Sowing the seeds of a better future in the Sahel

Published: 23 May 2012 15:47 CET

By Sarah Oughton in Burkina Faso

Habsatou Abdulaye, 53, lives in Niaptana – one of many communities in Burkina Faso which regularly face food crises and where the Red Cross has helped women establish vegetable gardens, which provide a valuable source of nutrition.

Habsatou, who has eight children and is president of the Sandari vegetable garden group, says: “It’s a good programme that is working according to our needs. Thanks to the Red Cross we have this land here, which was not possible before.

“It’s a bit difficult and complicated for my family this year because we have not been able to produce many cereal crops after the bad rain. If I wasn’t in this project I would be lost. But still I have many worries. I’m concerned about my family’s health, and what will happen if we run out of seeds, plus the problem with water. In the future if we find a solution for the water problem it will be better for production and we will have more food.”

Access to water is one of the biggest challenges to survival in the Sahel.

Hortense Somba, food security programme manager at the Burkinabe Red Cross Society, says: “In some communities near rivers we’ve provided water pumps, which use petrol, to fetch water for irrigating but the problem is there’s not always much water available so it’s still difficult and we are still looking for better solutions.

“Also, in some places the mining companies take water from the rivers and by March it’s not easy to find water. Wells can be effective for the vegetable gardens but often, as is the case in Niaptana, all the village uses it for domestic use and for their animals as well as for irrigating the land, so often it runs dry.

“We are looking at addressing the problem of water but communities also need to maintain what they have and learn to manage it better.”

“We encourage the communities to produce their own seeds,” says Hortense. “In 2009, before our arrival they didn’t have any seeds produced here in the region – they had 9,000 kilos of seeds coming from outside. But in 2010 we produced 10,000 kilos of seeds. Unfortunately with the lack of rain in the 2011 rainy season it wasn’t possible to produce seeds and now all the reserves are gone.”

Despite the current drought, the Sandari women’s vegetable garden is thriving, as Habsatou and her friends are diligent in keeping the vegetables, including aubergine, cabbage, onion, lettuce and okra, well watered.

The garden is surrounded by dusty scrubland as far as the eye can see, there is little shade and the heat is so heavy, it seems like you could touch it. In this context it’s not difficult to understand the significance of Habsatou’s comment, when she says: “I feel like in this project they take you from heat and put you in a fresh place.”