Scraps, hard work and goodwill keeping families from tragedy

Published: 15 June 2012 10:39 CET

By Sarah Oughton in Mali

Kadiatou Konnare is facing a more daunting struggle to feed her seven children than most people will ever know.

She is a widow, with no land to grow her own food, and she lives in Sakabala – a rural village in the Sahel region of Mali that has been badly hit by a food crisis.

“I help other people pound their millet and they give me the ‘son’ which is the leftovers after the millet has been ground – it’s usually used to feed animals but the last harvest was so bad for everyone in the village and there’s so little to eat,” Kadiatou says.

As food prices continue to rise, both globally and in Kadiatou’s local market, the underlying issue of poverty means the most vulnerable households affected by drought in the Sahel can’t afford to buy the food available in the markets. Those who have sheep and goats are having to sell them at lower than usual prices in order to buy their staple foods, knowing they still have difficult months ahead of them until their next harvest, around October.

Kadiatou and other families without livestock are turning to more extreme coping mechanisms, such as searching for wild food, reducing the number of meals they eat, depending on friends and extended family, and sending family members to look for work in the city or even in Cote d’Ivoire.

These coping strategies are unsustainable as the hunger season, which normally starts around April, started much earlier this year and there are many months to go until the next harvest begins.

“My friends and neighbours are always helping me, and sometimes I get a little bit of money by washing people’s clothes,” Kadiatou says. “But this year no one has enough to spare. I’ve also been picking ‘ronnier’ [a wild fruit] but it’s difficult to find enough to feed my children.”

As Kadiatou, her children and more than 18 million others across the region continue to go to bed hungry, malnutrition is increasing and thousands of lives are at risk in an already precarious ecosystem where there are numerous health and hygiene risks. The most vulnerable are the elderly, those suffering from illness and children who are unable to eat enough to sustain their growth.