by Sarah Oughton
In Niaptana, Burkina Faso, the Burkinabe Red Cross Society has set up two women’s groups with community gardens where they grow vegetables that provide a lifeline for families struggling with severe hunger.
Niaptana is a remote rural community which can be reached with a long journey through the dusty, arid Sahel. When you arrive at the garden, with its lush vegetables and the chaos of women in colourful outfits industriously hauling buckets of water from the well, it seems like an oasis of hope in the desert.
Oroukia Boulo, 54, and her husband have seven children. Instead of being able to fill their three granaries after harvesting their cereal crops this year, they couldn’t even fill one. Fortunately the vegetables Oroukia grows through the Red Cross project are helping keep the family from the brink of starvation.
“This year the food situation is difficult for many people but because I’m on this project I can afford some expenses for my family, so we don’t feel it as bad as some others,” Oroukia says.
“We’ve been given seeds and training in vegetable production. For me and my family it is a very good thing to be working here and I know that my fellow group members say the same thing. People come from the village to buy our vegetables, and it’s good for us and also for those people to have these items available here.”
Cattle breeding or growing crops, such as maize and sorghum, are the most common occupations for people in the Sahel. But with frequent droughts, pastoralists and farmers often struggle to produce enough to eat.
Hortense Somba, food security programme manager at the Burkinabe Red Cross Society, says: “We’ve been focusing on food security for eight years with support from the Spanish Red Cross. Right now up to 23 million people across the Sahel region are facing severe hunger, but in the communities we’re supporting with vegetable gardens you can really see the difference it is making.
“We encourage people to produce vegetables in periods of the year they are not used to producing food, for example in some places there was a nutrition problem as it was previously not possible to see a single vegetable between May and October.
“But now we’ve explained how to grow vegetables out of the usual crop production season. We also work with the state agricultural service to get technical support, training and follow up to help people understand the basic elements for producing vegetables during the rainy season. As a result of our work in this area, last year was the first time you could find vegetables in the markets produced by the local women.”
Oroukia is part of the Sandari women’s group who are now successfully growing many vegetables including two types of aubergine, cabbage, onion, lettuce and okra.
She says: “Although it isn’t enough to fulfill all the needs of the family, the vegetable garden really helps. If I wasn’t in the project I would have to beg others for help.
“Many women in the village now want to join the group as they see how much it profits us. If the garden was not good you would not see people here, but look how many we are and all working hard, because it works. If I’m able in the future, I would like to increase production and set up a business selling my produce.”