Farmers struggle to survive in West Africa

Sanfo Ramata
Extensive drought in Burkina Faso is leading to the death of nearly all of Sanfo Ramata’s livestock. Gery Barbot/Oxfam

“This year, I did not harvest anything,” says 42-year-old farmer Sanfo Ramata.

When Sanfo Ramata stands outside her home and looks around her small farm, she mourns the absence of her animals.

“I used to have 12 sheep, now there is only one left,” she says. She ticks off her other livestock losses in the last year, affected by drought and lack of good pasture: Of seven cows, she now has three. Of her 42 chickens, 10 remain.

“There are almost no animals left,” she says.

Ramata, 42, says dry times in the Yako region of Burkina Faso where she lives with her children are the main problem right now. “The rains are rare,” she says. “There is no more food, no more pasture, and no more money to pay for the children's schooling.”

Dry conditions and conflict leave millions in need

Farmers in West Africa are enduring dry conditions stretching across the northern Sahel region. Largely driven by climate change, the dry period is reducing crop and livestock production. In some regions of Burkina Faso and other countries, conflict is displacing people from their farmlands, further reducing production of food and endangering families. Conflict in Ukraine is also a factor in the Sahel drought crisis in West Africa: Importing grain from Russia and Ukraine, already expensive, is even more difficult as prices shot up earlier this year and may remain high due to increased demand during the growing season when farmers wait for their crops to mature, but still need to eat. The region is also still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sanfo Ramata surveys her farm yard. “There are almost no animals left,” she says. Gery Barbot/Oxfam

Across West Africa, as many as 27 million people are need of food assistance, according to humanitarian groups. In Burkina Faso, where Sanfo Ramata lives, 2.4 million people are in need of immediate nutrition assistance. She and many farmers are struggling to grow the food they need on their own, and the dry weather is making it difficult to grow crops as well as raise livestock. “In previous years we had groundnut plants with good seeds, I could harvest five bags of groundnuts, which is our main source of income,” she says. “This year, I did not harvest anything.”

How you’re making a difference

With support from our donors, Oxfam is working with local groups in Burkina Faso to reach more than 345,000 people with cash, food assistance (including enriched flour for families with pregnant mothers and infant children), and water and sanitation projects designed to help ensure people have a source of clean water and a safe way to dispose of sewage. We’re doing this work with the Alliance Technique d’Assistance au Développement and the Association de Gestion d’Environnement et le Développement in the Sahel and Centre Nord regions. Oxfam is also collaborating with the Confederation Paysanne du Faso to encourage national and local government to devote more resources to helping small-scale farmers like Sanfo Ramata to improve their food production.

Oxfam is still urgently raising funds to expand its response in West Africa, and intends to reach 1.1 million people in Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Central African Republic with cash, water and sanitation, and assistance for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Oxfam is also actively campaigning for governments of the countries most responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the shifts in the climate and changing rainfall patterns now endangering the livelihoods and lives of farmers like Sanfo Ramata to provide financing to help people the most affected and least responsible for climate change to adapt and survive.

“I hope that next year will be better,” Sanfo Ramata says, adding that she is struggling to buy grain to feed her remaining animals in hopes they will survive and breed. “We cannot give up."

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