Building daily resilience with "Haire"
In 2009, when drought ravaged the Sahelian band, the Kanem district, located in the far west region of Chad at the border with Niger, was severely affected, leaving over 200,000 people in a state of food insecurity, that is, 20% of all households affected by the drought in the entire Sahelian band in Chad.
Zarah Ali Abdoulaye, a forty-year old widow with three daughters and two sons tried her best to feed her family and send her children to school during that difficult period. Despite her best efforts, she was only able to pay school fees for her three oldest children while the younger two girls stayed at home with her to help with household chores.
“Only later did I understand that we were weak because our diet was mostly made of millet balls” relates Zarah. “However, we did not have the choice back then and I was actually happy to be able to fill my children’s bellies only with that food” she added.
Zarah’s story was by no means an isolated case during that period. The cereal deficit in the Sahelian area was 55.1% back then with a peak in the Kanem district.
Material support and capacity strengthening
Early in 2010, FAO and its partners decided to support the most vulnerable populations in the region, especially single mothers with young malnourished children. The market garden project was initiated by FAO in 2010 to assist families in strengthening their production capacity in spite of climate change, so as to alleviate its excessive impact on them and make them resilient.
The project introduces women to market gardening to improve their family’s diet, and consequently their nutritional status, especially among children who will then be able to go to school and grow up in better conditions.
The surplus of vegetable produce is sold and the income thus obtained enables them to purchase other foodstuffs, especially cereals and to meet their daily needs. The project also benefits the entire community as these locally grown vegetables will be available on the market at affordable prices. The project thus aims to maintain a virtuous circle at community level.
After taking part in the meeting to introduce the project in their village, Zarah and 14 other women did not hesitate to embark in that adventure and created the “Haire” association (‘Haire’ means ‘Happiness’).
“We formed a delegation that went to Mao to formally constitute our association. The support was tremendous: first, FAO helped us to constitute our association with a governing body. For the first time we were able to go through administrative procedures and withdraw money from the bank! The Office national du devéloppement rural (National Rural Development Bureau) then showed us the best way to grow seeds in this environment” relates Zarah with excitement.
The benefits are impressive. “I used the money I earned from selling the vegetables to buy fabrics, goats and start livestock production. I now own 4 goats that have all produced little ones. I have been able to build a house in the village with the proceeds from the market gardening produce. Finally, I bought a donkey for my long journeys and to carry the vegetables. And now that I can buy provisions every week at the Mao market, I come back home with rice and dried fish to feed my children when they come back from school” contributed a close friend of Zarah, a member of the association.
The members of “Haire”, including Zarah who is the current vice-president of the association, have vowed to acquire a water pump to access drinking water and a mill to facilitate food processing. Zarah is planning on sensitizing jobless women in her neighborhood to descend in the valleys to take their lives in their own hands, empower themselves financially and improve the way they meet their needs and those of their families. In four years, 650 households have gained access to fertile lands with FAO's support, and the 65 groups constituted in the Kanem district have produced about 603 tons of market garden produce on the initial 45.5 ha of land, up to about 1,070 tons of market gardening produce on the current 55.4 ha. These activities initially generated an average additional income of 160 USD per household and currently generate 242 USD per household.
These 65 groups show no sign of slowing down. Using their own resources, several groups have acquired a second motor water pump to cater for their expanding activities. Many women have personally invested in other income-generating activities by starting small-scale businesses that offer various goods, electrical batteries, pasta or even sugar.
Today, populations that were formerly vulnerable are feeding the region. In spite of the threat of drought, year after year these women keep cultivating the land, gaining experience, and are a crucial pillar for both their households and the community at large.