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Seeds and hope in the Sahel
FAO assistance in Africa's Sahel region, struck by droughts in four of the past five years, is aimed at helping vulnerable people get through the current lean season and give them the resilience to face any future emergencies.
One such beneficiary is mother-of-two Ouma Moussa, one of 170 women in Kirari village, northern Niger, who received a 50-kg kit of assorted vegetable seeds from FAO, together with the basic tools and inputs to grow them.
She says the 100 metre² plot she tends by herself can produce up to 70 kilos of potatoes, as well as cabbages, lettuces, tomatoes and peppers. Although the potatoes were just recently introduced to the Sahel, "My children love to eat them" she smiles. "I just boil them".
Last year's drought meant the well she used to water her plot had run almost dry so her last crop had produced only enough for her family's needs. "But if there's sufficient water in the well this year then I can sell part of my crop to buy a cow," she says.
FAO is also distributing 7 363 tonnes of improved staple crop seeds across the Sahel this year. Fatima Adimou, who farms just one hectare of land near the market town of Gorom Gorom, in northern Burkina Faso, complains of the efforts needed to coax only a meager harvest of millet from the sandy soil. But she has good reason to hope her next crop will be different.
Fatima is one of more than 30 000 vulnerable women in Burkina Faso who received improved seeds under a programme organized by FAO and funded by the EU. She says she expects to grow 50 percent more so that at harvest time she could be bringing home 600-700 kg of millet.
That would be enough to feed the family - and leave something to sell at market. "These seeds are a guarantee for our future," she says.
One variety of seeds provided by FAO takes 70 days to mature instead of the normal 90-100, and requires less water - an important advantage in the Sahel's arid environment. Apart from millet, beneficiaries also receive improved seeds for other food crops such as niebé beans, cowpeas and sorghum.
In the village of Abala Sani, the Niger, Fadima Mamadou is one of 65 000 household heads to benefit from a seed distribution programme in the region. She was given 10 kg of improved millet and two kg of niebé seeds. Last year's harvest was a disaster, "but I'm expecting to do much better this year", she says.
Clothes and shoes
"I am hoping the new seeds will produce enough for us to eat our fill all year round. If there is a surplus I will sell it to buy clothes, soap, shoes for the children". Vital to food security in the Sahel are livestock. Not only are they an immediate source of food - in the form of eggs, meat and dairy products - but they can be turned into cash to buy food during crises.
In the northern Niger village of Chinfangalan, a woman who gave her name as Seyma was one of 1 400 beneficiaries of an FAO livestock distribution across the region. "All I had left was one donkey - all my other livestock had died," she says, taking delivery of four goats and one ram. "This is going to help me feed my five children. It'll make a huge difference.
Read my face
"I am so happy. Just look at my face!" she adds, beaming a huge, heart-warming smile.
Another beneficiary, Madnitou, a widow with two children, says her goats will make life easier for her small family. "And now I'm better off maybe I'll even find a husband," she grins. Given good grazing, goat herds can increase rapidly, sometimes tripling in the space of a year.
At Bousse Etagge, a Sahelian village of 800 in Burkina Faso, Mohamed Outini says he received two female and one male goat from FAO in 2010, but now his herd has grown to 12. "I sold two rams and with the money I was able to buy medicine for my son when he got sick, and buy bricks to build a house. "My life has changed. Before I just sat under a tree all day. Now I'm aiming to increase my herd to 100." Along with a gift of livestock, Mohamed has also been given hope.