When a ‘60s Volkswagen Beetle coloured green, yellow, and red rolls down the road, everyone in Siby knows who is on board. Siby is a village 45 kilometres from Bamako, the capital of Mali. Tiken Jah Fakoly—the songwriter, composer, and performer—is at the wheel. Mr. Fakoly is known for his reggae music, but he drives the 45 kilometres from Bamako to Siby two or three times a week to visit his farm, called “Mandé.” This is where he can explore his passion for agriculture, far from the full concert halls packed with fans of his music.
He says his passion for agriculture came from his parents. And despite a talent for music, it’s a passion that persists. He started the farm in 2014, and devotes himself to the land and the animals. He says that, for him, the land is life, the mother of all. Farming is a passion that brings him back to his childhood in northern Cote d’Ivoire, where he grew up in a small village, and where he woke up in the early hours to walk to the rice field where he helped his uncle chase away pesky birds before he went to school.
He started farming 50 hectares of rice in Cote d’Ivoire, but the venture fizzled. Later, in Mali, he returned to farming on one hectare of land in Mandé region. In the rainy season, he grows maize, and in the dry season, he grows leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, sweet potato, groundnuts, and beans. He describes his land with a smile, “A little garden, where I can grow everything that we put in the sauce.”
Abdoulaye is watering tomatoes. Two years ago, the 25-year-old joined Mr. Fakoly’s farm, where he learned about farming and continues to learn each day. For him, agriculture is an art, the art of cultivating the land, a sacred element in Rasta culture. He says, “I like this. It’s my pleasure. Little by little, I perfect my art. And when you perfect it, often your harvest will be good.”
On the fertile land of Mandé farm, there are also chickens, pigeons in vast numbers, ostriches, quail, and a horse named “Rasta.” Dolo’s daily job is to feed and take care of the animals. The 30-year-old Rasta speaks in a deep voice. He has 10 years of farming experience and has worked with Mr. Fakoly since the beginning of this farming venture. He says, “The first task that God gave to man was agriculture. Here we follow a model advocated by Rastafarianism, which is based on self-sufficiency and the land.”
Mr. Fakoly didn’t start farming to earn money, but mostly to express his love for nature and animals. In his philosophy, it’s important to share with neighbours, and also with animals. As a leader in his community, the musician wants to send a message to African youth about the importance of agriculture, especially at a time when youth are often moving from villages to capital cities—or even to European or North American cities.
Many of these youth—like Adama Dembélé—come from Bamako with their friends to visit the farm of reggae star. Mr. Dembélé says, “I could see myself working on my own farm, but this remains a project [for the future] because I still do not have money.”
Mr. Fakoly says: “In Africa, we have the sun and the rain, we have the fertile land. Everything has come together for us to be independent in terms of food. Personal farming will bring food self-sufficiency. If each African creates a small farm, this will allow us to avoid eating Chinese rice, oranges from Morocco, and other products that we could produce ourselves.”