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Women’s Leadership in Agroecology

Recently, we connected with Fatou Batta, our regional coordinator for West Africa, based in Burkina Faso. With Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day both occurring this month, we wanted to know more about the intersection of women and agroecology from her perspective. Over the next three weeks we will be sharing her insights. Here is the first installment of our interview: 

Groundswell International: Can you share with us examples of some of the positive changes that happen for communities when they strengthen their agroecological farming strategies?

Fatou Batta: Households adopting agroecology as a production system are often safer from poor harvests, even in years of low rainfall or pockets of drought. Some of the benefits and positive changes include:

Increased food production: by combining several agroecological techniques, farmers, and women in particular, improve their individual production, which enables them to provide for the needs of the family especially in the hunger period when most of the granaries of the households are empty. In the exchange visits we had with the communities, each farmer (men and women) wants to explain the advantages of agroecological techniques, as well as of the kinds of support we have provided.

For example, in the village of Bibgou in Eastern Burkina with a large Fulani community, one of the women of this community, Ms. Bandé Mariam explained that on her family plot of ¼ hectare, which is a barren land that had been abandoned because nothing can grow on it, she prepared more than one hundred *half-moons combined to capture rainwater, and place manure in them for fertilizer. Thanks to these techniques, she has been able to harvest more than 4 sacs (400Kg) of millet where before nothing would grow. Seeing this success, her neighbor decided to improve her own land with half-moons this year. She has also increased her production. Both testified that their increased production contributed to feeding their families. This year they are not afraid of food shortages. In addition, they have stored part of the millet in their community grain bank, which also acts as a guarantee (“warrantage”) to access credit. They are using the credit to increase income generating activity of buying and selling basic goods to local people.

The men explained that thanks to the agroecological techniques they are using in the village, agriculture production has increased. Like the women, they are also able to store their produce at the warrantage grain bank, as the women have done. They don’t need to travel long distances outside their village any more to buy grain at higher prices when their supplies run out, or to borrow money, which saves them time and money.

Increased income: Women, added that they can sell part of their production surpluses to have money for addressing other needs. Some use it to pay their contribution (between 50cents and $1) to their self-help, savings and credit group, which in turn allows them to borrow money when they need it for their income generating activities. Others said that they have purchased small livestock, like sheep or goats, that they raise and sell later. Overall, with their increased income they are able to pay for health care and the school fees of their children.

Improved women’s leadership and self-esteem: Besides the production activities, and thanks to skills gained through training and their participation in community meetings, women affirmed that they are now more confident to speak in public. We can see this. In our meeting, with this village, the number of women attendees surpasses that of the men, and they were talkative and quick to join the conversations. Women have taken lead responsibilities in some program activities. In addition, the women told us that previously the Fulani women hadn’t participated in farming or even the market gardening activities. Now they more committed and enthusiastic than their sisters of the other ethnic groups (Moore and Gulmantche.)

Read the second installment of this interview here

*Note: Half-moon is a water catchment technique that consist of digging holes in the shape of half-moon. When it rains, water runoff is catch within these holes allowing the water to infiltrate and maintain more humidity for the crops


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