Mali: Urban farmers squat land to ensure their food security

| July 20, 2015

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On the green banks of the Niger River in downtown Bamako, a group of urban farmers busily water vegetables and pull weeds on some of Mali’s prime real-estate.

The farmers use makeshift plastic hoses to pump water from the river onto their plots. They irrigate rows of broccoli, cabbage, and other green vegetables. The farmers do not own the land they are cultivating near heavily-guarded, foreign-owned hotels. But this doesn’t stop them from trying to feed themselves.

Bakary Diarra is one of the urban farmers on this land. His crops grow in the shadow of an abandoned luxury hotel. Libyan investors built the hotel back when former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi invested large amounts of money in Malian farmland and property. In 2009, Libya acquired 100,000 hectares in what critics consider a land grab. Following Colonel Gadhafi’s death, investments and projects have stalled.

Mr. Diarra rests in the shade, taking a break from pulling weeds from his plot. He explains that the hotel is now bankrupt and that this land belongs to the Malian government. He says, “We don’t worry about being forced off the land. We are occupying it.”

Urban gardens sprouting on squatted land are a common sight across Mali’s capital. Landless farmers grow vegetables and raise animals on abandoned construction sites and other bits of vacant land along the river.

Mr. Diarra says that sometimes thieves steal their vegetables, but the farmers still harvest enough to make some money and have fresh food to eat.

Across Africa, urban farming is growing and may become crucial in the coming years. Almost half of urban households in Cameroon, a third in Malawi, a quarter in Ghana, and one in ten in Nigeria feed themselves with what they grow in urban gardens, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

About 80 per cent of Malians work in fishing or farming, so the country should be able to feed itself. But hunger seems to be getting worse. After three droughts in a decade, nearly two million people do not have enough to eat, according to the UN World Food Programme, or WFP.

WFP says desertification and ongoing conflict in northern Mali mean that two in five people do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Mr. Diarra works several jobs to make ends meet. He says, “It’s difficult to understand how we have a hunger problem. The Niger River should be a gold mine for us …we need a comprehensive agriculture plan.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Mali: ‘Guerrilla gardening’ takes root in hunger-hit Mali, go to:

Photo: Farmer Bakary Diarra believes urban vegetable gardens could be expanded to help feed hungry Malians. Credit: Chris Arsenault