All the men have left

The women stand together, shredding old cartons and putting them in a rubber bucket. With no grass left, these shredded paper boxes will be fed to the few remaining cattle.

Aminata Boye, Kadjata’s mother, leads the group.

“All the men in Belel Koyle have left,” Aminata says. “We the women have now become bread winners.” 

The men, farmers, left with the majority of the cattle. The few cattle that are left behind are for the women and children to sell, in case things get really bad.

The herdsmen left after they couldn’t risk losing any more cattle as the drought worsens. There is little or no grazing areas in Belel Koyle for their cattle to feed on. Above all, most water points have dried up. 

With the migration, the farmers hope to save the rest of their cattle. When push comes to shove, they will have cows to sell and get other basic necessities.

“If they don’t go it will be bad for us, it’s hard for us the women, but we have no choice,” Aminata says. For the women, according to Aminata, it’s okay for the men to leave but for children like Kadjata, it’s a nightmare.

Eight-year-old Kadjata, whose been watching the women work, sits quietly in front of their kitchen door, her hands on her cheeks. She looks sadly at the process going on. 

When I met Kadjata in December, she was worried that her father would leave her and go with the cattle. This critical moment which Kadjata was not hoping for, happened last Saturday, February 11, 2012. Kadjata’s father, Amadou Ousmane, a 59-year-old cattle farmer left Belel Koyle with the other men, crossed the river and travelled to the neighbouring Senegal.

“I’ve not had any milk since my father left with our cows,” Kadjata sadly says. For Kadjata, like any Fulani rural little girl, cow’s milk is a staple food. Kadjata used to drink cow’s milk in the morning as breakfast before joining her friends in the village to play and in the evening together with couscous as dinner before going to bed. Cow’s milk is life for Fulani children; it makes them grow well, nourished and healthy.

Kadjata longs for the cattle and especially for her father to return as since she was born, she has never spent a day without a calabash filled with milk. “I always drink it joyfully,” she says. As she yearns for her father, Aminata tries very hard to bond with Kadjata, but she is daddy’s little ‘Bewdo’ (Fulani equivalent for Princess). 

Sitting on her mother’s lap, Kadjata is offered porridge, but she takes only a spoon and puts is aside. Aminata sighs, collects it and says “She is not used to eating porridge without milk, it is hard for me, but I’ve to encourage her to eat, so I normally cajole her that the rain is going to fall soon and her Gido [Fulani equivalent for beloved father] will be back. With that, she eats her porridge.”

Aminata, Kadjata’s mother, and other mothers are worried about their children. “If the drought persists, my little Kadjata may be malnourished and sick. I was even thinking today to go to Boghe District and take a little money from what her father left for us to buy some powdered milk and see if Kadjata accepts to drink it.”

When we took a tour of the food bank only seven bags of rice has been added to the eight bags that were there in December, which hoped to feed more than 200 households. To raise money to purchase the seven bags was a huge sacrifice. Each household had to sell their biggest bull and give part of the money to buy the rice while the rest is left with the wives to manage till they come back. 

As the men have left Belel Koyle, to save the rest of their cattle they have left behind the women and children, and when the money left for them finishes, it will be hard for them to survive. Hunger and starvation could turn into malnutrition, or worse.