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Coping with conflicts and forced displacement — the role of Foyer Fama’s Kitchen

Exploring the potential of controlled environment agriculture in creating an urban nutrition hub

by Dieudonné Edouard Sango | 2022-11-03

Coping with conflicts and forced displacement — the role of Foyer Fama’s Kitchen

Foyer Fama’s community kitchen provides food and employment opportunities for internally displaced women and their children. It emerged as a situational response to the security and humanitarian crisis Burkina Faso has faced since 2015. In the belief that local solutions bring the best results, TMG Research, through the Urban Food Futures programme, is embarking on a feasibility study to explore the potential of controlled environment agriculture in creating an urban nutrition hub that offers much more than immediate food assistance.

To say that that the social and humanitarian environment in Burkina Faso is worsening is a gross understatement. Over the past seven years, internal conflicts have intensified across the country, extending beyond the original hotspots in the north and east towards the western and southern regions. Statistics released in April 2022 by the National Emergency and Rehabilitation Council showed that almost 1.5 million people had been internally displaced across the country, worsening existing vulnerabilities such as high costs of living, hunger, and inter-community conflicts between internally displaced families and host communities.

Displacement of millions from rural areas to the relatively safer cities has lowered national food production, access to farmlands being limited with growing insecurity. At the same time, food imports have reduced due to security concerns by traders from surrounding countries, while the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine have disrupted global food supply chains. The combined effect of these multiple crises has been a skyrocketing of food prices, with the cost of a 100Kg bag of maize shooting by 36% from 37 Euro in 2021 to 50 Euro in 2022 according to a report by the National Society for Food Security Stock Management in February 2022. Yet, the widespread violence affects the population's basic needs and income opportunities in 40% of the territory. Not unexpectedly, food insecurity has risen sharply in the country. As of August 2022, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 4.9 million Burkinabè needed humanitarian aid. This includes 3.4 million people who are severely food insecure.

The early response by local government, which consisted of setting up host sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) around cities except Ouagadougou, has proved to be ineffective. Firstly, the official host sites were meant to be temporary and for a limited number of IDPs but as the situation has been going on for years with a growing number of IDPs, the few available resources are being strained beyond limits. Furthermore, host sites do not guarantee absolute security. Not only were they targets of terrorist attacks, but also studies have shown that they were associated with gender-based violence, especially since the majority of IDPs are women and children. Humanitarian aid, besides insufficient, did not meet the specific needs of girls and women, some of whom were forced to practice what Cendrine Labaume, consultant for Oxfam, has called “survival sex”. And finally, the controversial decision, not to zone the capital Ouagadougou as a place for receiving IDPs due to security concerns and the city already being overcrowded, has not prevented population inflows. Rather, it contributes to the vulnerability of domestic migrants who settled in the city’s informal settlements.

The distress of thousands of people in Ouagadougou’s informal settlements has prompted isolated donations by the populations. “But we reached a point where those solidarity actions were no longer effective,” says Ms. Apsa Diallo, coordinator of Foyer FAMA and president of the Association Femme en Marche. She explained that a more sustainable approach was needed to get vulnerable women and their children off the street, protect their dignity and offer them livelihood as well as social reintegration opportunities.

This is the genesis of Foyer FAMA, a community kitchen located in the centre of Ouagadougou. The kitchen was established in 2019 by Association Femme en Marche, with financing from Cuisines Sans Frontières.

Foyer FAMA: a service of solidarity and preservation of women’s dignity

Foyer FAMA currently provides a safe home for 14 internally displaced women and their 27 children and has since its inception served a total of 50 families.

Bintou Ouédraogo, 32, recalls the traumatic events that led her to flee to the shelter:

With my two daughters I arrived at my nephew’s home in Yagma after fleeing my village, where my husband was killed. There were nine of us sleeping in one room: my nephew, his two wives, his three children and myself with my children. After learning about it, my daughters and I came to Foyer FAMA four months ago and I am happy as the space and living conditions are better here

After escaping the violence in Djibo, in northern Burkina Faso, Mariam Guinko, 30, and her husband struggled to find shelter in Yagma informal settlement. Mariam says her family has been victim of the growing number of IDPs:

My husband and I struggled to find shelter when here in Ouaga after we escaped from Djibo. We were given a house in the informal settlements, but then the landlord asked us to leave because he wanted to host his family as well. I eventually found refuge here, while my husband does casual work in the city.

Foyer FAMA: Offering more than food

A weakness of the measures implemented by the local authorities is the lack of reintegration programmes for IDPs. Ms. Apsa Diallo, the coordinator of Foyer FAMA, argues that it is impossible to supply food aid to women over a prolonged period, hence the need for more sustainable measures. Thus, Foyer FAMA is preparing their beneficiaries for work opportunities to ensure their independence and ease their re-integration into the broader society when the security situation improves.

Indeed, the community kitchen of the shelter is not only oriented towards supplying food for the women and their children; it also serves as a production unit where the women make meals and snacks which they then sell in the city in mobile restaurants. Ms. Diallo explains that the objective is not to make a profit, but to ensure an exchange and build a connection with urban society for these women who until now have lived in rural areas.

Older women are taught manual skills such as making furniture from recycled objects. The goal is to supply training that will enable these displaced women to become financially independent once they leave the centre. In addition to learning to adapt to a different environment from their own in terms of social norms, the women of the centre also become more aware of their personal and collective potential.

Foyer FAMA’s community kitchen is leading the way by starting a collective garden on a 2.5 hectare plot in the peri-urban area of Ouagadougou. Ms. Diallo explains the strategy of organizing the IDPs into an agricultural workforce to meet their immediate food needs and sell the surplus to the market: “…food insecurity is the second emergency after physical insecurity, so we plan to work with IDPs who have had enough of being assisted.”

This experiment in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) fits in with TMG’s overall focus on exploring social innovations for food security in the face of accelerated climate threats. By producing food in a controlled environment, it is easier to optimize scarce resources and manage the harsh Sahelian climate. The community kitchen is part of a broader TMG study that aims to identifying the optimal mix of technological and “social” infrastructure in different contexts. Our research covers, among other information gaps: dietary patterns in different local contexts; how to secure CEA sites; sustaining production over time, including through regular maintenance of greenhouses and other equipment; and capacity building and knowledge exchange to scale up CEA. TMG’s partner, Miramar International Foundation, will conduct the feasibility study with the technical support of Badouha Agrobusiness, a local company specialized in CEA production.

Edited by Wangu Mwangi

Cover image caption: The women of the Foyer FAMA use mobile restaurants, made by Ferronniers sans Frontières, to sell their meals throughout the city. © Cuisines Sans Frontières

This article is part of a series by TMG’s Urban Food Futures Programme which aims to contribute transformative changes for more resilient and inclusive urban food systems in African cities. The set of articles comprise our findings from scoping research done in Ouagadougou, Nairobi, and Cape Town between October 2021 and March 2022. Click here to read our latest report on measures such urban communities in the three locations use to cope with food crises.

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