For rural Senegalese farmers, waiting for the rains to nourish their crops in the oppressive heat of May and June is a nervous time. With climate change comes unpredictable harvests, and without reserves, one failed harvest means that families go without food, children drop out of school, and communities fall further into poverty.
Since many rural Senegalese farmers are recovering from the food crisis in 2011 and 2012, it is a particularly difficult time. By the time they have planted their seeds, they have had to spend the majority of their money and savings, and face months of hunger until they can harvest their crops. Even then, it is a gamble; it only takes a few weeks of dry weather, or an insect infestation, and everything can be lost.
Oxfam, along with the World Food Programme, La Lumière, has just started a program to aid the farmers by reducing and spreading out their farming risk. The program, Rural Resilience Initiative, has already been launched in several other African countries, but has only just reached communities in Senegal. It is based on the fact that it costs less to manage risks then it does to provide relief in a crisis; by planning ahead, these farmers can be prepared for whatever the weather brings. With the initiative, rural families have the opportunity to manage their own risks from harvest to harvest. There are four components: risk taking (credit), risk transfer (insurance), risk reserves (savings), and risk reduction.
The program encourages farmers to save, providing them with access to loans and insurance so that if they are faced with a poor crop yield, they are eligible for a settlement (either cash or food vouchers). Farmers pay for their insurance by working on local projects that improve agriculture conditions in their communities. They build irrigation systems, make compost to fertilize fields, and plant trees to better their surrounding environment. In the small villages of Senegal, farmers are helping to build erosion control barriers out of volcanic stones, which help cut down on flash floods in heavy rain, and improve the quality of the sandy soil. As June passes, the rains should now be starting in Senegal, and fortunately, the hope of a good yield is now accompanied with the knowledge that, should the rains fail, these farmers now have something to fall back on.
– Chloe Isacke