Villagers and aid workers alike benefit from census project in Niger

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Villagers and aid workers alike benefit from census project in Niger

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
©IFAD/David Rose

A family on their land. They have planted their millet as the rainy season begins.

Poor villagers in the Aguie area of Niger are discovering the many, unexpected benefits of keeping detailed records of their households and assets. As part of a new databank system introduced by IFAD in 2005, local people are developing a detailed census drawn from 27,000 individuals in 22 villages.

The growing databank gathers a range of information, including the names of villagers, their status, the composition of their households, the amount of land they cultivate, the livestock they own, and how they rank themselves in terms of poverty. It is allowing project managers to target their work more effectively while providing villagers with jobs, food security and stronger village associations. It also helps them pinpoint the real impact of development activities.  

"Past projects in the country have shown us repeatedly that we did not have the tools to properly know and assess the impact of our operations," says Hubert Boirard, IFAD country portfolio manager for Niger. "We can set up cereal banks and seed multiplication facilities, we can provide training and the like, but until now we have had no way of knowing whether these interventions have had a real impact on the lives of villagers - either at the close of the project, or ten years on."

Armed with this in-depth knowledge of the target population, project managers now have a real basis for ensuring that projects are successful as they are being implemented. The impact of development activities can be pinpointed, individual by individual, poverty group by poverty group, village by village and activity by activity. Development activities can then be adjusted or targeted accordingly.

The databank is an innovation designed to support the IFAD-funded Project for the Promotion of Local Initiative for Development in Aguie, based in the Maradi region. About 20 per cent of the country’s population lives in this region of southern Niger: most are small farmers who must battle drought, desertification, erratic rainfall and depleted soils.

One advantage of the databank approach is that the local population participates fully, right from the start. Villagers take responsibility for providing accurate information to build up the databank. Local people are trained and paid to carry out the detailed census. Committee groups meet every 15 days to update the records.

For project managers, this local involvement is invaluable, providing information that sometimes contradicts expectations. For example, there were surprising results when villagers were asked to identify how many people in their community lived in extreme poverty.

"We were surprised to learn that those in the most disadvantaged category, the extremely poor, made up only one per cent of the village population”, says Chaibou Guero, the project’s technical director. “We had imagined they would be more numerous.”

"This kind of information is crucial in guiding our interventions and making them more effective," he says.

For villagers, there are also tangible benefits. The project has helped strengthen local organizations and create jobs within villages, particularly for young people who have attended school.  As a result, more people can now stay in villages instead of having to seek work elsewhere. Villagers now have a greater sense of social responsibility and citizenship because they can see and understand the advantages of keeping accurate records.

"Past IFAD projects in Niger would certainly have benefited from this approach", says Boirard. The Rural Financial Services Development Programme is a case in point. The programme, initiated in 2001, was designed to develop microfinance services to reach the most vulnerable groups, such as women, farmers in poor areas and pastoral communities. The programme closed before term, partly because of the difficulty in assessing its impact. Programme directors were unable to determine who they were reaching and whether the programme’s objectives were being met. "If database information had been available", says the country portfolio manager, "it would have been possible to measure the programme’s performance and perhaps it would be operating today."

Instead, the Aguie project is now expanding to cover 100 villages, while continuing to refine its databank system. In a future phase, the project manager plans to train village committee members to input the data into computers.

Eventually the whole Maradi region, where IFAD is concentrating its development investments in Niger, could be covered. This simple but highly effective means of assessing the impact of development activities could also be applied to other development projects and programmes elsewhere in Africa, and even further afield.