In Africa, One Family's Struggle With the Global Food Crisis

The global food crisis has deeply affected women like Ruth Bamago, who lives in the village of Louda in Burkina Faso. She eats only after her entire family is finished, and says she has been losing weight over the past year.Video: Kevin Sullivan/The Washington PostEditor: Francine Uenuma/
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 20, 2008; 6:23 PM

LOUDA, Burkina Faso -- All day, Ruth Bamogo hacked at the ground with an iron hoe, trying to coax sorghum out of the hard, red dirt.

Finally exhausted, with the temperature still over 90 degrees in the dying afternoon light, Bamogo strapped her 4-year-old son onto her back with a bright pink cloth and started the one-mile walk home.

But at the edge of the field, she suddenly started grabbing at low-hanging tree leaves. She stripped branches bare, collecting the coarse leaves with her bare hands.

A year ago, this tree was shade. But now, with even basic foods suddenly too expensive to feed her six children, it is food. The leaves taste awful, she said, but they are free -- one small advantage of living in the countryside.

Bamogo carried the leaves home on foot; her husband rode a bike.

She looked older than her 42 years. Her face and arms seemed far too thin; she said she's lost 10 to 20 pounds in the last year, because there isn't enough food for everyone, and she eats last.

"I don't want my children to cry," she said. "So I take care of them first."

Women are suffering disproportionately in the world's worst food crisis in a generation, according to aid workers studying impacts in developing nations.

In this poor West African nation, as in much of the developing world, women are responsible for feeding their families. They grow, buy and cook food. But at mealtime, men and children eat first and women eat whatever is left.

But when food suddenly becomes more expensive and scarcer, there is less leftover. And aid workers said they are seeing that women are the first to suffer.

Life for women in the capital, Ouagadougou, is harsher lately because all their food comes from markets, where prices have risen sharply. But in rural villages like this one, 60 miles north in the countryside, the problem is also acute, but different.

Here, there are virtually no jobs, and women must feed their families -- and themselves -- with whatever the ground gives them.

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