Sahel food crisis: Dry times in 2011 threaten ability to plant in 2012

By Chris Hufstader
After a season of erratic rain and poor harvests in 2011, farmers in eastern Senegal are waiting for better rains in the summer of 2012 so they can plant their fields.

Farmers in the far eastern Kedougou region of Senegal are nearing the end of the dry season and waiting nervously for the rains to start. Many of them had poor harvests in 2011 and have long ago consumed all the food they could grow, while struggling to hold aside rice, millet, groundnut, and maize seed they can plant when—and if— the rains start.

“I harvested practically nothing,” Founé Danfakha says of her 2011 yield. She grows groundnuts, maize, and rice in Bembou, a small village about 50 kilometers east of Kedougou, near the border with Mali. The 60-year-old mother of five children and grandmother of four says, “If the rain comes normally, I can get 20 sacks of groundnuts. Last year I got only five.”

Danfakha has about five acres of land. She says her last harvest was dismal: She got three bags of rice, which is about 30 percent of the normal harvest. She planted about an acre of maize, but harvested none at all.

No seed, no harvest

Danfakha is sitting in front of her home, with her four-year-old grandson on her lap. The boy is quiet, and seems to have little energy. Danfakha says she is feeding everyone in the household regularly, despite the fact that the food she grew last year lasted only two months after the harvest in November. Usually she grows enough to last four months. She says she is meeting her family needs with money sent from her daughter, who is digging for gold in a nearby mining area.

When the rains start, Danfakha’s daughter will come back to help her prepare her fields and plant. “I think we will have to cover our needs growing groundnuts,” she says. “I don’t have enough rice seed, but I think I have enough groundnut seed.” When her daughter comes back they will have no income from mining while she works in the fields, so it is a calculated risk.

“The situation is difficult here. There’s a problem of rain,” Danfakha says. “It’s been irregular. If there’s not enough rain, there won’t be a harvest. And if there is no seed, there’ll be no harvest.”

Oxfam is collaborating with local organizations in Kedougou to help farmers there and in other areas of West Africa with crucial agricultural support, so they can plant this spring. Oxfam is also planning work that will help keep drinking water clean and safe, and provide food or short-term employment for cash wages, so farmers can meet their food needs over the summer while they work their fields.

Oxfam is aiming to help 1.2 million people across seven countries with programs that include cash transfers and cash-for-work initiatives, veterinary care for the livestock on which many families depend, and access to clean water and sanitation. We are also campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support our efforts.

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