INTERVIEW: Romain Kenfack on the journey from COVID to recovery for women farmers in Burkina Faso

A SELEVER II training session in rural Burkina Faso.

On Monday, March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day amidst a global pandemic. The theme of this IWD 2021 is Choose to Challenge – an important moment to examine how our everyday actions can be leveraged to challenge harmful gender norms.

In Burkina Faso, Tanager’s team works with women and men in rural farming communities to improve women’s economic and social agency by directly challenging existing gender norms. We spoke to Tanager Country Representative Romain Kenfack about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted smallholder women farmers in the country.

The theme of IWD 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”: How has SELEVER challenged existing gender norms in the poultry supply chain in Burkina Faso?

We have seen progress in three areas. First of all, more women are taking ownership of their poultry production, which didn’t used to be common at all. Definitely it’s a huge shift in gender norms. In the past, women used to rely on men to sell their poultry, now they can sell poultry themselves and they can own their poultry.

Secondly, women have increased their autonomy in managing and making decisions over their own income. What we have noticed is that any income that is not related to crop farming, women have more autonomy on the use of that money. So any money that comes from poultry, women are making the decisions themselves.

The third norm we’ve seen improve is women are investing their money in their own ventures. They can open a shop, they are now investing now in crop farming, it’s just starting but we see this as a trend.

Can you take us through how COVID-19 affected women in Burkina Faso’s poultry supply chain?

The first impact on women here in Burkina Faso is that it limited their access to the poultry market. During the lockdown, the main urban cities were closed, so the goods could no longer come to the cities. Most of the poultry produced by women is sold in the urban markets, so since the urban market was closed, they had to store their poultry. This means they had to increase their spending to feed them and house them, which created additional, and unexpected, expenses. Also, women couldn’t access some basic inputs like feed and poultry vaccinations services. Those are the key impacts that affected women. So women were limited to very little income in the first few months of lockdown.

How has COVID affected the poultry market in Burkina Faso in general and what steps have been taken to help mitigate negative impacts?

The market was very affected as you would expect. With the closure of restaurants, the poultry market was greatly reduced. Globally all the market actors were negatively affected. Also those who were importing eggs to produce their own chicks, all their activities were halted. Really, it had a serious impact in terms of income.

Locally, the government stepped in to support. The government offered a free national vaccination campaign for chickens. Most of the VVV, they were reimbursed for their vaccinations. So many of the VVV’s are women, so they tasked with going to the government for reimbursements. Most of the VVV’s completed their vaccinations in December of 2020 and were not reimbursed until February of 2021. So even with that subsidy, it actually had a negative impact because women had to spend in advance and then wait three months to actually recover their money. So this had an additional negative impact on the household. But at least they were able to recover their money.

Another unintended consequence of the government program was that because it was a free vaccination campaign, no vaccines were available for those who wanted to pay for vaccinations, so it kind of distorted the market and led to increased poultry mortality, because all the vaccines that were available were mobilized for that free government campaign. So that added an additional burden for smallholders.

But one positive action that was implemented, was that for those who owned small loans through microfinance institutions, the government mandated that those microfinance institutions give a four-month grace period to borrowers. So, this reduced the financial pressure on smallholders who had loans to repay. In general the incomes have been reduced for smallholders, especially with having to house their poultry longer than they would have otherwise.

But now that the situation has become normal, so we have seen an increase of market transactions which is good, but I would say it will take at least 6-9 months to recover their losses.

Did the pandemic have any positive impact on the poultry supply chain?

One positive thing I can say that the pandemic brought, is that the market actors had to reconsider their production system. They tried to rely less on imported inputs and tried to invest to produce more locally developed inputs, like fertilized eggs, which is most of the time the foundation for production.

So, we have recorded at least a dozen medium to large farms that have been started since the pandemic with the goal to produce their own chicks and fertilized eggs. Half of those farms are owned by women which is something that was not expected.

The second thing we have seen that some market actors such as the vaccinators have come together in an association under the leadership of women VVV. The idea behind the association is that together the VVV can have a greater voice in how the vaccination campaign was designed and implemented and also they could have been a partner with the government. So we have seen that association has been set up and is now active.

The last thing we recorded is the shift in how poultry products are distributed. These products are now distributed more at the household level and we saw an increased use of social media for marketing, mainly WhatsApp and Facebook.

What progress would you like to see women in Burkina Faso poultry supply chain achieve by IWD 2022?

We would like to see more women become poultry professionals. There are several types of professional occupations they can adopt: they can become farm managers, they can become entrepreneurs, they can become full time extension workers, and that’s really something we are looking forward to see in the next year. Also taking a greater part in producing inputs locally as I mentioned before.