It’s one thing to increase the crop yields of vulnerable, smallholder farmers in a climate-challenged corner of the world. Lots of organizations are working – and bearing fruit – in this capacity. It’s another thing entirely to transform these smallholder farmers into major agricultural producers, connect them with buyers, and strengthen the value chain of a commodity for an entire region.
In my most recent assignment with Lutheran World Relief, I was commissioned to take a brief look at the SESAME project, a US Department of Agriculture-funded initiative that works not only to increase the quality and volume of sesame farmers in Burkina Faso, but also to strengthen the cooperative system in sesame growing regions of the county. By working in cooperatives, everyday farmers can negotiate higher prices, streamline quality, access inputs and enhance overall market conditions, all of which create a sustainable, private-sector led framework for the sale and export of sesame.
“Sesame was not big business here [in the past], but now people are starting to realize it can be very lucrative,” says sesame trade Emmanuel Kadeba. “The difference is the quality. When it looks like this I can sell it to my partners.”
I visited Burkina Faso twice in the span of three months in order to get a more comprehensive picture of the cultivation, harvest and post-harvest process of sesame. I found it fascinating to witness the extraction of the sesame grains from their capsules through the shaking process, but also quite challenging to capture in both video and stills something so miniscule.