‘We have three meals a day,’ says father Abdallah Mahamat Nour. He sits a little to the side on a woven mat, watching his six children and his niece, who lives with the family. Breakfast, lunch and supper are by no means something that Chadians can take for granted. The central African state, home to just over 14 million people, is one of the world’s poorest countries. The nation ranks 186 out of 188 on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. Almost 90 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, yet over the past few years Chad has taken in some 400,000 people fleeing neighbouring countries, not least as a result of the activities of Islamist group Boko Haram’s terrorist militia.
It is a rocky and sandy road to the Abdallah family’s home. The route from eastern Chad’s largest city Abéché is dominated by dull yellow. However, the landscape suddenly turns green when you reach the valley around Baïbor and 16 other settlements. There are trees, bushes and plants growing everywhere. Many smallholders are out in the fields today, harvesting millet.
In the field
In the field, the smell of tomatoes hangs in the air. Farmed by Abdallah Mahamat Nour, this plot of land is around the size of three and a half football pitches. ‘In the past, I couldn’t do anything with this land, as it was bone dry.’ The idea of growing something as sensitive as a tomato plant was inconceivable, but now he points to a green hose that runs across the field from a small well – irrigation is no longer a problem here. The farmer crouches down and picks large, juicy tomatoes to sell at the market in a neighbouring village the next day.
The donkey is loaded up with water supplies. The water table along the wadis has risen significantly as a result of the water-spreading weirs.
Water saving walls
The green miracle in this desert-like area was all made possible by walls built out of baked bricks. Such walls are a common sight in the regions of Ennedi, Batha and Wadi Fira, where the village of Baïbor is also located. Some are inconspicuous, while others can be up to two kilometres long. These water-spreading weirs ensure that, following rare, but heavy rainfall, the water from the wadis is held back and does not run off the dry, hard earth as quickly. A stepped system now retains it for longer in collecting tanks, stopping it from percolating away as fast. In this way, key groundwater reserves are being built up once again. The soil is now covered with plants, which slows evaporation, thus enabling the soil to store water for longer.
Preventing conflict over water
Kagne Pombe, Deputy Secretary-General at the Ministry of Agriculture, stresses the importance of having access to water. ‘Climate change has given rise to two trends in Chad: it either doesn’t rain at all or it rains too much.’ He says that because large sectors of the population live in poverty and have no surplus funds, they are hit particularly hard when rains fail and plants dry up.
Some days, the weirs water as many as 10,000 animals at the weirs. Livestock breeding is often the only source of income for people in the Sahel region. The weirs are useful to farmers and herders alike, and also serve to prevent tension and conflict arising over water supplies, not least between locals and refugees.
Improving living conditions
Since 2012, the GIZ has been working in four of Chad’s eastern regions on behalf of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). GIZ International Services is using its expertise there to improve agricultural practices and thereby ensure food security. GIZ has had almost 150 water-spreading weirs built by local companies to irrigate a total area of 4,022 hectares in 284 valleys. The Abdallah family are one of around 15,000 households benefiting from this initiative. Smallholders were also provided with seed and given training at their agricultural cooperatives. All in all, living conditions have been improved for more than 110,000 people.
Their daughter has different plans for her future
Aché helps her father load up the last few tomatoes. Today, the family harvested six full baskets, each of which will bring in at least CFA 7,000 (almost 11 Euro). The family intends to use their earnings among other things to pay the school fees for the year ahead, which come to the equivalent of 15 Euro per child. Two more of the children now go to school in addition to Aché.
Aché has different plans for her future. She is looking forward to going back to school shortly, as it will help her on her way to achieving her goal of becoming a nurse one day.