Land, Food and Culture in West Africa

Underdevelopment, low rainfall, forced migration, climate change, poverty, rising food prices and declining food stock are all key factors that are contributing toward Western Africa’s food crisis. Fifteen million people across Western Africa are directly affected by the food crisis and it is predicted to get even worse in the near future.

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Adding insult to injury, a side effect of the malnutrition brought on by the lack of proper food is a steadily increasing rate of illness in Western Africa.

In Mali during the 2000 school year, primary school enrollment was estimated to include only 61 percent of the appropriate age-group.The primary school completion rate is also low: only 36 percent of students in 2003, and much lower even just among girls. The majority of students reportedly leave school by age 12. The secondary school enrollment rate in the late 1990s was 15 percent, with enrollment by just young women being even lower.

west-africa-mapStudents in Mali pay no tuition fees, but private secondary and vocational schooling may charge $600 a year, in a nation where the average yearly salary was $500 in 2007 according to the World Bank. This makes the much needed training for well paying jobs out of reach for much of the population.

According to the Commission on Population Movement in Mali, an estimated 203,845 people (30,470 households) are currently internally displaced nationwide as a result of the food and insecurity crisis. This number rose to 300,000 by January 21, 2013 according to the UN refugee organization in Geneva.

As you can see, the people of West Africa, especially the children, desperately need your help. While independence and self-sufficiency is always the goal, sometimes a helping hand is needed to allow a person to get back on their feet. You can be that helping hand.

Land of West Africa

The concept of land “ownership” is an idea not native to Africa. People traditionally farmed the lands they occupied, and customarily a father’s land would be split up among his male heirs. This traditional concept of land tenancy is now crashing into the 21st century as multinational groups seek to purchase Malian land for giant agribusiness operations wanting to produce food for export.

Families that have been working their parcels of land for generations are being pushed off these lands by governments that are crafting deals with these foreign interests in the name of investment and debt reduction. These actions leave many small farmers uncertain about the legal status of the lands they understood were theirs under the customary system of land tenancy.

Agile International sees a remedy to this situation by purchasing land and holding clear title, then assigning that land to willing farmers to use as their own. The more land Agile can purchase, the greater the sense of security that can be created in the region.

Food And The Culture In West Africa

market-cultureThe nations of West Africa have vibrant cultures. Musicians from the region are world-renown and its musical traditions have influenced jazz, blues, rock and gospel music heard in the West and in Latin America. Traditional clothing range from the brightly colored and elegant Boubous worn by the women to the regal kente cloth robes, with colors representing such virtues as peace, purity, healing, and renewal. Its glorious history is shone its development of great institutions of education, as centers of trade and commerce and as an international crossroads. There is much to be proud of in Western African cultures.

There is also a strong oral tradition. For example the griot, traditional storytellers, poets and musicians of the region, keep history and legends alive and promote harmony among the diverse population. They are the descendants of Mandinka or Malinke (also known as Mandinko or Mandingo) of the Mali Empire where the local language is Bambara also known as Dioula.
In countries where literacy rates are not high, knowledge, wisdom, and cultural traditions are verbally passed down from elders to children. The time to connect the generations has always been when the work stopped and families gather for meals.

The abundance of food, or its lack, now plays a big role in how often the people of Mali, Senegal and other nations in West Africa gather to eat and how much opportunity there is for families to come together and share their stories. Keeping this connection between family members thriving is a big part of Agile International’s mission. By working to increase the abundance of food, Agile International is helping to keep family bonds strong, culture and history alive.

Women of West Africa

lady-in-blueWomen make up the vast majority of agricultural workers in the region. While they are the muscle behind food production, cultural rules and traditions prevent them from having land under their control.

Agile International has a new model in mind where women will have control of plots of land purchased by Agile for women farmers who will be the beneficiaries of the food they harvest and the profits of their surplus.

Women will experience increased autonomy and greater control of their lives. It’s a step toward equality for women and a further evolution of women’s rights in Africa.

The money women earn from their harvests can be used to send their daughters to school, opening up the options available to them in the future and reducing the pregnancy rates among young girls who lack other choices in their lives.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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