Nelly Bassily | December 10, 2012
It’s noon. A blazing sun burns over the village of Dan Tchio in the Zinder region east of Niamey, Niger’s capital. Farmer El Hadji Moustapha Babacar waits by the roadside for transport to the weekly market at Maigatarari, in Nigeria. [Editor’s note: “El Hadji” is an honorary title bestowed on Muslims who make the pilgrimage to Mecca.] In front of him is a large quantity of sesame, tied in bunches.
Sixteen years ago, Mr. Babacar stopped growing sesame because of a lack of marketing opportunities. Throughout the area, sesame was left in the hands of women. They grew the crop for household consumption, planting it in small plots next to millet fields.
But three years ago, Mr. Babacar noticed a strong demand for sesame from neighboring Nigeria. He now plants sesame on two-thirds of his four hectare plot. The rest of his land is devoted to millet, sorghum and beans, which feed his family. In southern Zinder, the crop is profitable enough for many men to return to growing sesame. Each family dedicates a large part of their land to sesame.
Today, sesame plays an important role in the economy of this Nigérien border town. Mr. Babacar explains: “Buyers come from Nigeria. They roam the villages to buy the product. But I prefer to take my crop to Nigeria because it is more profitable.”
After deducting costs, his profit is approximately 800,000 FCFA francs or 1,600 US dollars per year. He adds, “For the last three years, after each sale I have bought small animals. For me it is a kind of savings.”
Issaka Salifou is a Nigerian trader who travels from village to village in Niger to buy sesame. He explains that there is no contract between buyers and producers. Prices are not fixed, but are set by producers based on demand. He estimates, “I spend 5 to 10 million FCFA [ten to twenty thousand US dollars] buying sesame. I sell it on to processors who … make sesame oil and meal.”
Moussa Adamou is an extension agent in Zinder region. He is pushing for a more structured sesame value chain in Niger. Mr. Adamou suggests that farmers organize themselves into co-operatives. But he fears they may abandon cereal crops for the more profitable sesame. He says: “There is significant potential in sesame, which should be re-evaluated to determine the production and also evaluate the economic, ecological and social constraints.”
Niger is not yet recognized as a sesame producer. National production is hampered by small field sizes and lack of credit or inputs for producers.
Mr. Babacar wants to take a loan from a rural savings and credit union to increase his sesame production. Although he wants to expand his sesame fields, Mr. Babacar knows the importance of growing his own food. He says, “I will not abandon my cereal crops.”