In Chad’s harsh central Sahel Belt, communities are not just surviving but thriving, thanks to the planting of tree nurseries and crops such as maize and cassava in wadis — fertile oases in dry surroundings. These Food-For-Assets are implemented by the World Food Programme and its partners, and supported by the European Union.
The Bahr el Gazel (BEG) region, in the heart of the Chadian Sahelian belt, has long been burdened by chronically high malnutrition rates.
Not surprisingly, food assistance during the June-to-August lean season is essential. But WFP Chad, with the support of its donors, wants to do more — to provide longer term support so local communities can build more durable futures.
My first stop in BEG is the village of Wadichagara, where more than 300 people are growing maize and onions as part of a farming project financed by the European Commission’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations office, or ECHO.
The project is part of WFP’s Food-For-Assets programme, in which WFP provides cash assistance to communities involved in initiatives targeting local development and resilience building. Here and elsewhere in the BEG region, these initiatives are transforming people’s lives, as they learn better farming and irrigation techniques, and expand the areas they cultivate.
The wadi, a fertile stretch of land in an arid environment, is not far from the village. The maize is already out, ready to grow tall and green during the rainy season. But there is still more work to do to obtain great results.
Khadija Adoum Moussa has already earned more than 100, 000 CFA francs (around 150 euros) from WFP in exchange for her work clearing land and watering the plants. With the money, the mother of seven she bought rice, oil, sugar…all the ingredients she needs to prepare family meals.
A key element to successful harvests in wadis is planting trees to build a green hedge: natural protection against animals and the expanding desert.
That’s why establishing nurseries like this one requires so much attention. They’re the green investment for the future.
Al Hadj Ali Suleyman (below-L), president of the local committee supervising the project, and village chief Moussa Alim Boudou (R), see a dramatic improvement in their situation and that of the their co-workers, compared to last year.
“This year, thanks to the WFP assistance provided, we don’t have any debts,” Al Hadj Ali Suleyman tells me. “We can even wait to sell our harvest of onions at a better price.”
That’s also the plan for Mahamat Hassan. Two wives, 10 children. No debt! This year’s lean season promises to be much easier to endure.
“I don’t have to sell quickly to reimburse my debtors like the past years,” he says. “It changes everything for our minds and bodies ! We will have enough money and enough food for the next few months.”
The irrigation system is the masterpiece of the project. In this kind of wadi, water is not far below. Even so, digging is necessary to make the precious liquid flow. Another investment for the future.
Time to leave Wadichagara and its hidden treasures…
Our next destination, nearly 45 minutes away on a bumpy, sandy road: the wadi of Bouloungou.
Here the cassava is already tall. Nearly as high as its proud owner, Mahamat Moussa !
Mahamat, married, father of eight, is optimistic.
“This year I didn’t have to borrow money to buy food or petrol for the water pump,” he says. “I managed to cultivate a larger area and I’ve got a hundred bags of onions to sell. As I am not in a hurry, I expect to earn a substantial profit.”
Like his friend Mahamat, Bouloungou farmer Adoum Moussa is respected in the community as the one with the knowledge and experience.
“We have been working for years and years but never with this kind of success. Our onion harvest has doubled and we improved our technical skills thanks to the advice provided”, he says.
“You see this piece of land ?”, he asks. “It has not been cultivated for the past 60 years. But this year, we had the strength, we had the strength to work on it and it will be fertile again. This is our life, our future.”
Adoum is not the only one investing in the future.
“Everyone is motivated, women, young people,” he says. “They don’t want to leave anymore because they see they can build their life here, and not in the cities where there are no jobs”.
Renewed hope for a better future with enough food to eat. It’s certainly what brings together Mahamat and Moussa…but also some of the women I meet in Bouloungou like Hawa, Alima, Zara, Fatimeh, and Kaltouma.
When I talk to them and see their radiant smiles, I can be optimistically say that WFP’s programme, with ECHO’s support, is building more than assets in Bahr El Gazel; it’s building the foundations for the future.