For a society where the majority of girls and women are confined to household chores or mostly laborers in fields, breaking through the gender and societal stereotypes can be extremely challenging.
But not for this 30-year-old Nigerien student taking a Ph.D. in Animal Production in the University of Abdou Moumouni in the capital, Niamey. The University of Abdou Moumouni is Niger’s oldest higher education institution in the country with the largest enrollment of students.
“There are many people who question why I am focusing on education rather than getting married. But I have no priority other than complete my studies and contribute to growing my country. Studying and getting married are not incompatible. When my time comes, I shall get married,” says a delighted Halidou Maiga Naffisatou.
Naffisatou is among the pioneer students of a master program on animal production funded by the West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP). She was among the three female students out of a class of 16. She successfully graduated in 2017 and enrolled in a Ph.D. program. She is expected to graduate in 2020.
“When I was in undergraduate studies, I told my preferred lecturer that without a program in animal production, I shall not continue graduate studies,” she says.
“Because I have always loved animal production and livestock in general. But my motivation is related to the fact that I see many people across Niger demanding quality and nutritive milk.”
“It is this knowledgedge that also guided the choice of my research theme. What I am doing is to increase livestock productivity and milk production,” she adds with a smile.
You get a sense in speaking with Naffisatou that she is really enjoying what she does and seems to have chosen the right area of studies to bring a contribution to the challenges facing her country.
Naffisatou’s is currently working on artificial insemination, a process whereby sperm cells from a male animal are collected and manually deposited in the reproductive tract of a female.
Though debatable, this process comes with some benefits including improving the quality of livestock and increasing production.
Though Nigeriens have a long culture with livestock production, malnutrition rates are still relatively high, according to the United States Agency for International Development, West Africa Mission.
Naffisatou sees her long-term future in being able to address this critical challenge. “You cannot address the food and nutrition insecurity of the 20 million Nigeriens without adequate breeding programs.
Increasing Agriculture Research, the Nigerien Way
Most West African countries invested heavily in the past decade in the training of young researchers as a way of filling the shortage of agricultural scientists in their respective countries.
Overall, about 1000 young scientists including about 30 percent women received scholarships to pursue master degrees and Ph.Ds. in priority areas.
In Niger, actors opted to focus on training researchers more in the livestock sector. What was particularly unique about the WAAPP capacity building initiative in niger was the creation of a master program in the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Abdou Moumouni.
The support included construction of infrastructure and paying for teaching staff time. In the Niger approach, the new master program seeks to address current and future needs. Overall, the management of the program says two batches are out with about 95 employment rate.
Overall, about 170 students were trained in various areas of livestock in Niger.
Independent analyses have concluded that the program has made a substantial contribution to improving the West Africa R&D capacity all across West Africa.
Sustaining the Program
As many development programs, owning interventions by countries could be critical for the sustainability.
When we met with the Vice Rector of the University of Abdou Moumouni who is also the coordinator of the WAAPP-funded program, he said that many of the cost related to the running of the program is increasingly being taken up by the university.
The long-term strategy is to ensure the program can function on its own, says Dr. Chaibou Mahamadou.