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Inclusion and survival in the backyards of Niger

Oumou is producing food throughout the year (© CBM International)
Oumou is producing food throughout the year
© CBM International

"Before I had this garden I was always at home, but now I come and work," Oumou Moussa enthuses. Oumou hasn't been able to walk since she contracted polio at the age of 12, but she is now producing food throughout the year, which is also helping to feed her community.

"CBM International works with people with disabilities and their families to develop gardens 25 by 25 metres, square with a well and simple watering canals," explains Soumana Zamo, country representative for the disability-focused development organisation CBM International. This 'survival yard' concept was developed by CBM and its Nigerien partner following the country's 2005 drought and locust-induced food crisis.

The first step is to construct a strong fence to keep animals out of the garden. The gardeners are encouraged to grow a border of trees along the fence to reduce the effects of the harsh Sahara winds and to help create a micro-climate within the garden. Wells and water canals are dug for irrigation and cover crops are planted to protect the soil from the sun. Biodiversity is key, with some survival yards containing up to 50 species. The gardens are designed to provide people with disabilities and their families with vegetables and fruit to eat and sell throughout the year, plus fodder for livestock and firewood. Importantly, however, it's not only these families that benefit.

Supporting inclusion

"True inclusion and participation are built when the person with a disability and their family are seen in the context of their wider community," says CBM's David Lewis. "Oumou's story demonstrates this because her neighbours are strong participants in the project." Oumou's neighbour, Lema Maka, explains more. "It's all thanks to Oumou that we benefit from the vegetables and a well," she says. "The whole village gets their drinking water from the well and we are able to water our own gardens with it. We no longer have to walk far to fetch water, and a fine cloth filter means the water is clean."

Wells and water canals are dug for irrigation (© CBM International)
Wells and water canals are dug for irrigation
© CBM International

Participants with a disability receive any specific training or assistive devices they require in order to work in their survival yard. For one blind participant, the project developed a bucket that, after being filled with well water, would tip into a basin, which would then be poured into a canal and distributed through the garden. In each garden, a simple small-scale irrigation system is developed, allowing water to collect in small basins from which watering cans are filled. Through the project, people with disabilities are also able to contribute to 'inclusion training', helping to change attitudes by emphasising their contribution to the social and economic life of their community.

The first phase of the project funded 40 survival yards in Niger, reaching 44 people with disabilities and their families (168 people). An additional 24 survival yards have since been supported and another 80 are under implementation. Those helped have reported greater access to food and improved incomes, which some have used to fund further income-generating activities. Many of their gardening techniques have then been adopted by other members of the community. The concept has spread to eastern Burkina Faso and northern Ghana where people with disabilities, their families and communities are implementing the survival yard model.

Restoring hope and dignity

Improved food security and incomes have only been one outcome of the project. "Attitudes towards people with disabilities have also improved," Zamo explains. "Communities are now more aware that people with disabilities can participate fully in community life. They attend community meetings and in many cases are leading initiatives. People with disabilities have regained confidence in themselves and their voices are being heard loud and clear."

Attitudes towards people with disabilities have improved (© CBM International)
Attitudes towards people with disabilities have improved
© CBM International

According to Paul Caswell, who created the 'survival yard' design, the most significant lesson arising from the project is that year-round agricultural production can work in the Sahel, despite the harsh and changing climate. And this lesson has even more power when people with disabilities, who in many cases have been marginalised, are at the centre of innovation and helping to build sustainability in their communities. Slowly, attitudes are changing, not just around the supported individuals, but for everyone with disabilities in the community.

"This is not just a matter of food," Caswell concludes. "In the months when everything is dry and dead, you don't have to ask where survival yards are. You can see them for yourself: each is a patch of green amongst the brown. You then meet the family and instead of being malnourished, they are healthy and bright. For the family member who has a disability, inclusion in the survival yard project has given them pride and dignity. The quality of their life and that of their family has dramatically improved."

Date published: September 2013


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