Chad farming project empowers Sudanese refugees and locals
Planting, weeding and harvesting together helps integrate Sudanese refugees into local villages, and boosts women's independence.
KOUTOUFOU, Chad – In a large green field planted with vegetables in this village in eastern Chad, Achta Abdallah Biney was busy pulling up weeds from her plot and harvesting her best turnips for market the next day.
She fled war at home in Sudan and today is one of nearly 500 refugees and locals who farm this land together as part of a project smoothing the integration of long-term refugees into host communities, and giving women more financial independence.
Called Seeds for Solutions, the programme was developed by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). It helps find the farmland and provides tools, seeds and advice, so that the farmers can grow their own crops to sell at market and to eat at home.
Biney, who is 37 and has five children, fled into neighbouring Chad from her village in Sudan's western Darfur region as fighting closed in during 2003. First, she lived in a refugee camp near the Chadian town of Goz Beida.
“With these vegetables, I am in charge and I decide what to do with the income.”
But as the crisis at home continued, she joined many Sudanese refugee families as they left camps and settled alongside Chadians, in a move backed by UNHCR as part of its 'out of camp' strategy for long-term refugees.
With her children and her aging mother, Biney moved to Koutoufou village in 2011, so she could "farm and provide for my family," she said. She was given a plot in a 25-hectare field, and the tools and seeds to get her started.
Today, she is well established as one of the 462 farmers – most of them women, and 243 of them Sudanese refugees – who are part of the Seeds for Solutions programme in Koutoufou.
Many of the women are illiterate, and traditionally would have had little control of their household expenditure. That is now changing.
“With these vegetables, I am in charge and I decide what to do with the income,” Biney said, standing in her plot, a turnip in her muddy hand.
Another woman farming a plot close to Biney's was pulling out weeds from around her plants. As she worked, she said, "When they give money to the husbands, they either smoke, drink with it, or get another wife. [Seeds for Solutions] gives me the means to be independent and allows me to take care of my family."
Since its launch in late 2014, the self-reliance scheme has helped more than 5,000 refugees and 3,000 Chadians in Goz Beida region alone, where more than 10,000 hectares of farmland have been acquired.
Water is drawn from wells and distributed using solar power. Expert staff from LWF visit the farms regularly to give technical advice.
In Koutoufou, the early 2016 harvest generated close to US$3,500 from the sale of 70 per cent of the 13,700 kilograms of vegetables produced. The farmers took the rest home to add to their daily meals, supplementing their food aid hand-outs with nutritious vegetables and boosting their families' health at the same time.
The Seeds for Solutions project addresses the protracted refugee situation prevailing in eastern Chad, says Peggy Pentshi-a-Maneng, who heads UNHCR's sub-office in Goz Beida, home to some 62,000 of the nearly 312,000 Sudanese refugees now in the country.
"Success is attracting more men who initially declined to take part in the project, saying it was a woman’s job."
The locals' involvement in the farming project "strengthens the peaceful coexistence between the two communities," Pentshi-a-Maneng says, making this "one of the best solutions for these refugees with no immediate sign for a safe and dignified return to Darfur."
The programme has proven so successful that men, who initially turned their backs on the idea of vegetable farming, are now following their wives and sisters into the fields.
"The success is attracting more men who initially declined to take part in the project, saying that it was a woman’s job," says Urbain Maihoudjim, agriculture supervisor for LWF, as he checked the state of the turnips Biney had harvested.
She was preparing to take them to market the next day, and knew how important the money she earned from selling the vegetables would be.
"I want my kids to go to university, or at least learn a profession and get a job to provide for themselves," she said. "With the small money I earn by selling parts of my harvest, I can take care of them and they can focus on their studies."