Thirty-five-year-old farmer Zakaria Abdoulaye tells anyone who will listen, “I will no longer go off to make money. I strongly believe in working the land.”Mr. Abdoulaye comes from a family of farmers in the Diffa region of eastern Niger. For eight years, he travelled to the capital of Niamey after the rainy season to work as a house servant. But seasonal work brought him virtually nothing. He decided it was time for a change.
In 2006, he tried off-season farming rather than heading to the city. And he’s remained on the land year round ever since.
Mr. Abdoulaye inherited a three-hectare plot from his grandfather. Today, he grows millet and beans during the rainy season to meet his family’s food needs. He dedicates the dry season to growing sweet peppers for the market. Mr. Abdoulaye dries his peppers and sells them in bags. Dried sweet peppers are in high demand both locally and in neighbouring Nigeria. Women commonly use dried pepper flour in their cooking.
Mr. Abdoulaye started by planting one and a half hectares of peppers. He was helped by his uncle, who is a major pepper producer in the region. His uncle provided seeds and pesticides. The following year Mr. Abdoulaye increased his acreage. For three years now, he has been selling hundreds of bags of dried peppers at local markets and in major cities. He keeps only a dozen bags for household use and for gifts.
El Hadji Amadou Ali is one of his main buyers. He travels from Nigeria in December, January, and February to load his trucks with dried peppers. He purchases 20 kilogram bags for up to 15,000 CFA francs (about 30 American dollars).
Pepper growing has paid off for Mr. Abdoulaye. He earned enough to build a new brick house and buy a motorcycle. He also bought a herd of cattle and a large stock of grain.
Salifou Idrissa is another young pepper producer. He started growing peppers four years ago. He was convinced to try it when he saw other young men staying on the land rather than migrating for work. Mr. Idrissa says it has not always been easy. He rents land and has never received assistance from the state. “I still earn a decent living from gardening,” Mr. Idrissa says. “I got married thanks to it, I have animals, and since I started growing this crop, I stopped migrating (for work).”
Encouraged by his good results, Mr. Abdoulaye is considering borrowing money to expand his operations. With his profits, he dreams of creating a modern farm next to his own land, where he could create jobs for unemployed youth.