Mali: Soaring grain prices worry farmers (by Soumaila T. Diarra from Farm Radio Weekly, in Mali)

| March 14, 2011

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From a  distance, the mud houses in the village of Gwélékoro appear to sit in the middle of the fields, which are bare in this dry season. Farmers gathered their harvests last November. Now they patiently wait for the next rains, expected between June and July.

But despite the apparent tranquility, farmers are worried. Life is difficult this year in this village 60 kilometres south of Bamako, the capital of Mali. Not only was the harvest poor, but cereal prices have jumped significantly. Farmers are keeping a sharp eye on the price of grain in local markets. They will need to buy grain when their own supplies run out.

High cereal prices are unusual in southern Mali. The region is one of the most productive in the country.

Karim Diarra is a 43-year-old farmer. He says, “In the market, grains are especially expensive this year. A kilogram of millet, for example, has not been sold below 100 CFA francs. It is a long time since I saw that. In other years, a kilo could be sold at 50 CFA francs. ”

Many farmers are keen to start working their fields again. Niènè Traoré says, “We’re expecting a hard time because the price of grain has gone up early. And we do not have many reserves for the rainy season [July to October], a time when prices of essential commodities skyrocket.”

The last harvests were not good. In the village of Hérémakono, a few kilometres away, farmers believe that the high price of cereals is partly due to the abundant rainfall. Their crops are not suited to high rainfall. Madou Koné is another farmer who expects difficulties: “Every year I can feed my family by farming. But for the first time I might need to buy grain at the market. That worries me because the prices will continue to rise.”

Other farmers believe that the high price of grain has nothing to do with the level of production. Baba Dramé is the village chief in Hérémakono. He is angry with the authorities. He believes they must act to keep prices at a reasonable level: “In Mali, the problem of high cereal prices is not caused by scarcity, but speculation. The authorities should control the cereal market with appointed stores selling grain at fixed prices.” The “appointed stores” that Chief Dramé refers to would sell only subsidized grain.

With a production of nearly seven million tons of grain, the 2010-2011 crop was very good, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The rise in production has aroused the interest of big grain buyers. The Minister of Agriculture confirmed on national television that the World Food Programme (WFP) wants to buy 15,000 tonnes of cereal for distribution in Benin and Senegal.

For now, the Malian government has not taken action to control rising grain prices. While farmers pass the lean period and wait to start work in their fields, they can still make ends meet − but not for long.