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Mauritania: Helping My Neighbor, Building Resilience

Young goats grazing at Darel Beyda in the Brakna region of Mauritania, West Africa. The animals are distributed as part of the Brakna Resilience Initiative, a Catholic Relief Services project aimed at tackling poverty and hunger and setting communities up to be self-sufficient.

Young goats grazing at Darel Beyda in the Brakna region of Mauritania, West Africa. The animals are distributed as part of the Brakna Resilience Initiative, a Catholic Relief Services project aimed at tackling poverty and hunger and setting communities up to be self-sufficient. Photo by Gillian David/CRS

By Helen Miranda Blakesley

Mohamet Salem adjusts his black headscarf to keep the sandy wind out of his eyes. The father of nine is from Darel Beyda, a village in Brakna, Mauritania—an expansive desert nation in the Sahel region of West Africa.

People here are still feeling the effects of disastrous harvests back in the 2011-2012 growing season, which led to the worst food crisis the Sahel had seen in years. "Some families in the village only used to eat once a day," Mohamet recalls.

Every year here is hard and it doesn't take much to spark a crisis. But Catholic Relief Services is working to break the cycle of poverty and set communities up for long-term self-sufficiency.

The yearlong Brakna Recovery Initiative took a multipronged approach to tackling poverty and hunger.

Funded by the U.S. Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance, the project helped more than 2,500 families—more than 15,500 people—with cash-for-work, agricultural training and, for those most in need, goats.

"The cash that we receive can be used straight away for food, medical bills or for repaying debts," explains Mohamet. "But what stays with us forever are the techniques that we're taught. If you give someone knowledge, they can pass it down to their children and grandchildren. It stays with them."

Among the techniques Mohamet and others learned are water-saving but higher-yielding gardening methods especially suited to dry climates. They also learned how to store grain to prevent spoilage and how to make natural compost to replace chemical fertilizers.

"We're doing work, earning money—and even other members of the village come and help. Everyone is interested in helping their neighbors," Mohamet says. "When we work together, it brings a sense of solidarity in the community."

Goats bring lasting benefits
That neighborly solidarity extends to another important component of the project—goats. CRS selected 800 extremely vulnerable families to receive vouchers to purchase goats. The animals provide milk for children and manure for gardens.

But the benefits of the goats didn't stop with those 800 families. Rather, a traditional "habanaye" system shared the wealth by partnering each family with another one in need. The second family was promised the second-born healthy baby goat (the first born is kept in case anything happens to the original goat).

The second family then helped the first one to raise, feed and care for the livestock.

The results of the BRI project are promising. After one year, people were better able to meet their urgent household needs. Before the project, families had sufficient food only 3½ days a week, afterward they had enough to eat for more than 5½ days per week. The goal is for families to have enough to eat every day.

Mohamet says he can see the results all around him.

"There are lots of good changes in the village. With the goats, we have something valuable, and the new and improved agricultural techniques we've learned will help the community have enough food in our homes for years to come."

Young goats grazing at Darel Beyda in the Brakna region of Mauritania, West Africa. The animals are distributed as part of the Brakna Resilience Initiative, a Catholic Relief Services project aimed at tackling poverty and hunger and setting communities up to be self-sufficient. Photo by Gillian David/CRS

A dry-season garden in the village of Darel Beyda in the Brakna region of Mauritania, West Africa. How to build these gardens is something taught as part of the Brakna Resilience Initiative, a Catholic Relief Services project aimed at tackling poverty and hunger and setting communities up to be self-sufficient. People in the region are still feeling the effects of disastrous harvests in the 2011/12 growing season which led to a food crisis across the Sahel region of Africa. Photo by Gillian David/CRS

A vegetable from a dry-season garden in the village of Darel Beyda in the Brakna region of Mauritania, West Africa. Some families had been eating just one meal a day. Photo by Gillian David/CRS

A half moon garden in the village of Darel Beyda in the Brakna region of Mauritania, West Africa. Funded by the US government's Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), CRS's Brakna Resilience Initiative project touches the lives of over 2 and a half thousand families - that's over 15 and a half thousand people. Photo by Gillian David/CRS

CRS and the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance are helping families in Mauritania, West Africa, grow dry-season gardens to avert food shortages and help families become self-sufficient. The Brakna Resilience Initiative project combines the distribution of money and other goods (including goats), sometimes in exchange for community work, with teaching agricultural techniques to help families get more out of the land - and so have not only more to eat in the short term, but also more long term food security in their households. Photo by Gillian David/CRS

The CRS Brakna Resilience Initiative helped Mohamet Salem and thousands of other people learn dry-season gardening and how to raise goats so they can feed their families well into the future. Photo by Gillian David/CRS

A dry-season garden in the village of Darel Beyda in the Brakna region of Mauritania, West Africa. The results of CRS's CRS Brakna Resilience Initiative so far are promising. After one year, people are better able to meet their urgent household needs. The number of days per week that families say they have enough to eat has risen from three and a half to more than five and a half. P Photo by Gillian David/CRS
Helen Miranda Blakesley is CRS's outgoing regional information officer for west and central Africa.

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