(Originally published on April 15th, 2013)
The heat of the burning midday sun is unbearable in the village school’s garden. In one arm, Risnata Yonaba holds her six month-old child. In her other hand, she holds a watering can. As she waters her garden, she stops for a moment to breastfeed her crying baby.
In Burkina Faso, deficiencies of nutrients such as vitamin A, iron and zinc are common in children, and also in pregnant and breastfeeding women. An international NGO called Helen Keller International, or HKI, introduced village school farms to counter the high levels of malnutrition. Mrs. Yonaba is a member of one such project introduced in 2010 to Fonghin, in eastern Burkina Faso.
Ms. Yonaba and thirty other women in Fonghin are learning improved farming techniques, which they will use later in their own gardens.
In this tiny, one-quarter hectare school farm, Ms. Yonaba is learning how to grow okra, onion, spinach, sorrel leaves and beans. Production is small-scale and mainly for family consumption.
Ms. Yonaba says she is learning to grow vegetables so she can feed her child properly. She understands that breastfeeding women have to eat well in order to produce enough milk for their children. She explains: “Vegetables give more milk than beans and lentils. This is good for breastfeeding women. Fresh vegetables are also good for malnourished children. It helps to strengthen them.”
Fonghin is one of 30 villages that HKI works with. The NGO trains mothers of children between three and 11 months to grow fruit and vegetables that are rich in food nutrients.
Azara Moyenga recently registered for the project. She is already seeing the benefits: “When you cut a few leaves of spinach, onion and cowpea and prepare without salt, [and] you add a little peanut when you eat, your milk starts flowing.” Mrs. Moyenga now regularly prepares spinach leaves in her kitchen.
Ousmane Tiendrebeogo is one of the researchers hired by HKI to monitor the food situation in the villages. He says, “We [have] recorded fewer cases of severe anemia in the 30 intervention villages.”
The women’s farm schools have been established as demonstration plots, and serve as places where the mothers can learn improved farming techniques. Once trained, the women receive seeds and cuttings to use in their own gardens.
Now that Mrs. Yonaba has been trained, she plans to set up a garden beside her house.