University students in Niamey learn links between food security and demography

For 29 students completing a Masters 2 in Nutrition and Food Security, the topic of demography was something that had not come up in their academic program at University Abdou Moumouni in Niger. Ask them the four primary factors contributing to food security and 100% of them can name the correct answers. But when it comes to how nutrition and food security are impacted by population growth, this was new territory for many.

To prepare the emerging generation of health and agriculture experts with an understanding of the critical links between demography and food security, the OASIS initiative held its third annual “Population, Resilience, and the Role of Women in Food Security in the Sahel” course in partnership with UAM this past July.

“We cannot talk about development without considering population,” says Dr.  Nouhou Abdoul Moumouni, demographer-statistician and OASIS Program Director for Niger. “And demography isn’t just ‘counting’ people. Demography looks at the trajectory of the individuals in every stage of their life: their vital needs like food, education, and employment; the events affecting them like migration, marriage, and death; and their life plans, like family planning.” This information is necessary in order to predict and respond to the specific needs of different cohorts of people in a population. If a country and a region’s development is going to be sustainable, then these factors must be taken into account.

Niger’s population growth rate is among the fastest in the world, at 3.9%. And as various speakers affirmed throughout the week during their presentations on a range of development issues, the rate of population growth has an impact on every domain related to development.

Gender expert Marthe Diarra Doka explained how the rapidly growing population is leading to smaller and smaller parcels of land for families to farm. As the amount of land per person is shrinking, plots are often taken away from women through various mechanisms and given to male community members. Marthe passionately articulates how women’s access to land is a social justice issue and one that is rendered more challenging due to the impact of a rapidly growing population in Niger.

Beyond exploring the impact of population growth on the areas of food security, agriculture, and maternal and child health, the course focused on viable strategies that promote community resilience and slow population growth while respecting human rights. Dr. Adama Kemou, Sahel Leadership Program Fellow, 2015 and former Director of Maternal and Child Health, Government of Niger, showed the impact that an increased uptake of family planning would have on the health, education, and economic wellbeing of children and families in the region. Right now, only 12% of couples are using family planning methods. According to projections using Spectrum estimations, if this continues, then by 2050 there will be hundreds of thousands more maternal deaths than if family planning methods are used.

And why does this all matter for students studying nutrition and food security? “This training will be very useful for my future work,” said one student, “because it highlights future problems facing nutrition. It has helped me further understand the impact of demography on nutrition.” Idrissa Soumana Mariam, another student attending the course, also believes the information will serve her in her career. "It’s something that I think I can apply in the future as a doctor, to ensure that people are aware of the benefits of family planning, as well as a demographic transition."