2. Mali: Composting in groups (by Innoussa Maϊga, for Farm Radio Weekly in Mali)

| January 24, 2011

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Adama Sanogo is a farmer who lives in Namposséla, 440 kilometres south of Bamako, the capital of Mali. It is a remote and dusty village with little vegetation. At the beginning of the dry season, Harmattan winds buffet the thirty households in the village.

Harvests have been good this year. Mr. Sanogo’s granaries are full of maize, sorghum and millet. He owes this to organic manure. Mr. Sanogo has been making compost for six years. Producing organic fertilizer is not a new activity in Namposséla. But the way the farmers organize themselves to make compost is unique.

Thirty farmers have banded together to help each other. Working together makes the task easier. Previously, farmers dug their own pits, filled them, turned them and watered them. In addition to being heavy work, it was very time-consuming. Now, the owner of the pit only has to water it. All other tasks are shared.

Today, the group meets at Khalifa Dembele’s farm. Mr. Dembele wants to dig a new pit so he will have compost for next winter. Together, the group chooses to dig the pit close to a well. This will make watering the pit easy. The men take up their pickaxes and begin to dig. They take turns in the heat. Three hours later, the men have dug half of the pit.

Every two weeks, the farmers put crop residues, vegetation and animal manure in the pits. Within four months, their compost is ready. Mr. Dembele and his friends carry the compost to the fields in carts. All the farmers benefit when they work together like this. Mr. Dembele says, “With the soil erosion, we have to produce organic manure. But one person alone cannot produce the quantity needed. We must work together in this way.”

The methods used to make compost have changed since the old days. Pits are bigger now, between four and 10 metres long. Each pit is one and half metres deep and about five metres wide. Wooden stakes are inserted into the pit about one metre apart. Farmers agitate the stakes regularly, moving the compost around to ensure good aeration.

Thanks to their group effort, the farmers produce a lot of compost. This year, Mr. Sanogo’s pit yielded eight tonnes. It was enough for one and a half of his five hectares. Some farmers produce up to 10 tonnes.

The soils in Namposséla need fertilizer. Farmers in this area used to grow cotton. But intensive cultivation and weather degraded the soils. By the 1990s, yields had dropped considerably, ranging from two to three tonnes per hectare for maize and millet. This year, Mr. Sanogo harvested seven tonnes of maize per hectare.

With yields like this in Namposséla, the saying “unity is strength” is not an empty phrase.