21 September 2001


Rural women have much in

common the world over as

Lincolnshire farmer Jane

Bradley has discovered

JANE Bradley has been involved in setting up a project with rural communities in Burkina Faso – formerly known as Upper Volta – one of the poorest countries in the world.

"Many people have never heard of the country, and I must admit, I was one of them," says Jane. "Of all those in West Africa, Burkina is probably the least well known here because of its long association with the French."

But it has been in the spotlight recently because of concerns over the use of child labour and trafficking.

"We hear so many tragic stories from Africa – we wanted to hear what lives were really like for these communities," says Jane. The project is one of 150 that bring the UK and Africa closer through Rural Women on the Line, which was set up to link women on the zero meridian line so they can learn from each other.

"The aim is to set up links with rural women here in Lincolnshire and some of the womens groups in Burkina Faso. Its early days yet and its mainly involved an exchange of information. But in the longer term we hope to raise the funds needed to visit them in Africa and vice versa."

Jane and husband Des are tenants of the Grimsthorpe Estate, near Bourne. They farm 434ha (970 acres) – with 270 beef cattle and some 283ha (700 acres) of arable. But not wanting to rely on arable income alone, Jane diversified into free-range egg production. In 15 years the business has grown from 5000 to 64,000 birds, and she has not looked back.

&#42 Advice and support

Jane appreciates that much of their success has been due to the advice and support that was on offer at the time.

"It was a very steep learning curve," she admits. "We knew nothing about poultry at the beginning so we had to start from scratch."

Janes story, and others of equally enterprising farmers wives, were taken to show the womens groups in Burkina this year.

"There was a great response and they really did help to break the ice," says Jane. "The Burkinabe women were encouraged to hear that we too worked long hours and had to win the support of our husbands – it was not what they had in mind!

Jane believes that the role of women in Burkina cannot be over-estimated. Some 80% of the countrys fragile economy is dependent on agriculture and most of this is done by women. She explains that most of their time is devoted to working on crops of sorgham, millet and maize. These are stored in communal village granaries and form the staple diet. They will also try and find the time to work on their own small plots on the edge of the village. Here, they grow fruit and vegetables – such as mangoes, potatoes, okra and tomatoes – needed to give some much-needed variety to their diets.

As drought and the economic situation in Burkina make farming more and more difficult, womens groups are increasingly setting up in business together, to make the cash needed for school and medical fees.

With typical resourcefulness, they process what little they have in the way of primary produce into a saleable product. Butter from the shea nut (of Body Shop fame) is made into soap, millet into the local beer Dolo and the Hibiscus flower into a less potent brew, known as Bissap.

"But if you walk through any of the markets, the dilemma is there for all to see," says Jane. "Not only do many of the groups produce the same product, but very few people have the money to purchase them."

The solution for many will be to diversify into other products or find export markets, either in neighbouring countries or further afield. And its here that the project comes into its own.

"Many of us have had to overcome similar problems," says Jane. "So its possible that we can help by sharing our experiences. For example, they are now being faced with the issues of quality assurance and this is something that we have all had to tackle at some stage."

Catriona Lennox

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