Bakary Diédhiou: borrowing money to buy food

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Bakary Diédhiou: borrowing money to buy food

"l am a peasant. I plough and it is what I harvest that I use to feed my family," states 60-year-
Bakary Diédhiou of Tenghory, Casamance province in Senegal. He has had three wives, one of whom died, while another went to the Gambia several years ago and has not returned. Three of his six children are of school age. Bakary himself had very little schooling. "I really regret having left school," he says, "I am convinced that if I was educated I would have been a lot better off."

Bakary farms using the traditional edonkotong tool, which requires him "to bend all day to till the soil". He describes the back-breaking labour as "very, very hard indeed".

Reduced soil fertility and poor rainfall are serious problems. "The soil is no longer fertile... We try to use organic fertilisers like dead leaves, cattle dung etc. Still it doesn't improve very much. You sometimes have bushfires… there is not as much rain today as there used to be. You know – before, the rainy season was long enough for you to grow successively millet, sorghum, groundnuts and rice. But today the rain stops almost as soon as you start ploughing," he laments.

Whereas in the past Bakary's crops were enough to feed the family all year round, now what he produces "doesn't cover the whole year". Consequently he has to supplement his income through making and selling charcoal and by taking casual jobs. "I can cut trees for someone," he says, "or clear grass, or if someone is building a mud house I can help and get something; you know, anything I can do to keep my family going."

He admits he is often unable to provide food for the family himself but says, "I alwaysmanage to have something in the cooking pot with help from people I know around here. Or I go to the bush and see what I can get there." Often, he has to resort to borrowing money to buy food. Asked what request he would make if someone walked in and offered to help him, Bakary's response is instantaneous. "I would ask him to give me some money", he says. "I would immediately go to buy enough rice to feed myself for a long time."

Bakary explains that there is a health post near his home but he is concerned about the cost of health services. "Before, healthcare used to be free. But not any more. You have to buy a ticket to be seen by a qualified person. And then there is the prescription that you have to pay for. And if you have to be kept in hospital, that's another big problem", he says.

Bakary talks about how the community has been affected by the armed conflict in Casamance. "Life is so much more difficult for people in Casamance today!... Not only is it not safe to go to work on the fields, but your mind is never at rest for your family". His family remains his major concern, and he is anxious to provide for them in the future. "I don't want them to suffer when I am not around. That's why I have started a garden. So that when I am gone my children can get something out of it."