Mali: Sali Samaké’s journey from literacy class to weather reports (by Soumaila T. Diarra for Farm Radio Weekly in Mali)

| March 7, 2011

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Sali Samaké is known to many in the village of Tamala, in southern Mali, by her nickname, Salibléni. In the Bambara language, Salibléni means “Sali of light skin.” Her skin colour and her slender frame disguise her age. Sitting with her two daughters, she says, “I was born in Defar, a nearby village. I was married when I was 15. Today, I’m 56.” Sali never went to school. But she learned to read and write at the age of 30. She completed a four-year literacy course in Bambara, her mother tongue. With a shy smile, Sali says: “I remember at first I could not even recognize my own written name. Now I can read and write well.”

Like the other village women, Sali is busy throughout the year. During the dry season from November to June, she handles various jobs reserved for women. In addition to cooking, she searches for firewood and collects water.

Yet this mother of three children is no ordinary woman. The Malian government uses her to help farmers. She is one of 10,000 farmers across the country who were trained by the National Meteorology Service in 1999 to keep records of rainfall in their villages. Sali explains, “During the rainy season from July to October, after every rain, I measure the level of rainfall with a rain gauge located near the village. Then I call the National Weather Service in Bamako to tell them the data.”

The information sent by Sali complements data from all over Mali. These are used to make weather reports which are broadcast by national radio and television. The other part of Sali’s job is to provide advice to farmers through the agro-meteorological assistance program.

This program of the National Meteorology Service teaches farmers how to adapt their farming practices to disruptions in rainfall. According to Sali, the problem is that farmers in Mali do not know exactly when the rainy season will start. She explains, “Before, the rainy season began in May and ended in October. These days, it may rain once or twice in May, but the rainy season really begins late, usually in June or July.”

If the first rains fall in May, farmers believe they can plant. But this early rain is not consistent. The first seedlings die from lack of water. Farmers may be forced to plant their fields several times. Sali helps farmers deal with these changes in rainfall patterns. She advises farmers to wait and plant a little later when the rains are more reliable.

When farmers follow her advice, they avoid planting more than once. This saves time for other work.

Seydou Samaké (no relation) is a farmer in the village. He goes to Sali for information and advice. He says, “I followed a training with Sali on crop adaptation to unpredictable rainfall. But that does not stop me consulting her often. There are many other women doing the same work in Mali, but I think Sali has a better grasp on the techniques. ”

Since she has been doing this work, Sali has become a role model for women in Tamala. Rokia Coulibaly lives in the village. She says, “Many women from the village attended literacy classes with Salibléni. But it was her courage that enabled her to progress to the point that she now helps us improve our farming techniques through her work with the weather service.”

Sali is well-known in Tamala. She says, “Every time I go to the rain gauge to take readings, people ask me questions. Some follow me to the rain gauge because they do not want to wait to hear the weather report on the radio.”

In Tamala, Sali is known as the “rainmaker.” She is loved by all!