Communal gardens and animal programmes to support families through the lean season

Published: 4 July 2012 15:43 CET

Nathalie Bonvin

The Yaliyaré garden in Sebba, a village in the Yagha province of Burkina Faso, gives hope to the 25 households who cultivate the land. This garden is part of a collection of sites that are supported by the Spanish Red Cross and the Burkinabé Red Cross, to empower local communities through distributions of seeds and tools, gardening techniques and improvement in local infrastructure, such as access to water.

However, things are not so simple. It takes the man and women cultivating this garden a great deal of time to water their plots, because the well is deep and the water hard to fetch. In order for each farmer to irrigate his or her land, members of this gardening-group are taking turns at the well – including night shifts. It is, they say, worth the effort.

Djenaba, 24, is here with her two-year-old daughter, Malika. Both lives have changed since Djenaba got involved with the programme. Gardens are divided into plots (about 6 meters by 1.5 meters) and each person can decide how many plots they are able to maintain, and every member has to pay a small amount per plot in order not to waste the land.

“With the plots I have, I am able sell some vegetables in the market,” Djenaba says. “This enables me to finance other activities.” With the money she makes selling her vegetables, Djenaba is able to buy and sell fish on the market. All in all, she is making about 500CFA a day and is confident it will be enough to send her young daughter to school in autumn.

While these gardens are helping beneficiaries going through the lean season, there is still a lot to be done to make the programme more effective. Improving water sources is vital, as those working the land struggle to cover the fuel-costs of the tiny well pump used to extract water. Often they use the manual backup system to reduce costs. A solar pump might be useful solution, sun being one element never missing in the Sahel region.

These gardens are just one of the methods being promoted by the Red Cross in the region to help support sustainable livelihoods.

In Tongo Mayel, a village in the Soum province, the Andorran Red Cross and the Burkinabé Red Cross support a small animal breeding project. Awa, 41, a mother of six, received two goats as part of the programme. Among the 50 beneficiaries of this project, 25 received two goats. Once these goats have bred, beneficiaries were able to sell animals and then reimburse the Red Cross for the two initial goats, so that the programme can expand to the other 25 beneficiaries. “I now have six goats”, Awa says. “If I am running out of cereals before the next harvest, I can sell one or two of them to buy cereals for the family”.

But Djeneba and Awa do not represent the majority. Not a lot of families are lucky enough to have enough to feed themselves. Although these livelihood programmes do give people hope to have enough to eat until the next harvest in October, they are only able to have an impact on a small number of households. To address the root causes of food insecurity, long-term support through humanitarian organisations need to reach  much wider parts of the vulnerable population. That is the best and only sustainable way  to stop the need for recurrent food distribution operations.