Putting a smile back on the faces of people experiencing food and nutrition insecurity during the 2019 lean season in Burkina Faso

WFP West Africa
Dec 31, 2019 · 4 min read

Written by WFP/Esther Ouoba

As we traveled to rural areas in November and December during field missions, I could see crops, mainly maize and millet, drying up on top of trees or roofs. I was also captivated by the joyful atmosphere of women or young girls surrounded by children who were pounding crops such as millet in front of mud houses or under the trees. They used a mortar and pestle made of hardwood to separate the grains from the millet ears, while sheep would be around expecting to catch bulks of millet ears flying out of the mortar with each stroke of the pestle.

In Burkina Faso, November marks the start of the harvest season. Depending on how much rains fell during the rainy season and other climate effects, barns will be filled up with crops and the head of the household would have the responsibility to manage the stock until the next harvest.

(1)WFP staff in a village of the Centre-Nord region weeks after the harvest. WFP/Esther Ouoba. (2) A woman in a village of the Centre-Nord region uses a mortar made with hardwood to ground millet. WFP/Esther Ouoba

However, just a few months back, the situation was a bit worrisome. Women and men in rural areas were busy working in their fields growing crops and vegetables while eating sparingly their last food stock. For many of them, the barns had been empty for months and they had to borrow food or money with their generous neighbors.

This is a reality Mrs. Bagaya in Bam province (Centre-Nord region) is familiar with. A 60-year-old widow with eight children under her responsibility, she makes a living through small farming. Last year, she sowed ground peas, peanuts, and vegetables that women in her village commonly use for cooking. “As time went by, we noticed the rainfalls were not as expected. As a result, the plants did not grow and started to dry up. From that point, we could foresee that going through the next harvest would be very difficult.”

For the 60-year-old widow, having to reduce the number of meals from three to a single meal per day was more bearable than having to send her children up north to work at traditional goldmines. “That was what I used to do but this year I opted not to because of all the attacks and incidents that occurred at different gold sites. Getting millet, beans, and oil from WFP was such a relief! When you are 60, you do not have many choices, but I could not take the risk to lose my children.”

We met with Mr. Sebego at another distribution site. Due to his specific needs, Sebego was given priority to receive food assistance in accordance with WFP’s commitment to prioritize among the most vulnerable beneficiaries during food distributions. “I received 35,000 CFA francs (equivalent to 60 dollars US). Before they started the distribution, we were told that the money we would receive was to help us buy food first to feed our families so that we can focus on fieldwork.”

Leaning on his crutches, Sebego pursued: “I lost my right leg in an accident more than ten years ago while I was working in my field. Although my parents and relatives took care of me, my wife and two daughters I did not see it as a situation that should last. Now, my wife and two daughters work on the family farm while I do small poultry farming because I am unable to cultivate.”

Sebego with his wife and one of his daughters in the family farm. WFP/Sylvie Tougouma

When asked about how he planned to use the money he received, the man in his sixties looked at his wife. After she nodded her head slowly to her husband, Sebego replied: “Millet, maize, sorghum, and beans are still affordable in our local market. My family and I will be able to vary our meals every day until we start harvesting. My wife and I are also planning to start buying what our two daughters would need for school. If we have anything left, we could buy 5 more hens which we will use to develop our poultry farming and increase our income.”

An elderly man and woman in the East region explain how the cash they received will help them take care of their family members until the next harvest. WFP/Regis Yelemou

In 2019, WFP provided food assistance to some 300,000 men, women and children experiencing food and nutrition insecurity during the lean season (June to September) in a total of 7 regions. Thanks to the contributions received from the United Kingdom, European Union, Denmark and multilateral donors thousands of heads of households, men and women, were given the opportunity to put food on the table.

Find out more about WFP’s work in Burkina Faso

Insight by The World Food Programme