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Burkina Faso: “Being hungry is an illness”

“Being hungry is an illness in itself.”

We’re sitting in the courtyard of the Torodo family, close to Tangpooré in Kaya health district, and these are the words of Passiba Todoro. His family has lived on this land for generations.

I’ve just asked him if the children are falling sick from not having enough to eat. The white in Passiba’s beard gives him an air of grace. He’s lived through a crisis or two, and when he speaks, all those in the courtyard listen.

“We know all too well that selling our livestock is a short-term solution, but we didn’t have a choice.”

Of the family’s cows, goats and sheep, only nine are left; forty have been sold at the market in order to be able to buy food. Selling assets is a typical negative coping mechanism of those facing hunger – and that’s the case of the Torodo family.

“Sometimes I don’t eat enough”

Passiba’s younger brother, Adama, has two wives and has fathered eight children with one of them and six with the other. His family alone therefore counts seventeen. And on top of that you have Passiba himself, grandmothers and grandfathers and other relatives living nearby.

The courtyard is crowded when we sit down in the shades of a tree, to talk about the food crisis. It’s closed off by three houses, and at the centre a number of people had gathered together, with a donkey, a bull and chickens running around.

Up against the façade of one of the houses, one of Adama’s wifes is sitting, preparing today’s first meal. Through the door comes her little daughter, Nemata, aged four.

“I make mud cakes and fetch water,” Nemata says when I ask her how she spends her days. She then goes on telling me that there is no difference between lunch and dinner; both meals consist of sorghum with sauce made of baobab leaves.

“Sometimes I don’t eat enough,” little Nemata whispers.

Planting seeds in hope of rain

In a normal year, the family would have sold parts of their crops at the market. This year, they don’t even have enough crops to feed themselves.

The lean season, the period between two harvests, is unusually bad this year due to last year’s drought. There was nothing to harvest. And then the lean season started early, and the rains are starting late. All in all, this means that the Torodo family are facing hunger.

“We’ve already planted seeds in the hope of rain,” Adama says.

The youngest of the fourteen children, Allaye, is starting to show signs of malnutrition and needs to be attended to by a doctor.

In one of Save the Children’s 52 health centres in the district, we’ll provide him with free healthcare as we do to all children under five.

But if the older children fall sick, Adama needs to choose between spending the little money he has on either medicine for one child or staple food for the rest of the family.

Luckily, it still hasn’t come to that but with every likelihood, the worst is yet to come. Most expect the very worst of the current food crisis in west Africa, to come in July and August.

Adama thinks for a while before answering what he predicts in coming weeks. “If the rain doesn’t come, it’s going to be difficult.”

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