Mali: How one town is fighting hunger (Trust)

| June 8, 2015

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A dozen men dig into hard-packed sand. Some wear ripped jeans, others are in traditional robes. The men are reinforcing a dike which channels scarce water to thirsty fields.

The labourers are keeping busy while waiting for the rains in the drought-prone area around Djimebougou, a village halfway between Mali’s capital Bamako and the Mauritanian border.

They are working on a World Food Programme “work-for-aid” project. The men earn money by building simple infrastructure for managing water—rainwater storage facilities and irrigation dikes.

Maheta Sacko is the local chief. He says, “We still can’t produce enough food for the village, but we are getting there.”

Mr. Sacko says he began noticing the impact of global warming 15 years ago when precipitation patterns changed and the wet season brought less rain.

Mali’s 15 million people have suffered three droughts in the last decade. The rain comes mainly between June and September, but much of it runs straight off the parched fields, taking the topsoil with it.

Mark Sauveur is with the World Food Programme. He says, “Water is the stepping stone for any other activity.”He points out that once villagers have regular water, they can create vegetable gardens, keep their animals healthy, and replant trees.

Deforestation is a big problem in the village, and experts believe that the loss of forest cover contributes to erratic rainfall patterns.

Djimebougou’s residents are introducing clay stoves. The stoves cut a family’s need for firewood in half. Villagers can build the stoves themselves with local clay and a steel mould.

Daly Sacko is head of the village women’s committee. She says, “Now that we don’t have to cut as much wood, we can spend more time growing our vegetable gardens.”

The population of Djimebougou is growing fast. On average, Malian women have more than six children, which makes growing enough food a challenge. But despite a fast-growing population and expanding deserts, some believe Mali has the capacity to feed itself.

Souleymane Coulibaly is a technical advisor to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He regularly visits remote farming communities. An estimated 1.8 million Malians are hungry, and Mr. Coulibaly blames a lack of government investment in basic infrastructure. He says, “Mali should be self-sufficient in food.”

He believes the country’s focus on exporting cotton, shea nuts and other commodities to be refined elsewhere doesn’t help. Mr. Coulibaly says, “It’s not normal that Mali should import rice.”He believes the country could use the large area of irrigated farmland near the Niger River which is devoted to these crops to grow food for domestic consumption.

The dikes and gardens of Djimebougou are examples of what can happen with enough political and financial will. Although much of the surrounding area is dry, brown dust, sprouts of green grass show on the walls of the water tanks built by the village’s young men.

Mr. Sacko says: “It’s dry now, so we are working to be ready for when the rains come. Things have changed a lot in the past years, now that we have the gardens and dikes.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, How one Malian town is trying to fight against hunger, go to:

Photo: Women work on a vegetable garden built with U.N. funds in Djimebougou, Mali. Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Chris Arsenault