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Women Farmers Group Scales Up In Rural Guinea

The women of the farmers group the "Sultans" are proud and confident. Thanks to WFP they have been able to triple crop yields within one year - a reason to celebrate. (Copyright: WFP/Katharina Dirr) 

The last few years have been difficult for the “Sultans,” a group of women farmers from the small village of Sountoudiana in Northeast Guinea. Harvests have barely been enough to feed their families, especially during the lean season, and the region suffers from high levels of food insecurity and low enrolment rates. With support from WFP, however, the group has tripled crop yields and doubled membership. Today the Sultans are supplying local school canteens and selling their surplus locally, in the process building the resilience of the entire community.  

Eggplants, tomatoes, onions, chili, okra and beans - the Sultans’ 15-hectare garden is filled with fresh produce. Their fields, however, were not always so bountiful. Ratou, the group’s leader, recalls recent years when conditions were “desperate” in her village. “We always tried to grow cereals and vegetables, but our resources are limited and the markets far away,” she explains. “Each year, our harvests have been barely enough to feed our families.”

Trainings and tools

In 2013, WFP began supporting the group through a Food-for-Work programme—funded by the Government of Japan—that provides food assistance in exchange for work that benefits the whole community.  This part of Guinea is highly vulnerable to food insecurity; households have few options for generating income, and access to markets is limited by poor roads and weak infrastructure, particularly during the rainy season. Many are forced to sell everything they have to survive the lean season, including the tools and seeds needed to continue cultivating the land.

Working with the Government, women participating in the programme received training in market gardening, cultivation techniques, food storage and product marketing. They also received tools to facilitate field work and increase yields.

Results of these efforts have been remarkable. “This year, we were able to grow three tons of cereals, while we hardly reached one ton last year”, says Ratou proudly. The success of the programme has also motivated more women to participate; the group is twice as big as it was last year. All 53 women of Sountoudiana now work together.

Ratou, the group's leader, on their field in Sountoudiana in Northeast Guinea.

Supplying school meals

The increased harvest has allowed the women to feed more than just their families. They now supply village’s school canteen with fresh, locally-grown food. "We are all very pleased to contribute our vegetables to our children’s school meals. It helps them to study well and to prepare for a better future," says Ratou. The women also have the chance earn some extra income by selling some of their surplus locally. This builds livelihoods and stimulates local trade, thus benefiting the whole community.

Reducing vulnerability

Despite the women’s success, conditions in Sountoudiana remain difficult. 34 percent of the population is food-insecure, and hectares of tillable land lay uncultivated. Due to poor road conditions and a lack of financial means, access to other markets is challenging. Even in good harvest years, populations do not have the warehouses necessary to store food for the lean season. Through the Food-for-Work programme, the tools and training the women receive—including proper food storage techniques—will eventually help them and their families become self-reliant. This work, however, is just beginning in the region, and the food assistance WFP provides during the lean season in exchange for their work addresses short term needs while still building long-term resilience.  

The Sultans have been pleased with WFP’s support. "We really hope that this good cooperation with WFP will continue," Ratou says. “We already have plans to enlarge the cultivable land.”

In 2014, WFP Guinea plans to support 5,500 beneficiaries from agricultural producer groups like the Sultans through Food-for-Work (FFW) and Food-for-Training (FFA) activities. Learn more on rural development in Guinea at http://bit.ly/1aXwxzm.