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KAYES: Confronted with Food Insecurity, Women in Tanbonkané are challenging Mother Nature

March 12th, 2012 Posted in Bloggers in West Africa, Emergencies, English, Food and Security, Livelihoods, Mali

Tanbonkané a village in Kayes’ region at 630km from Bamako – the Malian capital, but only 60km from the Senegalese border. A village of 20 000 inhabitants, left with no harvest at all after last year’s poor rain season. To cope with successive food insecurity in this region, women have created a cooperative called “Benkadi” meaning “Harmony is good” to grow vegetables to help care for their children during hard time. Charles Bambara went to meet them.


Women working in Tanbonkane vegetable gardens

“Compared to the previous rain season where I got 20 bags of maize and sorghum, last year I didn’t harvest at all, therefore I am still relying on the previous harvest to feed my family. And I’ve only got three bags left until the next rain season, and I am concerned that we will not have enough food to eat at some point, even if we have already seriously reduced our food consumption” said Lassina Dramé a father of six in Tanbonkané. His wife is also part of “Benkadi”, and he was hoping that this cooperative will be for them “a life saving initiative” which can take them through current hardship. River Senegal being only four kilometres from this village, growing vegetables may seem like a regular activity and even an easy one. But there are other challenges. With no harvest, villagers have no money to pay for the fuel needed for the water motor pump which carries water from the river to their field. During the last four days there was no water available to water the gardens and vegetables are looking in bad shape, worsening the prospect of better food intake. A few brave women are fighting the odds, going down the river like Dyenaba Traoré, 48 years old, carrying huge baskets of water on their heads, to continue their activities and make sure they can provide and cook something in the days ahead for their children. Running out of cash to continue this activity is more than worrying, while everyone was so far clinging on to this only “hope line”. “Remittances coming from our sons and daughters in Europe are unfortunately becoming scarce, as they are experiencing some tough times there, life is… very difficult nowadays!” said Safiétou Bathily, 60, a mother of six children and chairwoman of Benkadi.

Dyenaba Traore and daughter fetching water

Benkadi is a cooperative gathering of 1250 women launched 22 years ago. But with the current food insecurity women have decided to extend their gardens from 5 to 8 hectares to give plots of land to more women, and to extend existing ones to vie for more possibilities to grow vegetables as for many families there was no harvest at all.

With the lean season starting soon, and the prospect that it will be one of the longest ones on record for many years, desperation could be read in some faces when we asked them if “they could you make sure there is fuel in motor pump to carry water from the river to your gardens, in the coming days ?” There was like a concerted and spontaneous “No”. And Bintou Kaloga, the general secretary of the cooperative added “my plan is to ask each woman to contribute £ 1 (GBP), and I am not even sure that ten women will be able to give that sum, and if we don’t’ grow these vegetables, malnutrition will start and some of us could lose their children”.

Some of the village men are helping to grow vegetables, but they are looking equally helpless. The worst can be avoided now in Tanbonkané, if help arrived now to the village to cope with food security and learn them “how to fish instead of giving them fish” on a daily basis, as they have the River Senegal which is a real hope for all this region as it never dries out…

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