Executive Summary of "Room to Grow" project in Zinder, Niger

Population Services International (PSI) along with the Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel (OASIS) and the High Commission of the Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens agriculture initiative (HC3N) propose a novel solution to leverage the African Market Garden (garden) movement to improve gender equity, access to family planning (FP), and nutrition in Niger. 

Niger has the highest total fertility rate in the world (7.6 children per woman), pervasive poverty, and staggering levels of malnutrition contributing to high maternal and child mortality. By 2050, climate change is expected to exacerbate existing food insecurity, just as Niger's population is projected to triple. Gender norms restrict women's reproductive autonomy, household decision-making, and FP access, weakening health outcomes and economic well-being. For example, 76% of married women in Niger report that husbands alone make healthcare decisions for their wives. 

Political will is high to reverse these trends. President Mahamadou Issoufou has spoken publicly about the importance of FP, the Minister of Health is now a member of the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) Reference Group of advisors, and Niger's National FP Action Plan sets a target of reaching a contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) of 50% by 2020. Reaching this target will require an unprecedented annual increase of 7% in Niger's CPR. Culturally acceptable models are urgently needed to operationalize high-impact activities to ensure women's empowerment, gender equity, access to FP, and essential nutrition actions (ENA) necessary to achieve Niger's ambitious target and to avert malnutrition and chronic food insecurity. President Issoufou has also initiated an ambitious agricultural transformation plan, implemented by project partner HC3N.

Efforts to address this complex set of challenges, in the Sahel or other settings, are at the intersection of high fertility and food insecurity, yet often fail to put women at the center of the solution. Interventions are often compartmentalized and do not address the full range of women's and girl's needs nor opportunities to engage with them as agents of change. As part of the literature reviewed to inform this project, an analysis of agriculture and nutrition programs by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found a growing consensus that an important pathway to improving nutrition through agriculture programs is via women's empowerment, although the authors concluded that there is still a "dearth of evidence on the impact of these programs on women's knowledge and practices, time, health and nutritional status, and decision-making processes within the household." 

This project proposes to start from the places where women already gather. In Niger, gardens are emerging as a vibrant and vital place for women to meet, grow nutritious food, and generate income. The project team proposes to assess proof of concept for an integrated solution that brings together gender-synchronized approaches, community-based delivery of FP products, and promotion of improved nutrition practices using difference-in-differences estimation to compare intervention and control gardens.  Working with women and their male partners, the project team will design an integrated solution that is scalable in the Sahel and in line with Niger's development priorities. PSI will lead project implementation and OASIS will lead research design and project evaluation. 

Just as women learn to space seeds to promote healthy growth, this project will foster room to grow: for women as autonomous decision-makers and drivers of their own and their family's health and nutrition, and for men as champions of gender equitable decision-making and healthy family size.