Successful anti-hunger and anti-poverty campaign in Guinea Bissau: “Living a little like the white people”

The majority of Guinea Bissau’s population works in agriculture. However, this still isn’t enough to feed everyone. Since 1980 SWISSAID has been helping small farmers in the West African state to produce more from their soil. For example, in Bachil hunger soon ought to be reconciled to the past.

Guinea Bissau ranks 177 on the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) – that’s out of 187: the country is among the poorest in the world. More than half of its residents lives below the poverty line and almost the same number of individuals can neither read nor write.
The small country, which covers an area about 10 per cent less than Switzerland, suffers from deforestation, overfishing, overgrazing and soil erosion. The effects are catastrophic because about 80 percent of the people survive through agriculture. What they produce is insufficient: Guinea Bissau has to import most of its food from abroad and about one third of the population permanently suffers from hunger.

No need for hunger

The living conditions are also tough in the densely populated region in Bachil in north-east Guinea Bissau. For four to five months of the year the people don’t have enough to eat. They cannot build up any reserves and don’t have enough money to buy in staple foods. 
Despite all the difficulties, in fact, there is no need for hunger in Bachil. The soil quality is good enough for farmers to produce enough from the ground with the right knowledge. Therefore they attend agricultural courses to learn about expanding the range of vegetables and fruit grown on their farms, to fertilise the fields with natural substances and to harvest more using simple organic methods.

A micro loan makes all the difference

The 253 members of the women’s association also count among the female students in the agricultural course. They receive tools such as rakes, watering cans, and wheelbarrows free of charge. 
The big turnaround for many of them happens after the first micro loan. For instance, Fatima Domingo Mendes, the president of the women’s association, succeeded with 50 Swiss francs in buying her own seed and paying workers to help her on the field. “Previously, I used to plant tomatoes and some manioc. I didn’t have much money and always owed money to my relatives because I couldn’t fund the children’s school fees.” Since she has converted to beans her life has been transformed. “I was able to harvest four sacks of beans or about 200 kilograms and to sell all of it. At last, there was enough money for food and the school fees and to buy the children new school uniforms.” She could also easily pay back the micro loan with interest.

Less hunger, less poverty, more time

The women’s days are fully occupied with work on the fields, cooking and selling produce from the harvest. The new well to irrigate the fields is therefore more than welcome. The local shop, which the women in the community have recently set up, is also a relief. Here the residents can buy the products to meet their daily needs at fair prices.

The rice farmers can still hardly believe how easy it is for them to process 20 tonnes of rice that they cultivate on community land with the new rice husking machine. “Now we’re living a little like the white people. We’re less tired in the evening; we have more to eat, more money and can cultivate a wider variety of vegetables on our fields”, is how one farmer expresses her delight.
The machine means an enormous relief of the workload and ultimately saves time. They need time to attend reading and writing courses that SWISSAID’s partner organisation offers. Education is the basis of the future – this is especially true in Bachil.

Project code: GB 02/14/08
Project costs: 51,706 Swiss francs 
Project duration: 20 months
Number of beneficiaries: 253 women and their families