For World Food Day on 15 June, In touch is devoting its monthly dossier to the links between agriculture, food and nutrition in the fight against food insecurity, with the example of Burkina Faso. In 2012, West Africa, and the Sahel in particular, experienced its 4th food crisis in eight years. The recurrence of these episodes increases the vulnerability of the most fragile people in the event of shocks (unpredictable weather conditions, increase in prices, health problems, livestock disease). Profound changes in household finances and livelihoods have generated food insecurity that has become structural: demographic growth, land pressure, fragmentation of farms, ecological degradation, integration in trading networks, changes in eating habits, evolving family structures. GRET promotes a multi-sector approach and an alliance for short, medium and long term action to strengthen the resilience of populations facing structural crises.
The paradox of the Mouhoun Loop
In Burkina Faso, the Mouhoun Loop is traditionally known as the country’s granary. This region is characterised by persisting food insecurity, despite sufficient agricultural production. Poor populations account for two thirds of families, which is one of the highest proportions at national level. A quarter of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition and almost one in every ten children suffers from acute malnutrition. How can we explain this paradox?
- Inappropriate eating behaviour reflecting poor food diversity and a huge lack of micronutrients. This situation is caused by methods of production focusing mainly on cereals and cotton, and by populations’ lack of knowledge on best eating practices. Value chains with high nutritional value (pulses, market gardening, livestock) are poorly developed, poorly integrated in families’ food regimes and geared mainly towards commercialisation.
- Poor feeding practices for young children. Breastfeeding practices are not in line with national and international recommendations (breastfeeding in the hour following birth, exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of six months, continuation of breastfeeding up to the age of two and over), complementary food is rarely introduced in a timely manner and is insufficient in quality (energy density, macro- and micro-nutrient content). Only 4.1% of children aged between 6 and 24 months in the Mouhoun Loop have an acceptable minimum level of food.
- Inadequate healthcare practices for children and women, especially pregnant and breast-feeding women. These are related to gender inequality in the distribution of resources and workload in families. Women are highly occupied with agricultural work, especially cotton and cereal growing. During intense periods of work in the fields, they have little time to devote to caring for their children, carry out intense physical work and have little time to rest (especially during pregnancy). In addition, income from agricultural activities is often possessed by men, who are less aware of the needs of young children.
Food security for the most vulnerable: a question of resilience
In 2014, GRET launched the Repam project to strengthen the resilience of populations in the Mouhoun Loop facing these food crises. It strengthens the production capacities of vulnerable families via their agricultural, livestock or market gardening activities, or via processing of agricultural and forest products. The objective is to support the 3,000 poorest families to access means of production (seeds, inputs, small equipment and production material) and rebuild their small livestock capital (poultry, small ruminants) to generate stimulus funds for boosting agricultural and non- agricultural activities. In parallel, GRET provides training & technical support and is developing an advice service for family farms, with special emphasis on management of stocks.
In order to guarantee the sustainability of the approach and to make the implemented actions lasting, GRET is also strengthening the FEPA/B farmers’ organisation and its two provincial producers’ unions in the Mouhoun and Nayala regions. The aim is to enable them to develop and consolidate sustainable services in the Mouhoun Loop, especially in terms of training, technical support and management consulting. The action is based on the work of endogenous coordinators from the unions and on systems for dissemination of innovative practices from farmer to farmer.
Cultivation practices in this area consume high levels of plant protection products, especially for cotton and corn growing, and the fertility of the soil is deteriorating. In order to make its action last, GRET is gradually introducing reflection on agro-ecological practices: agriculture-livestock integration (composting techniques for organic manure, introduction of forage plants), crop combination (millet-sorghum-cowpea and millet-cowpea), and distribution of soil-building plants (such as pigeon peas) to restore the soil’s fertility.
Better food practices based on local value chains
GRET is working to improve eating habits among populations in the area by raising their awareness on best food practices and promoting the consumption of local food to encourage food diversification. The objective is to support the production and processing of local products that are rich in micronutrients and proteins: cowpea, soya, market garden products and livestock. Specific actions are aimed at those who are most vulnerable to malnutrition, particularly children under the age of two. Two local fortified infant flour production units receive support to provide young children with access to quality food at an affordable price.
Awareness-raising tools based on innovative key messages adapted to local populations were developed, both on nutrition, via the healthcare system, and on advice to farmers so that their activities can be increasingly highlighted in terms of family food and health.
This project makes it possible to reach the most vulnerable persons, who are often left out of traditional projects, by contributing to the reduction of food deficits, diversifying diets, strengthening productive capacities and implementing resilient agricultural practices. Strengthening this dynamic remains a major challenge for GRET and its partners. This can be achieved by consolidating actions that make it possible to sustainably increase the capacities of households and agrosystems in the area to cope with shocks and recover from them.
More information on GRET’s Repam project (Resilience of poor and very poor populations and food security in the Mouhoun region), implemented in partnership with FEPA-B and funded by the European Union, the CFSI and Cedeao.