Contributor: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Republic of Niger
The terms and data used in this publication are in no way an indication of the authors' position relating to the legal status of the countries, territories, cities, or zones mentioned, or of their authorities or borders.
A. General Country Data
Borders, Topography and ClimateSituated in the heart of West Africa, Niger is bordered by Algeria and Libya on the north, Chad on the east, Nigeria on the south, Benin and Burkina Faso on the southwest, and Mali on the west. The country can be roughly divided into three zones : the north, center, and the south. The northern zone, covering about two thirds of the surface area, is located within the Sahara. It is an elevated region formed by plateaus and mountains, and with the exception of some isolated oasis, vegetation is rare. The center is part of the Sahel (the Ténéré region). It is a semi-arid region with few trees. The south is the only fertile and wooded region and where it rains enough for food crop farming without irrigation. The southwest is characterized by periodic floods of the River Niger.
The climate of Niger is hot, and in most areas, dry and annual precipitation hardly reaches 160 mm, During the two or three months of the rainy season (July-September), it reaches 600 mm north of Niamey, in the Sahel region. In the south, the humid season lasts from June to October and annual rainfall can exceed 800 mm. The annual average temperature in Niamey is 29 degrees centigrade.
Characteristics, and Recent Developments of the Political SystemAfter a highly unstable political history, the national conference of July- October 1991 instituted a transition government which made it possible for a new constitution to be written, and then approved in December 1991. This constitution established pluralism with a president elected by direct suffrage for a five-year term, renewable once. A president was thus elected in 1993 but this régime lasted only a few years, a military coup having overthrown the president in 1996. Following this coup, a new constitution was approved by referendum (90%, with only 35% participation). The approval of this constitution installed a strong presidential régime. In accordance with this constitution, the president is the head of state, the head of governmentand , and the head of the armed forces. Appointed by the president, the prime minister oversees the work of the government. Legislative power is vested in the Legislative Assembly of 83 members, also elected by direct suffrage for a term of five years. The main political parties in Niger are : the Democratic Social Convention (CDS-Rahama), which was in power at the time of the 1996 coup, the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS-Tarraya), the Alliance of Forces for Change (coalition), and the Niger Movement for a Development Society (former single party).
Niger is divided into 8 administrative departments, each headed by a prefect. Each department is divided into districts and municipalities. The districts are administered by a sub-prefect. Certain towns have the status of cities and are governed by mayors appointed by decree of the head of state and under the authority of prefects.
Agriculture in NigerMost citizens of Niger make their living in agricultural activity the outcome of which is heavily dependent on climatic conditions. The agricultural sector contributes about 34.8% of the GDP and employs about 85% of the work force. Most farming is for subsistence; livestock rearing is relatively productive. The major export crops are beans, cotton and peanuts, and the principal food crops are millet (Niger is the world's top producer per capita), sorghum, cassava, rice, sugar cane, and some vegetables. Livestock rearing is the principal agricultural activity : cattle, sheep, goats (beef, dairy products, animal skin...). The country is self-sufficient in food supply except during periods of drought.
Niger has ratified most international conventions on environmental protection, and plans to take action regarding the preservation of forests and soils. About 8% of the country is protected and the country has one of the largest national parks in West Africa. Nonetheless, poaching is a serious problem, together with certain dam projects, which could be a threat to living environment.
Current Economic SituationIn 1995, Niger was the last African country not to have signed an agreement with the Breton Woods institutions. That year it signed a letter of intent with IMF, which allowed it to receive a reinforced structural adjustment facility in exchange for an agreement by the government to implement institutional restructuring in order to introduce new avenues for citizen participation and democratic governance. It is within this context that one can situate the on-going decentralization process, whose origins go back to the 1960s.
B. On-going Decentralization Process
Background, Objectives, and Legal FrameworkThe most recent initiative to move ahead with the decentralization process goes back to 1994, when a new decentralization bill was put forward. This initiative failed due to the 1996 coup. Decentralization has a long history in Niger, since the first attempts to decentralize were made more than 30 years ago. In 1960 the then government decided to launch a decentralization process on the assumption that it was a necessary condition for the long term restructuring of the economy. To carry out this process, the government decided to assign this task to the Ministry of Interior, and to have an initial decentralization law voted, followed by constitutional reform in 1992.
Functions, Resources, and Autonomy of Decentralized EntitiesIn accordance with the decentralization law, departments can carry out consultation, decision-making and control functions, whereas cities and towns have the right to carry out not only consultation and decision-making functions, but also implementation functions. However, the resources at the disposal of these subnational entities are insufficient. Besides, their autonomy in the use of their resources is only moderate, in the case of departments, and severely limited in the case of cities and towns. Local entities are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior.
C. Decentralization and Rural Development
Forms of Decentralization, Agricultural and Rural Development Policy FormulationThe most recent phase of decentralization involves rural development and the agricultural sector, and it was launched in 1992. Its two principal forms are, on the one hand, the deconcentration of central government services through delegation of powers to semi-autonomous public entities, and on the other, the devolution of powers to civil society organizations. Local governments were not included in the process of decentralization. Cities and towns are the level of government with the least amount of responsibility assigned them, since the level targeted by the decentralization of rural development was the department. One should note also that deconcenttration was not prepared adequately to the extent that it wasn't followed by a substantial restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The extra attention given the departmental level resulted in the introduction of new modalities in rural development planning, basically regional, and moving from bottom up. Thus Niger succeeded in introducing moderate variations in national policy, which allows it to take into account regional characteristics as well as different types of production. Consultations and joint decisions between the national and departmental levels are not rare in Niger, which makes it possible for some amount of coordination of government action at the regional level. Hence, whereas financing of equipment and rural infrastructure , and decision-making are the prerogative of the central government, control, monitoring and evaluation are assigned to the departments.
Decentralization and Agricultural Support ServicesWhen one analyses the situation of the principal agricultural support services (training, extension, research, credit, inputs, irrigation) from the point of view of policy formulation, financing, and service delivery, one is struck by the prevailing centralization of the system in spite of decentralization. This is so because the Ministry of Agriculture has not been restructured. In all areas except for credit, in which the private sector seems to play a dominant role, the public sector and the national level are preponderant.
Support Policies, Constraints and Evaluation of the Decentralization ProcessIt is difficult to gauge the real impact of the policies that were introduced to support decentralization. Niger adopted an accompanying policy for the decentralization process through training and organizational support, but it did not have much effect because of the limited role played by the regional and local levels, as well as the local populations and producer organizations, with regard to agricultural services. The major constraints on the decentralization process are the institutional weaknesses of the intermediate and local levels, and those of civil society organizations.
According to some observers, it is not surprising that decentralization has not had any impact not only on agricultural support services and anti-poverty measures, but also on social infrastructure (health, housing, education) and production infrastructure (roads, irrigation, warehouses), or on environmental protection. Only citizen participation seems to have been favored by the on-going decentralization in Niger.
OutlookTo the extent that participation by itself is not enough to set in motion the process of rural development, Niger, must in the future decide to go beyond purely formal decentralization to create a legal, political and social framework that would make decentralization a real lever for development.