By Courtney Clark
Peace Corps Volunteer, Guinea, West Africa
Fatoumata Binta Sow is rather lucky, as far as African female farmers go. She lives in Guinea, a West African country with some of the richest soils and highest agricultural production rates in the region. She even lives in the Fouta region of Guinea, whose climate and soil allows farmers to produce a great diversity of crops including mangoes, oranges, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and rice. The source of her village’s food insecurity is not linked to their levels of food production but to the way in which they use the food they have. Peace Corps Guinea volunteers work with the understanding that all three pillars of food security – availability, access, and utilization – must be in place for our host communities to be food secure. Our biggest challenge lies in helping Guineans change the way they utilize their food.
I live in Tountouroun, a rural village in the mountainous Fouta region of Guinea. Fatoumata Binta is my host sister and leads a female agricultural cooperative. We recently traveled to a food transformation training session where we learned how to jam mangoes, pickle cucumbers, can potatoes and carrots, and build solar food dryers. Food transformation presents an affordable and sustainable method of preserving excess food for leaner times and offering innovative farmers a way to add value to their crops and increase their income. We left the session training eager to share and implement our new skills; we both know that Tountouroun’s main cause of food insecurity is poor food conservation. The rains and the abundant harvests they bring are starting. In a month, micro-nutrient rich mangoes and tomatoes will rot on the ground before anyone can eat them. The rainy season surplus will dramatically drive down market prices and hurt the incomes of smallholder farmers. But this year, Tountouroun and Peace Corps host villages across Guinea will be prepared to balance the seasons of hunger and abundance by canning, jamming, and drying their food surpluses.
The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium brought together multiple stakeholders to inspire cross-sectoralsectorial debate and to learning about how to make our world more food secure. We heard from policymakers, development and aid experts, scientists, and CEOs, each with their own perspective and passions related to agricultural development.
We were also fittingly reminded that while each of these players is vital, we ultimately need to “bring it back to the farmer.”
As critical and fruitful as these discussions are, they mean nothing if we do not take the ideas of the symposium back to the farmers, particularly smallholder farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia. The key lies in training smallholder farmers, especially female farmers, to adopt and spread these technologies, such as canning and drying. International donors can make much more of an impact by training Guineans to preserve the food they do have than by flooding local markets with imported flour and rice. Let us not forget the end goal: helping food insecure communities help themselves.