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In Africa, it is often said that poverty has a woman’s face. Rural women face discrimination just like those in other socio-economic 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 to 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. Convinced that the empowerment of women can be only achieved through education, the association teaches the program’s beneficiaries reading and mathematics.
Around 30 women are learning gardening, while around 80 participate in weaving and sewing workshops. To benefit from these programs, all are selected based on vulnerability criteria.
Rice and peanut husks instead of chemicals
Since its creation, the association has promoted organic farming. Its efforts paid off in October 2017, when it received the SPG organic certification label issued by the National Council of Organic Agriculture (Cenabio), which guarantees production according to the Burkinabe organic farming standard. Chemicals are replaced by a mix of rice husks, peanutshells and compost made by the women.
In 2015, La Saisonnière also started focusing on soilless culture. It was the Italian NGO Acra, who introduced the micro-gardening method to the association by building one-square-meter cultivation tables on site.
This technique makes it possible to keep vegetables clean throughout the growing process and to consume 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 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 (USD 1.7). For sorrel, she says, "I can sell my four tables for 1,500 CFA francs."
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 six square meters. Some of it is grown for the 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 a month to pay for a night watchman.”
Underground cultivation is another technique practiced at La Saisonnière. And 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 four million CFA francs. 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, the nonprofit’s president claims 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. Access to water is here, the agrological techniques are here.”
A report drawn up each year by the association makes it possible to know how much they earn. According to Sedgho, "They are often close to the legal minimum wage." Thanks to gardening, the women are now contributing to their children’s education and their families’ expenses.
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