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Second of two posts by guest blogger Aliou Bassoum, Oxfam America’s regional communications officer in Dakar, Senegal.
It takes a little more than an hour on a red dirt road through forests and millet fields to find the village of Balkissima, population 162. We can still see a few stalks in the fields, left over from the harvest last fall here in the region of Kolda. According to an assessment by the World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization in November, about 138,800 people in Kolda are at high risk of food insecurity.
Some of them are here. They are mostly farmers and herders in Balkissima, a small village with a few mud-walled houses. Around one of them, the home of the chief, stand a few cows. This area is well known for raising livestock.
The food crisis here in southern Senegal is not just hitting people. The livestock are also suffering, and becoming quite skinny, almost puny in size. The village chief, Amadou Korka Balde, says it is due to lack of pasture in the area, and the poor quality of what grass is there during the dry winter months.
Animals are very important for the rural economy. A herd is like a savings account: people facing tough times can fall back on this valuable asset. Balde says he is going to have to sell part of his herd so he can feed his family. In hopes of earning a little money, he will set aside a few of his best cows, and hope that their market value will increase as cows become more scarce. Last year he sold 10 cows for one million CFA Francs (about $US2,000) — not a very good price.
Ramata Diallo ,60, says she just sold all her chickens at a very low price. She’s a tall woman with fine features, and is obviously sad as she describes the situation to us. Since she has no food, she had just come from the village chief’s home, where she shared a meal with others in the village. “I’m living like this because I don’t have any children,” she says simply, reminding us how most people facing a crisis like this depend on their family networks to cope. Diallo is on her own for the moment as her husband has left town to work in the forest to produce charcoal for sale in the cities of Senegal. Everywhere we go we see sacks of charcoal on the side of the road, ready to be picked up and transported by trucks.
Looking around Balkissima, the grass is yellow and the earth is dry. In some places, pastures are burned by brush fires, sometimes set inadvertently by those garthering honey in the forest. The steady spread of agriculture, particularly the cultivation of peanuts, into areas where herders pasture their animals also cuts down on land for grazing cows. It’s not unusual to see stories in the media about conflicts between farmers and herders.
Oxfam plans to support herders in Kolda to maintain the health of their animals by providing veterinary drugs and training for animal health workers. We are also considering providing cash or other direct aid to the owners of critically ill livestock during these next crucial weeks before the rainy season.
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.