Maï Gida (chiefs or partners) on the ‘ small market’ in Niamey. These import potatoes from abroad (Nigeria, Burkina Faso, etc.) for consumption by the population and buy the farmers’ crops at the end of the season. The credit that they provide varies according to growers’ requirements. It can be in kind (planting material in particular) or in cash for purchasing other inputs. It is also awarded to farmers for economic and/or social requirements. The amount can exceed CFAF300,000.

Confidence, a necessary condition for loans from Maï Gida

50Relations between growers and traders are established over a long period of time on the occasion of purchases of planting material and the sale of the crop to the same Maï Gida. As time goes by, the two parties gain confidence in each other. When a grower needs funds or inputs he can ask his Maï Gida directly. Credit with Maï Gida has become a quick nearby loan for growers that is comparatively effective.

‘When the cool season begins, I won’t have to go to Niamey to fetch the planting material. I just telephone him [the Maï Gida] and he sends the material to my house’ (interview with a large potato grower, Kochilan Touareg, on 24 April 2013).

51The awarding of credit by Maï Gida does not apply to all growers to the same degree. A grower may take all his seed potatoes on credit or possibly just a proportion of them. The credit allowed by traders is strongly related to the extent of the confidence established between the Maï Gida and the grower. Those who benefit from strong trust can even in turn stand guarantee for small or new growers. This privilege earns them respect but also power in society. They can run the largest farms and employ labourers and sharecroppers. In fact they become second level Maï Gida. Young men and women do not benefit from credit from traders. The traders do not trust the young men as they do not know them well and prefer to do business with their parents. And the Maï Gida do not wish to lend to women for fear of conflict with their husbands.

The informal funding practices of the Maï Gida

52Even if this is not formally mentioned, the credit awarded by a trader is not without implicit clauses. Growers have a moral obligation to sell their harvests to their Maï Gida.

‘Every year, I sell my crop to the Maï Gida from whom I had obtained seed potatoes on credit. Because if there is no planting material on the small market, he makes an effort to find it. He goes as far as Gamkalé, Kollo, everywhere, even if he has to take the pirogue to go and get it’ (interview of an old farmer, Bonkoukou, 26 March 2013).

‘Someone gives you up to three sacks of potatoes on credit—how can you go behind his back and sell to another person? I think that’s not good […] because if he doesn’t lend you the seed and you can’t buy some immediately you’re not going to be able to grow any’ (interview of a group of growers, Amsagal, 21 October 2011).

53Nonetheless, the traders say that they do not oblige any grower to sell them his crop — the essential is for them to get their money back. But if the growers sell to them they find that this is just as normal as they deduct their loans from the returns.

54This bond that enables some farmers to grow potatoes makes them dependent on the traders. The growers must pay back the loans as soon as the crop is harvested—the period during which they are at their most solvent.

Behaviour and strategies of growers and traders

55As the aim of both categories of stakeholder is to make a profit, Minvielle (2000) considered that ‘the notion of monetary gain enhances the gradual movement of small farmers from behaviours of ‘social persons’ to behaviours of ‘economic persons’: money changes the taste of money and the nature of the fundamental justification of the act of exchange, its objective, changes’. The grower’s concern is not the availability of potatoes on the market. His behaviour is based on the price mechanism, even though its existence is not directly linked to the market. His main aim is to be able to make enough profit to pay off his debts and meet his requirements. In addition to the profits expected, traders wish to conserve their potato distribution monopoly. It is in their interest that the other stakeholders in the marketing chain should not have direct access to farmers’ crops. Each if the two stakeholder groups develops strategies.

56The strategies of a proportion of growers are aimed at circumventing the traders. They involve the storage of the crop using artisanal methods (burying or in a shed) and the diversification of marketing channels. Storage is also used by growers who have no undertakings with regard to traders. Storing a quarter or possibly half of the crop is above all a way to spreading sales over a period of one or two months in order to sell at better prices. Selling prices of potatoes fluctuate strongly during a single year but are stable in the long term. The first Imanan harvests were sold in Niamey at up to CFAF400 per kg. When large quantities of potatoes are on the market from February onwards, when all the growers harvest and must sell their crop, prices are at their lowest—average CFAF225. They rise to CFAF350 or more in March and April. Thus with only two months of storage, delayed sales make it possible to earn at least CFAF50 more per kg sold.

57The diversification of marketing channels allows growers to sell their production without being observed by the Maï Gida on different markets in the capital and to a varied clientele (semi-wholesalers, retailers, pedlars and consumers). They benefit from the margin that would have been earned by the others—wholesalers and semi-wholesalers. The existence in Niamey since 2012 of a Potato Fair where any grower can have a stall is precisely part of this approach. However, growers can only sell limited quantities directly on the ‘small market’ because the Maï Gida controls the sales pitches. In addition, selling the crop to a Maï Gida is a guarantee of immediate payment. The grower can make his purchases and return home sooner.

58Maï Gida strategies are aimed at intimidating growers. Some growers can use their income from potato growing to buy seed potatoes and inputs from NGOs and associations that seek to promote the crop. Seeing their control of supply weakening, causing their power over farmers to dwindle, the Maï Gida order selected seed. They can raise the funds required for making orders very early to be able to supply growers with selected plant material and maintain their dependence.

59Another Maï Gida strategy is to intercept growers at Wadata bus station at the entry to Niamey, used for transport from the Bonkoukou zone. For the traders, this is just aid for growers with the transport of the crop to the small market. In fact it is above all a means of control to prevent circumvention of the Maï Gida and sales to other customers.

‘When we take out crops to Niamey, our Maï Gida have employees (young men) that they send to Wadata to counter the numbers of sacks of potatoes. This is so that we won’t sell them to other customers. They grab us even before we leave the bus. If it’s 10 sacks, they must see them…’ (Discussion with a group of potato growers. Amsagal, 21 October 2011).

60When a grower bypasses his Maï Gida, the latter may refuse to sell him seed potato in credit in the following season. But to enable growers to benefit from better prices when supply is large in Niamey, the Maï Gida often ask them to hold back their crop. In this case they may offer an advance to growers who have an immediate need for money.

61Finally, the Maï Gida profit from their close relations with certain growers to settle in the administrative district. They start by asking for land to lease for growing potatoes. Accompanied by their own workers or hiring local labour, they come and grow a crop each year. After a certain length of time they purchase the land and bring their families. The most sought-after land is that which is best situated.


62Potatoes have not only become a solution for the endemic food crises in Imanan but also a source of income that is resulting in a positive upsetting of social practices. But only farms that can mobilise sufficient resources (labour, capital and water) can make the crop a success. The lack of appropriate organisation of the potato sector combined with the weakness of funding alternatives mean that growers cannot become independent of the Maï Gida. In fact, the latter form the strong link in the sector. They control sales and intervene in production.

63It is important to find alternative sources of funds so that growers can master their production process and for potatoes to play a full role in improving the living conditions of the people in Imanan. It would also be necessary to have an objective assessment of the borrowing and repayment capacity of farmers so that they can benefit from loans that match their requirements and so that their integration in the market is accompanied by profits that allow them to invest in their farming systems and even set some cash aside as savings.



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1 The cereal balance is the difference between net production (production during the year of reference + stocks) and the requirements of local people (rural sedentary, nomad and urban).

2 Warrantage is a loan operation lasting for a few months in which the collateral is a stock of foodstuff that can be sold by the bank or microfinance institution in case of default.

3 The ‘petit marché’ (small market) or Habou Ganda is right in the centre of the capital, Niamey. It is the main vegetable market.

4 Maï Gida means ‘head of the family’ or ‘head of the household’ in Hausa and, by extension, ‘employer’.

5 The poverty threshold is the level of the well-being indicator that shows if a household is poor (the indicator of wellbeing is below the threshold in this case) or not poor (if this is the case) (INS, 2009).

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1. Cereal balance in the Filingué department from 1981 to 2011.
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Légende Figure 2. Distribution of potato production.
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Titre Table 1. Operating account for potato with and without motorised pumping.
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Légende Figure 3. The average duration of food stability conferred by the growing of potatoes and traditional seasonal crops.
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Légende Figure 4. The contribution of the main activities to farmers’ family budgets.
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