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Mali: Tradition blocks women’s access to developed land

Maman Traoré is a farmer in Sikasso, a city 375 kilometres from Bamako in Mali. Like most women in Sikasso, she doesn’t have a developed lowland area for farming because the process of obtaining land rights is slow. So she maintains an unmanaged lowland area about one hectare in size. She mainly grows a variety of onion called Chinese diaba.

The yields from undeveloped lowlands are small, barely two tonnes per hectare, half of the yields from developed lands.

She supports her family largely through farming. But access to land is a big challenge, and ownership an even bigger one. She says the process for obtaining developed land is too long and requires too much back-and-forth.

After land is developed—meaning that it’s made fertile through irrigation—a land rights commission is created to identify the needs and criteria for allocating the land. Then the Land and Property Rights directorate manages the land title. Generally, it’s men who receive most of the titles and it’s difficult for women to benefit.

Ultimately, women become discouraged by the long process. Given their many household concerns, they don’t have enough time to be fully involved, which makes them less likely to receive land titles. While some find the process slow, many women think that it favours men because of tradition. As a result, women in Sikasso generally farm undeveloped lowlands, where they grow millet, onion, and eggplant.

arming helps women meet family needs. Women often support their husbands’ work, which provides food for the family. But women also farm lowlands to meet their family’s other needs, such as buying clothes, shoes, medicine, and even paying school fees.

Despite the law that stipulates that women should have equitable access to agricultural land, women face enormous challenges in accessing developed land, including traditional, customary barriers.

Nana Koné is a 40-year-old farmer, and the leader of a group called Benkan, which means “Agreement.” The association wants to be a group where women decide together what is good for their general welfare. Farming is their main activity. Like Mrs. Traoré, the women members also face difficulty accessing developed land.

Mrs. Koné explains: “In reality, we don’t have access to land as we would like. Land is scarce. The two hectares that we, members of the Benkan Association, use are rented and uncertainty reigns daily. It took several steps and protocols to obtain these two hectares.”

She says that all 48 members of the association met several times with a village landowner to advocate for the plot, and eventually he agreed to lend them the two hectares. But Mrs. Koné says there is always uncertainty with rented land. She adds, “Even men rent fields sometimes and after three years of use, the owner comes to reclaim his land.”

But, she says, with the power of a group, access to land is easier.

Harouna Sangaré is the regional director of agriculture in Ségou, a region that borders Sikasso. He says there are laws to help women access developed land. He explains: “The Agricultural Orientation Law allows for equal access to agricultural land resources and the possibility of taking positive discriminatory measures to benefit vulnerable groups. This means that if there are 100 hectares of developed land, at least 10% of it is reserved for women and indigenous people.”

Sidi Coulibaly works for the regional agricultural chamber in Sikasso. He says that, while women have a right to more than just 10% of developed lands, the reality is different on the ground. Traditional values and customs in Mali continue to block women’s access to and ownership of land.

Daouda Traoré is a facilitator of a listening group in Sikasso. He explains these traditional customs: “With us, it is difficult for women to own land. Rather, she works part of her husband’s field. This is why many men fail to understand that women [can] own land. But with the support of the sensitizations, the customary chiefs are beginning to understand.”

Organizations are working to improve women’s access to land in Mali, including Fédération Nationale des Femmes Rurales (the National Federation of Rural Women), and the Nioro Gnini project that is taking place mainly in Sikasso. But there is a large role for the state to accelerate the process.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.