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Lutheran World Relief Builds Resilience to Hunger in West Africa’s Sahel

For small-scale farmers in the Sahel region of West Africa, who labor on plots of land with depleted soil and unreliable rainfall, life is always precarious and they are often one misfortune away from disaster. Currently, more than 20 million people in the Sahel at risk of hunger, a crisis that is being exacerbated by weather disruptions that are an effect of El Niño.

Lutheran World Relief is responding to this crisis through a $2 million initiative assisting rural farm families in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, three of the countries suffering the most from food insecurity due to cyclical drought and environmental degradation, so they can better cope with these climate-related disasters.

The Resilience Plus: Community-Led Food Crisis Recovery in the Sahel (CORE) II project, which kicked off its field operations in March 2016, builds on an earlier initiative and will reach more than 104,000 people over three years to boost local food production through improved land management and crop and animal production. A core component of this work is achieved through LWR’s support to improve on a traditional practice of animal restocking called “habbanayé,” which supports resilience of families by building their assets. Better-off families temporarily lend female animals to the most vulnerable families to allow for reproduction, while LWR empowers women in the targeted families by providing access to the necessary credit and veterinary services (among other benefits) to ensure successful care for the animals.

The project also seeks to strengthen community-based organizations to deliver quality and trusted services to small-scale farmer members, improving the post-harvest handling and marketing of surplus production that will lead to higher farm family incomes.

The CORE II project is one of LWR’s key responses to the effects of climate-related, slow onset disasters in the Sahel. A succession of crises over the last five years—including repeated droughts, floods, locust plagues, desertification, a global rise in food prices and devastating food shortages in 2012—have severely diminished the resilience of poor farm families.

LWR responded to the 2012 crisis with its Resilience Plus framework targeting the most affected communities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger where LWR has strong local partnerships. The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the U.S. Government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), along with LWR’s U.S. Lutheran constituencies have all supported the interrelated emergency response and recovery projects of the Resilience Plus framework.

LWR has been working in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso since the 1970’s, supporting local farmers and farmers’ cooperatives in building more resilient agriculture production systems that can better withstand the increasing pressures of climate change. Local farmer organizations are at the crux of LWR’s successful initiatives in smallholder farming communities, as their role in the life and vitality of healthy farm systems and small-scale farming households cannot be underestimated.

Araga Danrani, 75, received improved millet seeds through one of LWR’s Resilience Plus projects in Niger. “If not for this project,” he said, “I would have had to leave because of hunger.” Mr. Danrani’s local farmers cooperative was able to connect with improved seed banks, facilitate the seed distribution to Mr. Danrani and his co-members, and leverage the coop’s social capital to promote the adoption of the seeds plus improved farming techniques based on climate-smart agriculture.

LWR will study the outcomes of the CORE II to inform its understanding of how resilience-based approaches in emergency response support communities’ capacities to cope with drought and food crises in West Africa and to draw lessons that can be used to inform programming in other disaster-prone regions.