Farmer Marie-Thérèse Toé is a model for many women. Widowed for more than a decade, Mrs. Toé has been the sole provider for her four children. And she has done it all through farming.
Mrs. Toé grows sorghum, cowpea, and sesame during the rainy season on a four-hectare field in the village of Toma, in northwestern Burkina Faso. In the dry season, she weaves baskets and sows clothes to feed her family.
Mrs. Toé explains: “The fact that I’m making it [without my husband] gives other women courage to follow my example. There are women who have lost their husbands, while others are abandoned and left to care for their children after the husband has married a second wife. [But] they manage to farm and do other small activities, all while caring for their children.”
Unfortunately, Mrs. Toé and women like her are increasingly feeling the weight of poverty. She says, “All the roads are bad, and there is only one bus that comes here. Because of that, everything is expensive and it makes our lives difficult.”
Her experience echoes the findings of a recent survey on poverty conducted by the Institut Nationale des Statistiques et de la Démographie, or INSD. The study shows that 92% of people living in poverty in Burkina Faso live in rural areas.
Mrs. Toé lives in Mouhoun, one of the poorest regions in the country. About 60% of Mouhoun’s population lives below the poverty line. Yet the region is considered the breadbasket of Burkina Faso.
Mrs. Toé says, “We really feel the poverty. They say that our region is the breadbasket of Burkina Faso. But because of poverty, people sell everything they produce.”This situation makes it hard for families to get enough food to eat. Mrs. Toé is calling on the government and NGOs to invest more in income-generating activities for rural women.
Aïssata Sane Congo is the Assistant Director General of the INSD. She says more than 40% of poor families reported running out of food at some point over the last year.
Mrs. Sane Congo adds, “The results of the survey indicate that poverty levels change depending on the education level of the person who is in charge of the household. The higher the education level, the less poor the household will be.”
Mrs. Toé disagrees. She says: “In my opinion, it is basic education that matters and not necessarily the level of education because, in my village, we see officials whose families are also languishing in poverty. If the person did not have a very good basic education, he does not care about the welfare of his family; even though his income is significant, it will not benefit his family.”
Mrs. Toé is living proof of another point highlighted in the INSD study. The report states that poverty is lower in households headed by women, at 30%, than in those headed by men, at 41%. She says: “Personally, I’m alone with my children and I manage. There are times [when] I prefer to sleep hungry so that my children can eat their fill. Women first think of their children, which is not always the case for men.”