Located in the Aïr massif in the Agadez region of northern Niger, the commune of Iferouāne, between its mountains and oases, hosted this year's sixteenth edition of the Festival de l'Aïr organized from December 2 to 4, 2022. The Festival, which was founded in 2001, promotes the cultural and tourist wealth of the Agadez region and social cohesion within the communities. The event is also a great opportunity for visibility for rural and isolated populations in the Sahara desert.
For three days, the rhythms of traditional instruments, dance and song competitions, musical performances, festival-goers' costumes, and camel decorations enlivened the three cold nights under Mount Tamgak of Iferouāne. Along with cultural activities, exhibitions by artists, market gardeners, and artisans were held.
This year, Tchoukou made its debut at the Aïr Festival. Produced by the TAGHLAMT cooperative in the commune of Dannet, located 145 kilometers from the city of Agadez, Tchoukou is a traditional cheese made from full-fat cow's or goat's milk. In Dannet, the sale of cheese is part of the livestock value chain and is a livelihood activity for many women.
In pastoral areas, the challenges of transporting fresh milk to urban centers generate oversupplies of a product easily perishable by nature. Therefore, the surplus is processed into curdled milk, butter, and Tchoukou for preservation.
But the traditional production of Tchoukou faces many challenges, including the long walking distances women have to travel to sell the cheese on the main road where the best customers, travelers, pass by. Women walk between five and fifteen kilometers to reach this main road, often having to leave their homes for whole days.
Supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) community stabilization programme with funding from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, the TAGHLAMT cooperative has been able to modernize and boost its production in the Agadez region.
"The centralization of cheese production by the cooperative relieves the women of logistical concerns, marketing, and poor sales. The production comes from the different villages of the commune of Dannet. The average monthly production per village varies from 50 to 200 pieces of cheese," explains Elhaj Adam Mamadou, head of the TAGHLAMT agro-pastoral cooperative in Dannet.
"With the support of the community stabilization programme, we collect and sell most of the commune's production. The prices of the cheeses vary from 750 CFA francs ($1.20) to 2,000 CFA francs ($3.29) per unit," he adds.
This new structure facilitates the integration of cheese into the sales chain and saves women from having to travel several kilometers.
" Women no longer need to make the difficult shuttle between the villages and the main road. The cooperative has a sales kiosk on the road, run by a member of the association who an accountant assists. The shop enables the supply of travelers on their way to or from Arlit," says El Haj.
Production is already paying off, and the cooperative is expanding its sales to other regions of Niger.
"We started at the beginning of 2022, and already we export to Agadez, Niamey, Zinder, and Maradi. We deliver customers' orders through transport buses throughout the territory of Niger within 24 hours, "adds Elhaj Adam.
For this first participation in the Festival of Aïr, the cooperative is in line with this year's theme: "Eco-tourism as a driver of inter-community and resilience of local communities.
"We brought to the Festival one thousand bags of Tchoukou worth 1,230,000 CFA francs (about 2,000 USD), and we have almost exhausted our entire stock," El Haj proudly concludes.
Since 2016, IOM has been implementing the community stabilization programme in the Agadez region to support the resilience of host communities along migration routes by strengthening social cohesion, livelihoods, and access to public services.
La production rapporte déjà ses fruits, et la coopérative étend même sa vente aux autres régions du Niger.
« Nous avons commencé en début de l’année 2022 et déjà nous exportons à Agadez, Niamey, Zinder et Maradi. Nous livrons les commandes des clients à travers les bus de transport sur l’étendue du territoire nigérien, cela dans un délai de 24 heures », ajoute Elhaj Adam.
Pour cette première participation au Festival de l’Aïr, la coopérative s’inscrit dans le thème de l’évènement pour cette année qui est « Éco-tourisme vecteur de l’intercommunalité et facteur de résilience des communauté locales ».
« Nous avons amené au Festival mille sachets de Tchoukou d’une valeur 1 230 000 francs CFA (environ 2 000 USD) et nous avons presque épuisé tout notre stock, » conclut fièrement El Haj.
Depuis 2016, l’OIM met en œuvre le programme de stabilisation communautaire dans la région d’Agadez pour soutenir la résilience des communautés hôtes le long des routes migratoires en renforçant la cohésion sociale, les moyens de subsistance et l’accès aux services publics.