Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Niger: Women selling sand to survive - at 50 cents for 20kg

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS )copyright Inter Press Service (IPS)
http://www.ipsnewsasia.net/ and http://www.ipsnews.net/

By Souleymane Maâzou
Selling Sand to Survive

It's a trade that requires no capital, only courage and endurance. A group of 200 women are making ends meet - sometimes even a bit more - by selling sand.

They are known in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, as "takalakoyes"; the name, in the local language, Zarma, refers to the wooden poles, a calabash full of sand at each end, that the women carry on their shoulders from dawn till dusk.

Niamey's takalakoyes supply merchants in markets who want to beautify their premises, and some goes to masons for small construction jobs. But most of their live in the city's densely-populated residential neighbourhoods, where householders spread sifted sand over the courtyards of their homes.

The sand sellers all live in a community on the outskirts of Niamey. They have moved there from villages surrounding the capital in search of work.

"It's not women's work, but we don't have any choice," said Hadi Moussa, who hails from Karma, some 50 kilometres outside Niamey.

"When there are many mouths to feed and one's husband's income can barely even pay for food for the family, one has to do something," says Fati Gna, leaning on a wall, visibly exhausted by the work.

Every day, this woman makes three to five trips into the bush to look for sand. "We do this work so that we can eat without begging. In the night, i come home very tired, and i find it difficult to sleep."

The takalakoyes walk long distances to gather sand from the edges of farmers' fields, from the banks of rivers or from abandoned gravel quarries. At each site, they can be found seated on the ground, legs extended, ceaselessly sifting sand.

Carried back to the city on foot, 20 kilogrammes of sand sells for about 250 francs CFA (50 U.S. cents).

"Look: all the pathways are covered in white sand. It's these women who brought that here," says Sani Maiguizo, a merchant in the city's Right Bank market.

"The price is desperately low... yet, some unscrupulous people try to reduce it even more," said Hadjia Haoua, secretary for information for an NGO based in Niamey who works against violence against women. "You have to support these women who have chosen the dignity of working rather than begging."

The women go about their business selling sand without restrictions. "The city only taxes the big entrepreneurs and the truckers who sell sand. These women's activities are negligible," says Adamou Zada, an official at the 5th commune of Niamey, one of the areas where the women work.

Fifty-year-old Mery Abdou, a veteran of this trade, says the only difficulties come from the owners of the fields "They chase us away, they say we are digging up their heritage. With them, it's always another story."

The city may regard their work as inconsequential, but the women earn an average of 750-1,000 FCFA - between $1.50 and $2 - per day. Not an inconsequential amount in a country where people frequently live on less than a dollar a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Abdou told IPS that with the modest savings from her trading, she had bought a cow and four sheep. Ramatou Ali, who has been working as a takalakoye for three years, also saved enough to buy a lamb. This year, she's planning to buy a mattress for her daughter, who still lives in the countryside with Ali's husband.