Binta Ndao lives in Kalbiron, eastern Senegal. She is a middle-aged mother of seven children between the ages of 2 and 25. She and her husband grow millet, groundnuts, cowpeas, and sesame on four different plots of land totaling two hectares scattered around the village. They struggle to produce enough food to feed the family, even after they sell their one cash crop, sesame seeds. 

Ndao says that last year her production was not very good, despite growing a decent amount of sesame. “We had to find money elsewhere to buy millet and rice for the family,” she says, sitting in the shade next to her home.

Food Security Challenges

Farmers here face serious challenges which affect their food security. Ndao says: “We lack good quality seed, and termites eat our plants.” Ndao also points to the poor soil quality in the area, and the risks associated with rain-fed agriculture: “Sometimes there is rain, but it is not well distributed.” It’s a tough environment for a farmer, so women in Kalbiron started to work with a local organization, La Lumière, to establish village savings groups, which enable them save money and access small loans, in order to take care of emergency needs or borrow money to buy food. 

Ndao is in a savings group with 25 other women who meet weekly and make small deposits into a group fund. “I borrow 2,000 CFA francs (about US$4) to buy onions to resell,” she says. “I make about 1,500 CFA (about US$3) profit, which I reinvest in more onions.” Ndao says she also uses the profit to buy food for the family. “I really appreciate this group,” she says. “Before I could get these loans, if someone was sick or you had a problem, you did not have any resources.” 

R4 Rural Resilience Initiative 

Binta Ndao is part of Oxfam America’s Saving for Change programme, on which WFP’s and Oxfam America’s R4 Rural Resilience Initiative (R4) savings component is built. Binta Ndao’s story shows how R4 is enabling farmers cope with climate risk by establishing small-scale savings. These act as a buffer against short-term needs and other shocks, such as illness and death. 

R4, a partnership between WFP and Oxfam America since 2011, has broken new ground in climate risk management by integrating various risk management strategies that enable the poorest farmers to pay for drought insurance with their labour, increasing their food and income security.

Four Components of R4

  • Improved resource management through asset creation (risk reduction)
  • Insurance (risk transfer)
  • livelihoods diversification and microcredit (prudent risk taking) and
  • Savings (risk reserves)

Asset Creation Activities

“There needs to be solidarity,” says Fatimata Dicko, Oxfam America. “Saving for Change groups already feel like they are making positive changes in the village, and they want to do more to help.” In addition to participating in saving groups, R4 farmers engage in community-identified asset creation activities, which allow them to access insurance. These include the creation of vegetable gardens, compost pit-making, and building erosion-control walls and dams to protect low-lying areas.

Binta Ndao says the risk reduction measures will help: “It was hard work moving all those stones, but it will help limit floods in the valleys where we grow rice,” she says. “And we need to stop the sand from coming.”

R4 Expansion

In 2014, R4 involved over 24,000 farmers in Ethiopia and 6,000 in Senegal. This year the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has committed USD$ 6.6 million to expand the Initiative to Malawi and Zambia.  The goal is to reach 100,000 insured farmers by 2017. Read the news release on the R4 expansion announcement made at the UN Climate Summit, September 23, 2014.

Adapted from a story written about Binta Ndao by Oxfam America’s Chris Hufstader. Use of these excerpts courtesy of Oxfam America.