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Sahel food crisis: Cash programs put farmers back to work

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Patrick Ezeala is a Regional Communications and Campaigns Coordinator in Oxfam America’s West Africa regional office in Senegal.

As we drove into the village of Dialla Coumbi in the Kolda region of Senegal earlier this month, the emerging undergrowth of green vegetation following the arrival of early rains masked the deep-seated hunger that is ravaging communities like this from Senegal across the western Sahel. This year’s crisis is the result of the erratic rains and poor harvests of 2011, combined with poverty.  The signs of trouble are everywhere, from the kitchens that have no cook fires to the barns that – four months before harvest time – are already empty of grain.

After poor rains brought a bad harvest in 2011, farmers in south eastern Senegal are now struggling to find the means to buy the food they need so they can work their fields. Photo by Brett Eloff/Oxfam America.

In the Kolda and Kedougou regions of Senegal, Oxfam partners are launching programs to distribute cash to families that are particularly vulnerable, giving them a chance to buy food and other necessities in the local markets.

I spoke to Karjatu Balde, a farmer who had just received her first disbursement.

“We have received 42,000 francs (about $100) with which we have bought two bags of rice and a bag of groundnuts,” she said. “What we have now can feed our family for a month and 10 days.

But the program may do more than provide for immediate needs. People who haven’t eaten cannot go to work on their farms, they told me, so an infusion of cash now could translate into more planting now and a bigger harvest in the months to come.

“Last year, I cultivated three acres of land and harvested nothing. With the money I received today, I have bought food for my family and we can go back to farm again,” said maize and groundnut farmer Boubacar Balde. “We are being given another chance.”

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