Mali: Women fight for the right to farm their own land (AllAfrica)

| January 19, 2015

Download this story

Last May, a group of women farmers asked the chief of Soumatogo for a piece of land. They wanted to own a plot that they could farm together. The women planned to use new farming practices to increase their yields, raise their incomes, and make sure their children were well-nourished.

Amadou Plea is the village chief. He seemed astonished at the request, but was persuaded by the women’s forceful case. In the presence of the local mayor, he promised to give one hectare to the women’s collective to farm for three years. The women were elated.

Women have poor access to land in Mali. Under customary law, a woman can cultivate land owned by her birth family. But she cannot retain that land when she marries. And she has no say over land held by her husband’s family. Men often doubt that women are skilled farmers and can bring in a good income, even though women do the lion’s share of farm work.

But things are starting to change. The international NGO, Care, runs the Nyeleni project. The project champions women’s right to access land in cases where women’s groups can demonstrate new, sustainable farming practices and move towards commercial agriculture.

Boniface Diallo works for the Nyeleni project. She says: “Our goal is long-term or permanent land agreements. This way, the women can construct the [storage sheds or processing mills] that they need to develop their farming as a business.”

The Nyeleni project helps women receive written agreements to ensure that their access to land is secure. In places where land is scarce, agreements can last for three or more years. Where land is abundant, women can even obtain permanent access.

Ms. Diallo says the Nyeleni project organizes meetings, or dialogues, which include local authorities and villagers, women farmers, and project staff. She continues, “We use these dialogues to reassure men that women’s land access does not present a threat to men, but benefits the entire community.”

Women have shown that they can increase production, with the support of the project and training in sustainable farming techniques. Ultimately, it is these better yields that win men over to women’s efforts to obtain land.

Women’s groups have already secured 214 hectares of land through the project. Some of the land was granted to individuals, and some networks of producer groups obtained collective plots.

About 2,700 women have benefited so far. As more people see the women’s success, it is likely that this number will increase, as will the quality of the land obtained by the groups.

What began as a community dialogue to increase women’s right to land has strengthened women’s economic empowerment, their confidence, and their standing in the household and community.

Mr. Plea was very satisfied with the dialogue in his village. He says: “The women in this network have negotiated and obtained this parcel with the official deed [of ownership] … It’s the first time in my village that women have asked for land.”

Sata Diarra

Sata Diarra


Madame Sata Diarra is the president of the Soumatogo Women’s Collective. She says: “We women were able to build a compost pit on this plot, which enables us to create natural fertilizer. [It] is a lot less expensive than chemical fertilizer. This [will enable] us to improve our yields.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Mali: The proof is in the productivity – advocating for women’s land access in Pathways Mali, go to: