Contributing to food security in the Sahel by improving income

February 2, 2015
by 
Stéphane Vinhas, Programs Officer – Emergency Relief

Happy are those, like me, who have taken a long journey. In December of 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting different initiatives carried out by Development and Peace partners in Niger and Mali, and speaking with villagers in these communities.

This field visit enabled the identification of projects, partners and local organizations, which Development and Peace will support in order to implement its program to fight against food insecurity in the Sahel.

These communities—made up of people who are motivated and mobilized to change their circumstances—are forever dealing with the same concerns for their families: feeding them, clothing them, sending their children to school and paying for health care.

This single request has been repeated over and over throughout a series of very interesting discussions, and can be summarized as follows: just help us to improve our sources of income, nothing else! A legitimate appeal to enable them to live with dignity and pride from the fruits of their labour.

This is what is being tackled in Niger and Mali by local partners, such as the national and diocesan Caritas organizations, Kilabo, Afrique Verte's AMASSA (Mali) and AcSSA (Niger), or even AREN; they are supporting farmers' organizations through various initiatives that are being carried out by the villages involved.

Laying out gardening spaces that are protected from wandering animals and training in agroecology are particularly effective measures. They enable food production with natural fertilizers to ensure lower-cost consumption for growers. This also allows surplus production to be sold, which in turn gives access to new seeds, and so forth.

The establishment of community grain banks allows villages to have access to seeds purchased locally, without being subjected to as much fluctuation as market prices. The benefits derived are used to resupply stock or redistribute seeds among the grain bank managers, often women, who are said to be more capable of managing the funds...

Support for managing the milk processing centre is aimed at ensuring potential business opportunities for a particular population of farmers in the region, the semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists and migratory pastoralists. There are also grain-processing centres which permit women to sell finished products, which are in high demand in urban markets, at a greater profit.

All these initiatives contribute to what is called resilience, i.e., the capacity to resist and recover from the effects of recurrent crises, without compromising long-term development potential; this is what distinguishes resilience from mere survival.

But beyond food security, improving income has other significant effects. Children, especially girls, are not called upon to provide the missing income; therefore, there are fewer barriers to their education.

These activities also strengthen trade between villages and individuals, as well as reduce the need for financial solutions which are bad for the environment, where the scarcity of resources is a potential source of conflict. Thus, wood harvesting, a major cause of desertification, decreases. The villagers are busy with other income-generating activities, which leaves them with less time for cutting wood, therefore they are no longer dependent on this activity to generate their income.

Improving sources of income also indirectly contributes to the mechanism of solidarity, which is practised in villages by those going through a difficult time. Farmers' organizations are formed, they organize their work, they manage their assets and develop their autonomy. Financially supporting this development represents an investment that fuels these useful and beneficial initiatives, which have been voted on by the very farmers' organizations, who are benefiting from them.

Money alone does not create development... but it helps.