Leslie VanSant works as a Communication Consultant for Plan in West Africa.
For longer than people can remember, across the Sahel region in West Africa, there have been times of plenty and the “lean season.” Families survived this cycle using traditional approaches passed down over generations.
Fast forward to 2012 and the resiliency of families living in this unforgiving region has diminished. There are many reasons for this: poverty, urbanization, poor crops and harvests, drought and climate change. Already stressed and strapped families are easy prey for malnutrition and hunger, with their children especially vulnerable. When food insecurity hits, it can hit hard as it is right now impacting millions, taking lives.
But the story doesn’t have to be this way. People living in the region can become resilient and strong again, able to survive in the Sahel.
At Plan we’ve been developing agricultural programmes designed to reduce the grip of poverty and improve communities’ ability to be self-sustaining. In the Koulikoro region of Mali, we initiated a programme to promote ground nut cultivation by the women living here. For three months, the women participate in a class where they learned how to select seeds, prepare and maintain fields to improve harvests. In addition to feeding their families, the women sold crops to generate income which they used to diversify their diets and improve overall nutrition and health. The result is their children are eating better, healthier, doing better in school.
In the St. Louis region of Senegal, for more than a decade Plan has worked with chronically food insecure communities to develop plans that address a shared common goal of more food and less hunger. By improving farming techniques and using drought tolerant crops, re-planting more native vegetation and trees to reduce soil erosion and improve moisture retention, families here have more food for themselves and to sell. There is plenty of food for their herds which provide more nutrition and income. They realize that by taking care of the land, the land will provide and keep them safe and food secure, even during the dry “lean seasons.”
Food aid should be a band-aid, only something to help people make it through a few tough months. The larger share of resources needs to be behind programmes that make people more food secure and able to provide for themselves during the lean times.
But systematically addressing food insecurity and nutrition on an international scale has been neglected for too long. Plan joins the members of the international humanitarian community in calling on world leadership and governments to make the investment needed to improve food security and nutrition so the cycle of hunger in the Sahel and across the globe is broken.
As the London 2012 Olympics draws to a close we look forward to the Hunger Summit co-hosted by the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the Brazilian Vice President. What’s clear is that if we act collectively on this issue now in the run up to the next Olympics millions of lives could be saved.
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