Photo: Archivio COOPI
“Everything has changed. All this green was not here before. Until recently there was only sand”. Abbakr Abbami smiles proudly. With one hand he holds his hoe, with the other he points out to the field in front of him, a few tens of meters from Lake Chad. He is the president of one of the 40 “groupements” (groups) of farmers supported by the international COOPI network in this very poor part of Africa, where the waters of the lake have been largely swallowed by the desert and, despite this, the fruits, which are very difficult to grow in such a dry climate, are the only source of livelihood for those who live here.
“Groupements” are associative forms that bring together different families in order to improve agricultural production; beyond self-sufficiency the goal is also to take part in the market.
“Each group consists of 25 members and is represented by a family. We have supplied seeds, tools, water systems and constant training programs to 40 groupements present in the area, involving 1,000 families”, explains Fabio Castronovo, agronomist and manager of the food security project of COOPI in Chad. On average, a family unit is made up of 6 people, which means that COOPI’s local agricultural support involves around 6,000 people.
It’s a challenge. “Some groupements were formed within the project, while others already existed but were not stabilized. The cultivated areas were still very small,” continues Castronovo. “Access to water is still a major hurdle. It was hard. We suffered together with the beneficiaries, but we’re starting to see real results now”.
Abbami’s group chose to be called “souffrance”, “suffering”, because “working the land is very hard, and fruits are not harvested without suffering”, yet things have now improved, he explains. “Thanks to COOPI, we now have motorized pumps with which we have finally managed to irrigate large parts of land”.
An innovation that has not only transformed the landscape, but also the eating habits of hundreds of families, in an area where most people struggle to eat more than once a day.
“Now we eat more vegetables and we have corn to make flour. Our wives can prepare bread and gateau”, Abbami continues, explaining that they finally have products in excess that can be sold on the market. The extra income is used to run the gardens, to purchase tools, new seeds and for the maintenance of the water system. A very difficult but visible improvement that is repeated to me by all the farmers we meet on the shores of the lake.