Autonomy gives Malian refugees a future

Annelies Van Erp
09 January 2018
The armed conflicts that broke out in Mali five years ago caused some 33,000 Malians to flee in a hurry to neighbouring Burkina Faso. Among them were many livestock farmers with their herds. To this day, they are still trying to survive in refugee camps in northern Burkina Faso. Veterinarians Without Borders helps them out by improving their livestock breeding, milk production and milk consumption.

Together with the United Nations Refugee Organisation (UNHCR), Veterinarians Without Borders set up a project to strengthen the autonomy of Malian livestock farmers, combat malnutrition among children and support local dairy farmers.

Local milk against malnutrition

 Due to the lack of water and grass during the dry season, cows produce little milk. However, milk is an important part of the Sahel population's diet and is essential for the health of young children.

In order to combat malnutrition among young children, Veterinarians Without Borders stimulates the consumption of local milk through 'milk canteens' in the refugee camps of Goudebou and Mentao, in the north of Burkina Faso. Three times a week, children between 6 and 59 months old receive a cup with 300 millilitres of milk in the hangars provided for this purpose.

We buy this milk from small local dairy farms and transport it to the camps. In this way, we support not only the refugee children, but also the local and refugee farmers who sell their milk to the dairy farms. The local women who run these dairy farms - and their families - are also benefitting, since higher incomes have a positive effect on the health and nutrition of their children and women, unlike men, are more likely to spend their extra income on this.

In order to increase milk production in cows, Veterinarians Without Borders strongly focuses on improved animal health care and better livestock food.

Three times a week, children between 6 and 59 months old receive a cup with 300 millilitres of milk in the hangars provided for this purpose. We buy this milk from small local dairy farms and transport it to the camps.

Kid receiving a milk beaker.
© DZG/Wouter Elsen

Solar panels for refrigerators

There are, however, still many obstacles that need to be overcome, such as the lack of solid infrastructure. Refrigerators or refrigerated cars are not always available, and in places where they can be found, power cuts often prevent them from working. Fortunately, solar energy is starting to make its way in Burkina Faso. The small dairy farms supported by Veterinarians Without Borders are equipped with solar panels that provide the necessary energy.  

Joint management of grass and water

In addition, Veterinarians Without Borders brings together representatives of the refugees and local villagers to discuss arrangements for the use of pasture land and water resources. In this way, we spread the pressure on the scarce natural resources in the Sahel and avoid conflicts between refugees and local livestock farmers.

Micro-enterprises increase autonomy

Although Mali has concluded a peace agreement in the meantime, the security situation remains very unstable and many refugees find it impossible to return. "It is essential to increase the refugees' self-reliance so that they can take their lives back into their own hands," says project leader Salifou Ibra.

That is why Veterinarians Without Borders helps them to set up micro-enterprises. These are small groups of 5 to 12 people who engage in the same activity, based on shared talent or experience in milk production or livestock breeding.

Starting capital

We organise trainings and facilitate access to credit so that refugees are provided with a starting capital for their micro-enterprises. Some livestock farmers start trading in livestock food, while others buy sheep, raise and fatten them up in order to sell them at a higher price.

These activities provide the refugees with an income as well as new experience, knowledge and skills that enrich them and will be useful for their future return to Mali.

Mali Refugees Humanitarian aid Livestock Milk
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