Sahara Sahel Foods Keynote at Africa Drylands Week

Submitted by admin on Sun, 10/02/2016 - 20:24

Rewild.Earth partner Sahara Sahel Foods (SSF) gave a Keynote presentation at 3rd Africa Drylands Week August 2016 in Windhoek, Namibia.

Sahara Sahel Foods Keynote at Africa Drylands Week

The title was: Building Non Wood Forest Products (NWFP) businesses that are inclusive to rural women.
Case of the social entreprise Sahara Sahel Foods in Zinder, Niger Republic.
Presented by Josef Garvi, Executive Director SSF, with 30 years experience in Niger.

Here is a video of the presentation:

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This is the Q&A after the presentation:

Q: Can we have a sustainable supply chain if demand rises?
A: Yes. For many of the species we work with, there are large populations of the tree available throughout Niger, and this is especially true for Aduwa, Hanza and Magaria. Also, there are many places where trees like Hanza and Goriba are trying to grow back but are being suppressed by farmers who want to keep space clear for their millet crops. If these farmers realise that revenue can be made from the trees and livelihoods can be built around them, they are likely to let these trees grow up and they could start producing within relative few years time. Some species, however, such as Kurna, are receding, and extra reforestation actions such as direct seeding must be undertaken to make sure these species become abundant enough again.

Q: How did we mobilized the villagers? Did we use help from government agencies or established NGOs?
A: We simply sent out our own agent on a motorbike to visit people in surrounding villages. The first year, many had a hard time believing we would actually buy products like hanza from them. So our agent bought small quantities here and there, like a calebash or half a calebash. Sometimes he would buy from children when they were the ones to offer these small quantities. By actually buying and honoring promises made from our side, villagers took faith, and the following year we had a massive involvement.

Q: Why did the women in the cooperative have Naira in the cash box rather than CFA?
A: That cooperative was from a village in the Diffa region. In the areas there, people trade mostly with Nigeria, and actually use the Nigerian Naira as their daily currency rather than Niger's CFA.

Q: Are we fully aware of the health benefits of Ziziphus spina-christi? It is for instance very rich in iron. Do we promote the health benefits of this product to our customers?
A: We are aware that these natural foods have many health benefits in various ways, depending on the products. However, we are careful in marketing these benefits until we feel there is a sound basis in scientific papers documenting this. We know that many plants have various medicinal uses in local traditions, and that in many cases there are strong elements of truth in such traditions. But rather than use this in marketing directly, our approach to this is that we try to stimulate scientific research into such uses, and where there is satisfactory confirmation, we inform customers about this. In the case of Kurna / Ziziphus spina-christi, we know that it is a very nutritious fruit flesh, and it could probably be a key element in combating malnutrition.

Q: If we only purchase goods from trees we can make products of, how can we encourage the villagers to protect the trees that do not provide food?
A: Firstly, we do what we can to find uses of trees that do not necessarily seem obvious as food plants as well. For instance, we have hopes that good human food can one day be made from the pods and seeds of Faidherbia albida, and we actually know that they have been used for human food in the past in for instance the Aïr mountains of the Sahara. However, there will still be trees from which few uses will be found. Therefore, we need to combine the food and income benefits of the trees we can make useful with the stimulation of a culture where people love trees and protect them in general, not only for direct profit.

Q: Isn't our effort for the environment limited by what amount we manage to sell? (If we sell little we save little)
A: Of course any market-oriented approach will see the scope of it's activities limited by how good the market response is. What we buy from the villagers will ultimately be determined by how good our sales outlets are. Part of the challenge therefore is to work on creating sufficient demand for these products, and on making demand for a variety of products and not just one or two favourites.

Q: If the trees are wild, doesn’t that lead to conflicts of who has the right to harvest them?
A: Actually, the trees are wild in the sense that nobody sowed them, or in the sense that they are genetically wild because they are sown from natural wild seed. But a very large quantity of them grow in farmer fields, in between annual crops, where they spring up spontaneously as natural revegetation. For these trees, there is no real problem with regards to ownership. For the trees that grow in uncultivated space however, ownership issues may arise, and one will have to look into how to best organise fair access to these resources then.

Q: Have we explored the possibilities to sell in other African countries?
A: Not much so far, but we are very interested in selling to the African market. The obvious first step is Nigeria, which is a neighbour to Niger with a big economy.

Q: What are we doing so the trees parks should be replaced/renewed?
A: We encourage the villagers to practice direct seeding and natural revegetation.

Q: Can’t we do a little plant breeding?
A: Sahara Sahel Foods tries to both combat desertification, improve food security and nutrition, AND preserve biodiversity at the same time. For this reason, we only work with genetically wild species. We are not interested in breeding programs to make so-called improved species, but rather look into how we can make the best and the most uses of the natural species that exist.

Q: Do we give some money to farmers’ communities as a fee for the food harvested there?
A: No, we don't. We pay rural people for products delivered. Added to that, Sahara Sahel Foods is a social enterprise, and our statutes state that no dividends will be paid out to private share-holders. Instead, any profits made must be reinvested in the same or similar activities, or be given to community work amongst our suppliers, charity or scientific research.

Q: What do we do if the harvest is going up and down between different years for a certain fruit? How do we keep the customers satisfied with our deliveries?
A: A number of products have good conservation properties. This is for instance the case with bitter hanza seeds and dania nuts. In those cases, we can stockpile reserves to help cushion the variation between years of higher and lower production.

Q: Have we done some studies on production cycles of the trees?
A: This is a very important field of study. We have done some minor studies on hanza, but this is an area where more research would be very useful and where we would be glad to collaborate with interested research entities.

These are our recommendations to the conference:

Considering the importance to regreen as much as possible of today's drylands in order to win back degraded land, conserve biodiversity and mitigate climate change, and considering that the indigenous trees of those areas are resilient and a real option for adapting to the negative effects of climate change, we recommend that efforts to build livelihoods around the non-destructive use of indigenous dryland trees be stimulated and included in the core of national dryland management strategies.

Considering Non-Wood Forest Products from dryland trees can be obtained abundantly throughout vast geographic areas, that poverty among people living in those areas often is high, that developments in recent years have shown the quality of these products, and that these products have the potential to contribute significantly both to food security and income generation for large numbers of people, we recommend that efforts to build value chains around these products be put in place, supported and enhanced, through:

  • support to tree protection, management and propagation, with a special focus on the dryland species that are becoming rare;
  • establishment of processing industries, with support for their setup, capacity building for the people who operate them, and research into the development of more efficient processing tools and techniques;
  • promotion of Non-Wood Forest Products among target consumer groups such as urban populations;
  • inclusion of Non-Wood Forest Products in the purchases made by government agencies and aid organizations for purposes such as catering for conferences and events, food supplies for school cantines and armies, and distributions to food insecure populations;
  • research into the health effects and potential benefits of these products in combating issues like cardio-vascular diseases and diabetes;
  • research and lobbying work to allow the export of novel food products from dryland trees to markets in developed countries around the world.
    Sahara Sahel Foods presenting products at Africa Drylands Week
    Sahara Sahel Foods presenting products at Africa Drylands Week