In rural West Africa, gardening offers women a way out of poverty

In Burkina Faso, the nonprofit organization La Saisonnière empowers rural women by teaching them skills like carpentry, sewing, and organic farming, which helps them contribute to their children's education and provide for their families. 

La Saisonnière
Cultivation tables keep vegetables clean throughout the growing process and consume less water thanks to drip irrigation.

In Africa, it is often said that poverty has a woman’s face. Rural women face discrimination just like those in other socioeconomic sectors, particularly where access to land is concerned. But in Burkina Faso, the nonprofit association La Saisonnière (French for “the seasonal one”) has developed a technique to help women climb out of poverty while growing organic food.

“When I started coming to La Saisonnière in 2006, I had no bicycle, no idea how to take care of a garden, and no income generating activity,” says La Saisonnière’s team leader and producer Aminata Sinaré. “Today, I know how to garden and I own a motorcycle.”

Like her, many women have seen their living conditions improve thanks to the nonprofit. Initially created as an informal group in 2003, La Saisonnière became an association in 2006, after it planted a garden to grow crops. Since 2007, it has endeavored to help disadvantaged women in the 10th district of Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, on land granted by the city council.

La Saisonnière has a market garden with a wide array of African agricultural products, but its activities also include sewing, weaving, and even carpentry. Determined that the empowerment of women can only be achieved through education, the association also teaches the women reading and mathematics. Some 30 women are learning gardening, and another 80 are participating in weaving and sewing workshops. All of the women are selected based on vulnerability criteria.

Since its creation, the association has promoted organic farming. Its efforts paid off in October 2017, when it received the SPG organic certification label, one of the first national organic labels in West Africa, issued by the National Council of Organic Agriculture, which guarantees production according to the Burkinabe organic farming standard. Chemicals are replaced by a mix of rice husks, peanut shells, and compost made by the women.

In 2015, La Saisonnière also started focusing on soilless culture. The Italian nongovernmental organization Acra introduced the micro-gardening method to the association by building cultivation tables about 10 square feet in size on site. This technique keeps vegetables clean throughout the growing process and consumes less water thanks to drip irrigation. Everything can be grown on the table with the exception of corn and okra.

"Thanks to the Acra project, I went to Dakar [Senegal] to learn this technique and bring it here. We teach it to women, children, and our students,” explains Ms. Sinaré. She says if women who do not have access to arable land learn this technique, they can produce what they want for their own consumption at home, and sell the surplus at the local market. For example, a full table of spinach sells for 1,000 CFA francs ($1.80). For sorrel, she says, "I can sell my four tables for 1,500 CFA francs ($2.69)."

According to Sophie Sedgho, president of the association and a retired professor of natural sciences, each woman is entitled to seven boards with a cultivable surface of about 65 square feet. Some of it is grown for their family and the rest is destined for market. "They can keep the proceeds of what they sell but we are there to follow them through training, behavior management, and marketing strategies. Each woman contributes 1,500 CFA francs ($2.69) a month to pay for a night watchman," says Ms. Sedgho, adding, "They are often close to the legal minimum wage."

Underground cultivation is another technique practiced at La Saisonnière. In 2015, a water shortage ceased being an issue for these gardeners. “The mayor gave us a manual drill. It was annoying because it was difficult to get the water. We then replaced it with a pump, which broke down,” recalls Sedgho. They decided to install a solar-powered water pump, at a cost of 4 million CFA francs (about $7,200). All the women helped pay for it.

Today, the association still faces one major challenge: poor yields, especially during summer heat waves and winter floods. This difficulty aside, Sedgho says that everything runs smoothly. "We have a lot of orders. Our customers are mainly local residents. We are on Facebook, people see us and travel for miles to come and buy. But we do prioritize the locals,” she says. “We organize a farm gate market, people walk through and buy from us directly. We are very happy with this method because our customers know exactly what they are going to consume.”

Perhaps best of all, thanks to gardening, the women are now contributing to their children’s education and their families’ expenses.

This story was reported by L’Economiste du Faso, a news outlet in Burkina Faso. The Monitor is publishing it as part of Impact Journalism Day, an international effort by more than 50 news organizations worldwide to promote solutions journalism. To read other stories in this joint project organized by Paris-based Sparknews, please click here.

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