Along a sandy track on the eastern frontier of Niger is the village of Bouri, a small farming community in this west African republic. The villagers belong to an ethnic group called the Kanuri. For centuries, the Kanuri have cultivated millet on the surrounding dunes and grown corn, wheat, sorghum, melons, and some vegetables on irrigated lands adjacent to Lake Chad. They have raised cattle, fished the waters of the lake, and shared their environment with a group of nomadic herders, who migrate through the area with their animals.

Stories of “big rains” and “great floods” are common in Bouri folklore. Some people can even remember when the shore of Lake Chad came up to the edge of the village. But in 1992, Lake Chad was more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) away and no longer a large shallow lake but two smaller lakes. And since 1968, there have been no big rains. In fact, rainfall in this region has been below average, causing periodic crop failures that have led to food shortages and, at times, even famine and death.