Escaping from poverty with rice and onions

“Now I can even save”

If people grow their rice themselves, rather than having to buy it, they have enough money for other important expenses – such as fireproof tin roofs. The following success story from Guinea-Bissau shows how agro-ecological cultivation methods are paving the way for a more independent future.


Country, region:
Guinea-Bissau, Bafatá
December 2016 - June 2019
2,063 smallholders
Total project budget:
CHF 141,176


The aims of this project were to increase rice and onion production using agro-ecological cultivation techniques and to improve access to resources, water and micro-credit. The project also focused on gender equality. The development of grassroots peasant organisations in this way strengthens the community, giving it the power to administer its own affairs and defend common interests more effectively.


Initial successes in the cultivation of marketable vegetables – such as sweet potatoes, manioc or onions – were encouraging. But the precarious food situation repeatedly brought the farming families up short, for they were using a large part of what they earned to buy rice. This came to the attention of SWISSAID and its partner organisations in Guinea-Bissau.

They therefore decided to focus more on rice cultivation again and to increase local production, calculating that this would reduce the financial burden on farming families, so that people would no longer be powerless to cope with the rising price of rice, over 60 percent of which is imported.

However, in this West African country, rice cultivation has another advantage: the use of fallow land in the lowlands reduces shifting cultivation, which is based on slash-and-burn and deforestation.

In our village, the houses used to have straw roofs. Again and again, fire broke out and our food supplies went up in flames. Now we can afford tin roofs – all thanks to rice and onions” says the enthusiastic president of the women’s group.

In 2016, an external evaluation confirmed the effectiveness of this new strategy in the municipality of Contuboel, where SWISSAID supports the Alpacof organisation. The cultivation of rice and onions has significantly improved the living conditions of 2,063 people in 16 villages.

The supplies went up in flames

The president of the women’s group is enthusiastic: “I no longer have to spend money on rice and can even save. In our village the houses were used to have straw roofs. Again and again, fire broke out and our food supplies went up in flames. Now we can afford tin roofs – all thanks to rice and onions!”

The evaluation shows that all villages visited are now self-sufficient in rice. This has been enabled by better organic farming methods and the production of selected seeds – both of which lead to higher-yielding harvests.

By growing onions, the women earn a considerable income that is more than sufficient to cover their immediate needs. They are using the profits to start rearing sheep and goats as a side-line. This success, made possible thanks to targeted support, is a decisive step towards crop diversification and food autonomy. These are changes that last.