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Cape Verde water scheme saves communities, transforms livelihoods of women

A water irrigation and supply system funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) has transformed the lives of rural farming communities in Cape Verde’s Santiago Island, sparing farmers grueling treks of up to 20 kilometres to fetch water for farming and daily use.

Cape Verde  Cape Verde water scheme saves communities, transforms livelihoods of women Cape Verde

The Picos and Engenhos Watershed Management project has benefited women

Santiago Island, Cape Verde’s largest and most important agricultural centre, depends on water for its survival, but for years had been beset by endemic water shortages. Traditionally women, who make up a significant percentage of farmers, were hardest hit by the shortfall in supply.

The Lopes family are typical farmers hailing from the rugged terrain on Santiago Island. For generations, families like theirs struggled to eke out a living on land that was both hard to work and had low yields. In the dry season, many people headed for the towns in search of work.

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That is now mostly a thing of the past, thanks to the Picos and Engenhos Watershed Management project, funded with a $7.55 million loan from the AfDB.  A steady flow of water has led to increased agricultural output for 17 new farming associations that have brought together almost 1,000 women smallholder farmers.

Fifty-year-old Amalia Lopes is a member of one of the women’s cooperatives which are showcasing the dramatic change to Cape Verde’s agricultural landscape. Now Lopes looks forward to higher sales of beans and bananas from her newly irrigated fields. She can even afford to send her son to university in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

“The right conditions are now in place,” she says, as she calls on youths to make the most of the improved conditions.

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As livelihoods improve, women are beneficiaries

Under the Picos and Engenhos Watershed Management project, irrigation systems, wells and reservoirs were constructed over a seven-year period. The bank also helped organise and support vocational training. Courses in long-term agricultural produce, constructional and agricultural engineering, and livestock management or pasture improvement were organised. Most of the beneficiaries have been women.

“Things are better today,” says Lopes.

Statistics back her optimism. Official figures show average salaries have risen to about $1,900 a year. Lopes has even become a spokesperson for her women’s cooperative. She has appeared on TV and radio news and current affairs shows and achieved minor celebrity status in her district when she became one of the first local women to visit Brazil, a country which shares a common linguistic background with Cape Verde.

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Herminia Minha is another example of the success of the project.  She is one of many women who can sell their produce in local markets in Picos at competitive prices. Now Minha makes enough profit to afford higher education for her children – something that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

“Better irrigation means a greater variety of fruit and vegetables and water for homes,” Joana Lopes says, “I now grow potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, beetroots, and Chinese cabbage. I sell a lot of lemons at the markets.”

Currently Cape Verde imports 70-75% of its food needs, but authorities are optimistic that the evolution in agricultural techniques and irrigation will rapidly narrow that figure.

The AfDB’s active portfolio in Cape Verde stands at $101,000,000, covering energy, transport, water and sanitation, social, agriculture, and governance.

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