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The Harvest Basket: In the Sahel in West Africa – a semi-arid region just south of the Sahara desert — the rain falls in a short intense monsoon season from June to September. The main staple crops, such as pearl millet, are grown during this season, and the harvest has to provide for families for an entire year. The Sahel is known for fickle weather, and droughts have occurred with greater frequency since the 1970s. A poor harvest can result in hungry households — and under-nourished children. When the harvest is good, however, there is no greater joy in the community. Harvests begin late August, and when the state of the harvest is good,  you can see it in their faces.

Making the Flour: When the harvest is in full swing, the process to turn the grain into flour begins. Women traditionally pound the ears of corn in large mortars to remove the grain from the stalk. Afterwards, they winnow the grain from the husk using vanes and wind — the way it has been done for thousands of years.

Then they pound the grain in mortars again into a fine flour, which is used to make porridge or dough. It is arduous, but having a granary full of millet allows these women to have some peace of mind. The work of transforming millet into flour is the promise of a good meal.

Mother With Baby: When harvests fail, children suffer the most from malnutrition. Helen Keller Intl works with communities and local health facilities to monitor the children throughout the community to ensure that they are helped before becoming severely malnourished. Children who are showing signs of moderate malnutrition are referred to their local health post for food supplements that are rich in calories and micronutrients. Cases of severe malnutrition are referred to nearby hospitals for in-patient care. HKI also works with community volunteers, such as older women leaders, to counsel young mothers on optimal feeding, including breastfeeding and serving diverse foods that are available even in times of scarcity, in order to prevent malnutrition.

These photos were taken in Mopti and Timbuktu regions of Mali in July 2013. Photo credit: Douglas Steinberg.