Hello everyone, my name is Andrea Santopaolo and from May 2021 I will be working in Guinea-Bissau as project manager of the project “JUNTAS: female empowerment in the Gabu region”, co-financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.
Guinea-Bissau, for me, is the country of one of Africa’s greatest revolutionaries, Amilcar Cabral (1924-1973), who fought for liberation from Portuguese colonisation. Cabral’s dream was of a Guinea-Bissau free from foreign hegemonies, where a ‘re-Africanisation of the spirits’ would take place, and a re-appropriation of land as the first step towards food autonomy.
As often happened in Portuguese-speaking African countries, however, the project did not have the desired results and Cabral, probably betrayed by his fellow party members, was assassinated on 20 January 1973.
Today, Guinea Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world with a high index of food insecurity. The country, which was previously able to produce much of its own food, mainly rice, the staple of the population’s diet, now sees its formal and informal economy based mainly on the harvesting of cashew nuts, which are then exported to India for processing.
The “JUNTAS” project, led by the NGO Aifo, specifically works in the Gabu region, an area with high productive potential due to the wealth of natural resources, but in reality one of the poorest in the country, with a poverty index is around 69.3% and the food insecurity index at 89.9% (Source WFP/SISAN 2018). In this context, the status of women is extremely disadvantaged and, despite the fact that women represent the fulcrum of agricultural and family life, decision-making power is the prerogative of men.
Mani Tese is actively working to address these dynamics. In eight villages in the Gabu region, in fact, we are holding community awareness-raising meetings on gender equality and supporting women in the creation and consolidation of community gardens, both to strengthen their food autonomy and to increase their personal income.
The land, as Cabral mentioned, must be the fulcrum for a social revolution and following this concept we believe that by strengthening the wellbeing of the communities, and generating income for the women of the villages, we can support their emancipation in a path of autonomy and awareness of their role.
In the eight villages, four new vegetable gardens were created and four others were fortified. Four new wells have been drilled and two photovoltaic water pumping systems have been installed. Prior to our intervention, vegetable production was poor and only took place during the rainy season. Currently, with the support of the Mani Tese agricultural animators, the women of the communities are being supported both in the organisation of the gardens, through the introduction of agro-ecological practices, and in the marketing of the produce.
The results are visible, especially when the women of the gardens proudly show you their aubergines ready to be eaten or when they sit in a circle to discuss what to plant or how to organise the next sowing of vegetables.
Here are some photos: