A radio blares out. Children are playing under the shade of a tree and two women in bright clothing stand chatting in a garden. Green stems sprout up around their feet and growing in the sandy earth beneath is what makes this idyllic afternoon scene in the rural region of Bafatá (Guinea-Bissau) possible in the first place: big, flavoursome onions.
But appearances are deceptive. Until a few years ago this region constantly faced food shortages. The women remember this only too well. The onion means much more to them than adding a bit of flavour to their cooking – in Guinea-Bissau the onion is a basic foodstuff. Its cultivation is an important aspect of the effective and sustainable campaign against hunger.
School money and clothes
The onion fields, which only the women cultivate, are crucial for a project that SWISSAID implements in this rural region along with its local partner Apalcof. Thanks to the support they receive with cultivation, the women are able to earn a modest supplementary income and to make sure their children are never again faced with empty plates. “Because the fields yield so much, I can sell onions and make a little money myself. I use this to pay the school fees for my children and to buy us new clothes”, says 40-year-old Fatumata Embaló, onion farmer, palm oil trader and mother of five. She is overjoyed, “There was even enough for a bed and a couple of goats.”
Apalcof purchases the market fresh onions from its members and manages the marketing. This collaborative selling has boosted the visibility of the local produce. More and more consumers are willing to buy onions locally – so there is no need to make the arduous journey to the big markets in the cities.
In addition, the customers obtain top-grade organic goods: to protect the soil and keep cultivation costs to a minimum, the women use organic cultivation methods. That means no expensive chemical fertilisers or toxic pesticides. The onions are less at risk of deterioration and there is more money left over to go into the household budget.
The women have their say
And there is more potential: Apalcof has plans for the future to store the onions in independently constructed warehouses and to release the produce to market when onions are in low supply and prices are high. As many men have left for the cities because of the dismal prospects, the women often have to shoulder the responsibility for the farm and their family entirely on their own. The women farmers’ commercial success and greater recognition are worth their weight in gold.
37-year-old Uma Djau is enthusiastic, “Thanks to Apalcof I have learned to use compost fertiliser for the fields. The onions grow really well, taste better and keep for longer.” Today, the widow has no problem funding the household budget and paying for food, sending her two youngest children to school and breeding goats – this maximises her income and her independence.
Onions in the fields – and on the airwaves
- Project code: GB 2/12/06
- Project duration: 2014
- Project costs: 84'303.- Fr.
- Partner organisation: Apalcof
- Number of beneficiaries: 1200 Families