A centre of expertise which trains future experts in agroecological techniques – farmers, promoters, association leaders. Widespread dissemination at local level and lobbying at national level: this is the ambitious project of SWISSAID Guinea-Bissau. Numerous partners in the regions of Cacheu, Bafatá, Oio and Bissau are involved in its implementation. One of the partners is the Granja de Pessubé women’s market gardening association in Bissau. Its collective plot of land is used, among other things, as a site for training, experimentation and demonstration.
This project aims to
- Improve the resilience to climate change of small-scale farmers through the application of agro-ecological production techniques.
- Make local seeds available in sufficient quantities and in a sustainable way, thanks to self-production, among other things.
- Strengthen the capacities of civil society organizations and the Advocacy Skills Hub to defend the rights of small producers.
One Saturday each month, at dawn, you can see women hailing “toca-toca”, minibus taxis, along the main road leading to Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau. Perched on the top of their heads are baskets of fruit and vegetables filled to the brim. The market gardeners go to the French cultural centre to sell their organic produce freshly harvested a few hours earlier. At the end of the day, it is with a smile on their lips and tired legs that the farmers go home. “No fasi bom negoçio,” exclaims a jubilant Ermelinda Pedro Mendonça, the association’s executive secretary. Translated that means: business has been good.
It’s a small revolution for the women of the Granja de Pessubé association and another victory in the establishment of ecological agriculture in this region of West Africa. The 300-member smallholder’s association has been working with SWISSAID since 2015 and has become a pioneer in agroecology. By increasing the knowledge of the women farmers, the association is fighting against the harmful effects of conventional agriculture and the use of chemicals. Each woman farmer owns a few individual plots of land, and a large collective plot is used for demonstrations of good agro-ecological practices.
Agroecology in focus
Large-scale food security
Agriculture is the dominant economic activity in the country, employing 82% of the working population. Ninety-eight per cent of these are family farms, which account for more than 90 per cent of the country’s agricultural production. The immense dependence on this sector puts farming families at risk. Changing climatic conditions and overexploitation of the soil are reducing agricultural production, and with it people’s incomes.
In order to enable more and more farming families to improve their food security like the women in Granja de Pessubé, SWISSAID Guinea-Bissau has launched a pilot project to disseminate agroecological practices at local and national level. To this end, a “competence centre” brings together key players in the field – project managers, trainers and facilitators – who increase agroecological knowledge and participate in a strategy to share this knowledge. This is coordinated by SWISSAID Guinea-Bissau’s agro-ecology officer, Tcherno Talato, in collaboration with the French NGO Agrisud.
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A centre that creates bridges
The collective field belonging to the Granja de Pessubé association is one of two pilot fields used by the cluster to experiment and then capitalize on good agroecological practices. Organic pesticides, erosion control, organic manure, water management; everything necessary to improve production with local means. It also serves as a demonstration site. “Farmers see the techniques applied with their own eyes, then return with this knowledge to their villages, try it out and share it. The dissemination is best done from farmer to farmer,” explains Aissé Barry, SWISSAID’s gender expert, who is also a member of the competence centre. The 20 members of the competence centre also visit the women’s association in the field in order to improve their skills. “In the long term, the aim of the competence centre is to train more and more people in agro-ecology, who can then pass on their knowledge at local level,” says Aissé.
Set up in 2015, the centre is now recognized throughout the country. “In Guinea-Bissau, when people talk about agroecology, they refer to SWISSAID. So the cluster under its aegis has great credibility,” explains Aissé. In fact, it is beginning to be approached by other associations and NGOs to train experts in agroecology.
Each farmer owns a few individual plots of land, and a large collective plot is used for demonstrations of good agroecological practices. Today, almost all the women in the association have banned chemical pesticides and fertilizers from their crops.
It starts with the soil
Let’s return to the fields of Granja de Pessubé. Here too, the project has had a positive impact. The shared pilot field made it possible to replicate the agroecological methods on other plots. Today, almost all the women of the association have banned chemical pesticides and fertilizers from their crops. Joia Rosario has been a member of the association since she was 20 years old. “Organic vegetables make more work, but also a bigger yield. The soil is stronger and healthier, the plants grow well. In the past, I used to have to buy chemicals from the traders. Now they come and buy tasty and healthy vegetables directly from me,” she says with a laugh.
The project has also enabled women to reintroduce traditional seeds. In the past, women used to grow only aubergine, sorrel and okra. The lack of diversity meant an insufficiently balanced diet. Thanks to the reintroduction of local seeds, long forgotten because of population displacements and land infertility, market gardeners can now also grow tomatoes, lettuce, wild spinach or chilli pepper.
“SWISSAID was asked to show us how to calculate the selling price, including the production costs. We didn’t really take that into account,” explains Ermelinda Pedro Mendonça. From field to fork, the food chain is long and difficult for these women farmers. But every step is a victory.
Agriculture is the dominant economic activity in the country, employing 82% of the working population. By strengthening the agroecological capabilities of women smallholders, the Granja de Pessubé association is helping to combat the food and financial dependency of small-scale farmers.