“I do not have any food left” says widow in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso’s countryside is green, and the crops are growing. But that hopeful scene belies the food crisis that still grips millions in that country, and across the Sahel region of West Africa.
That’s the observation of Canadian Foodgrains Bank Executive Director Jim Cornelius, who visited Burkina Faso September 10-12 as part of delegation led by new Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino.
“Driving through the countryside, it is hard to believe that there is widespread and deep hunger in the many villages across the Sahel region of West Africa,” says Cornelius. “But although crops may be growing in the fields, hunger is still a reality for millions of people following the crop failures in 2011.”
The problem is the time between harvests, he says.
“Many households have been struggling to get by since spring,” he says, noting that when he visited neighbouring Niger in May, “the grain storage bins were already empty.”
Many refer to this period—when food stores have already been consumed and the new crop has not yet come in—as “green hunger,” since everything is green but there is no food. “The months leading up to harvest is when hunger is the worst,” says Cornelius.
Adding to the problem are high food prices. Although the rains have come to Burkina Faso and other countries in the Sahel region, the harvest is still many weeks away. With crops from last year’s meager harvest long since consumed, the price of food in the market has been driven up.
The result, says Cornelius, is that people are depending on food assistance from groups like the Foodgrains Bank to get by.
One of these people is Elizabeth Nabaloum, a widow living on her own in Burkina Faso’s Maguet Commune.
“I do not have any food left from the last harvest,” she told Cornelius at a Foodgrains Bank-supported food distribution site. “Normally my neighbours would help me, would give me some food, but they do not have enough food for their own families.”
Canadian Foodgrains Bank is responding to the crisis in Burkina Faso though member agency Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, and their local partner the Organisation Catholique pour le Development et la Solidarite. Together they are providing food to 2,110 vulnerable households.
Similar programs are being implemented all across the region through the Foodgrains Bank’s member organizations and their partners. Altogether, over $10 million in food and other assistance is being provided to 288,000 people in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali to help them cope with and recover from the devastating drought in 2011.
Through the eyes of a new Minister
For the new Minister of International Cooperation, visiting a refugee camp in Burkina Faso opened his eyes to the food crisis in the Sahel.
"Today, I saw first-hand a true humanitarian crisis. I heard about the hardship that women, men and children are facing through these incredibly difficult times," Fantino told reporters.
Fantino spoke with mothers bringing their children for nutrition screening at a clinic which monitors the nutritional health of the children and makes sure mothers receive nutrition education and supplementary food for undernourished children. A chart on the wall showed the dramatic rise in malnutrition as the food crisis deepened.
According to Cornelius, who was one of four heads of Canadian NGOs who traveled with Fantino in Burkina Faso, the new Minister was encouraged by the work that these nutrition programs are doing to stabilize the situation and prevent long-term harm to children.
“He could see the tangible benefits of the aid being provided,” Cornelius says, adding that the Minister praised the efforts of local government officials and aid agencies to deal with the food crisis, and preventing it from turning into a famine.
“It was clear to Fantino that the food crisis is not yet over, and is further complicated by the thousands of people being displaced by conflict in Mali,” he says. “He made it clear that further assistance is needed to help people recover.”
In speaking to the press, Fantino urged Canadians to help with the Sahel food crisis by donating to registered Canadian charities working in the region. The Canadian government is providing a 1:1 match though their Sahel Crisis Matching Fund for all donations from individual Canadians made before September 30.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank has received substantial support from the Canadian International Development Agency for its response to the food crisis in the Sahel.
People who want to help can donate to the Foodgrains Bank’s Sahel Emergency Food Appeal online at www.foodgrainsbank.ca/sahel
, mailing a cheque to Box 767, Winnipeg, MB R3C 2L4, or by calling 1.800.665.0377.
Top image: Jim Cornelius interviews Elizabeth Nabaloum at a food distribution in Burkina Faso.
Second image: Elizabeth Nabaloum after receiving her food ration.
Third image: New Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino and Jim Cornelius in Burkina Faso.