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Finding Solutions to Fight Malnutrition and Drought in West Africa

Finding Solutions to Fight Malnutrition and Drought in West Africa
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By Alisha Rodriquez

For the 53 members of the Bouté women’s cooperative in Mauritania’s Guidimakha region, a simple grain mill was all it took to transform their community.

The women in this West African nation cobbled together 40,000 Mauritanian ouguiya – the equivalent of about $140 U.S. – to found a simple community garden. They used the initial funds to buy seeds, and men in the village worked together to dig a well to irrigate the garden. Counterpart International kicked in a motorized mill, providing them with an additional source of income.

“In Mauritania, staple foods are typically cereals that must be milled,” says Romain Kenfack, who leads the Counterpart program in Mauritania, which is facing the worst drought in 15 years. “Grain mills are valuable labor-saving technologies which allow for generation of income that can be leveraged into other projects. Having cereals milled at the village level also promotes increased food intake, as food is more often ready when needed.”

The proceeds of those initial enterprises in Bouté yielded incredible growth: the cooperative accumulated more than 2 million ouguiya in savings – nearly $7,500 U.S. dollars. The co-op used 10,000 ouguiya to open a butcher shop and 350,000 ouguiya for the construction and supply of a community store.

Today, these businesses thrive and the cooperative has accumulated 800,000 ouguiya, about $2,800, in savings.

“In the past, a family would sell a milk goat to earn money,” says the cooperative’s President. Selling animals too early reduces a household’s assets and takes away valuable sources of nutrition for children.

Now, she says, the families leave selling goats to the butcher shop, which buys goats for 7,000 to 8,000 ouguiya and earns 20,000 for a butchered animal – a 150 percent profit.

The cooperative’s community store, members say, has a tremendous impact on food security for families.

Cooperative members who work on monthly rotations as shopkeepers earn income from the store’s proceeds, which enables them to buy food when harvests are scarce; and the community is also able to maintain a stock of food to last two or three months during shortages or when heavy rains leave roads to nearby markets impassable.

In total, Counterpart has supported 160 committees through small initial investments and training in the creation of community development plans, implementation of community projects and management of community funds and assets.

Counterpart staff members can now take a back seat as Village Development Committees (VDCs) are able to use their new skills and growing resources independently.

The benefits of the VDCs’ activities go beyond economic growth and community development.

Committee members say they have also yielded immediate benefits on food security and health. Community gardens provide a steady supply of diverse, nutritious foods; one VDC member cited the impact of these gardens in reducing anemia among pregnant women and lowering the incidence of diseases among children in the village.

“Projects like community gardens can have a major impact on nutrition, especially for children,” says Jennifer Burns, Counterpart’s Nutrition Technical Specialist. Once parents learn good practices in nutrition, the gardens “provide communities with an opportunity to improve dietary diversity through increasing food availability and access,” Burns says. “Dietary diversity is vital to support optimal physical and cognitive development for children.”

The Bouté women say their cooperative’s activities have improved conditions for everyone in the village by guaranteeing that they have healthy food, clothing for children and better health for everyone.

The Sollou cooperative says the initial investment by Counterpart has not only provided the village with immediate benefits but also has made families more self-sufficient and resilient for the long term.

“We need new tools and irrigation pipes for our community garden,” the group’s President says. “We don’t have to wait for an NGO to help us, because we have the money to buy them. We know one day Counterpart will leave our community. We need to be ready to take over for ourselves.”

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11:59AM PDT on May 29, 2012

Drought resistant food sources will be good to have in the U.S. the way things are trending.

3:47AM PDT on May 21, 2012

It does sound more sensible to keep births down to the number of children that can be decently fed, as others have mentioned here.
Children are the future, but giving birth to babies that will die of malnutrition means suffering not just for the poor babes during their short lives, but also for their mothers and the community as a whole.
If programs like the above develop and provide more food then births can be increased again.

1:44AM PDT on May 21, 2012

Interesting article.

9:33AM PDT on May 20, 2012


6:41AM PDT on May 20, 2012

thanks for sharing

6:39AM PDT on May 20, 2012

We should be thankful for even the little that we have, because there are people out there worse off, with practically nothing. So do not complain.

10:34PM PDT on May 19, 2012

Recommend birth control.

9:12PM PDT on May 19, 2012


8:35PM PDT on May 19, 2012

I love this story ....hope they can continue without some dumb war or some corrupt officials moving in on them ...
Educate and enable women and they will chose to have fewer mouths to feed. I think as a rich western country it would be great to provide FREE contraception too.

3:03PM PDT on May 19, 2012

Our charity, NPI, has developed an advanced counter-desertification program to help grow food, feed, fiber, niche, & green energy crops on desert lands (1/3rd of all lands). NPI will soon be demonstrating this technology in Kenya & the SW U.S., to include the Navajo Nation. Areas w/ drought/ extreme drought may use these techniques to create jobs & produce food crops & other crops needed to improve local population well-being. To see early counter-desertification efforts, please do a Google search for Thar Desert, in NW India. By working to make the world's deserts green, some two billion nutrient deficient people can have the foods they need ...while supporting a massive carbon sequestration effort (via new desert vegetation) to help slow global warming. Co-ops, like the one(s) described in this article, may be organized to undertake a new means to farm arid/ desert lands. By helping to start farming on all desert lands, the U.S. is expected to save trillions of dollars in the fight against global warming. This is one time when overseas development will have massive benefits for the U.S.

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