Mali: Women show the way forward (Trust)

| April 27, 2015

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The wind blows dry red dust around Segou, a city on the Niger River at the heart of the Bambara region of Mali. It is 37 degrees in the shade, and it’s unlikely to rain anytime soon.

Eighty per cent of Mali’s population depends on small-scale, rain-fed farming, but droughts and unpredictable rain patterns often destroy farmers’ livelihoods. Agriculture contributes about 30 per cent of Mali’s export revenues, and only five per cent of fields are irrigated. So the timing and the quantity of rainfall is crucial.

The desert has crept south over the last few decades, and climate scientists predict that the area will be significantly warmer by 2050. The sorghum- and millet-producing region of northern Mali has migrated 50 kilometres south since 1950 because of the drier climate.

Despite these challenges, women can drive change in their households and communities if they get the right opportunities. Sitan Traore is a 37-year-old mother from Mpessoba village in southern Mali. Mrs. Traore participated in a nutrition field school through an initiative known as An Be Jigi, or “Hope for all” in the Bambara language.

She learned about a more nutritious version of , the traditional sorghum porridge she gives her child. She now knows that mixing with a legume such as cowpea adds more protein. She can also enrich the porridge with local ingredients like iron- and zinc-rich moringa leaves or baobab fruit.

After attending communal cooking sessions, Mrs. Traore convinced her husband to give her a small plot. She grows cowpeas, groundnuts and legume trees, as well as new varieties of sorghum. This kitchen garden now provides food for her family.

Mrs. Traore is one of 15 women who are testing five varieties of sorghum. Three groups of five women prepare for community members. They compare varieties on various attributes, including taste and consistency.

In Mali, seed production is often seen as a man’s affair. But Sitan Sidibe, a mother of 10 from Ngolobougou village, shows how seeds can be women’s business too.

Mrs. Sidibe noticed that the rains were ending 15 to 30 days earlier than usual, and before her sorghum plants had flowered. So she was keen to experiment with early-maturing varieties of sorghum. She visited a seed fair organized by the local farmer organization and bought a one-kilo seed pack of hybrid sorghum.

The new hybrids were developed by the International Crops Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, or ICRISAT, and the Malian Institut d’Economie Rurale. They yield 40 per cent higher than the farmers’ best local variety. Mrs. Sidibe convinced the farmers’ organization to supply her with seed packs. She sells the packs to neighbours who want to follow her example.

Eva Weltzien-Rattunde is ICRISAT’s principal sorghum scientist, and has worked in Mali for 18 years. Dr. Weltzien-Rattunde is convinced that women have a lot to say about how innovations can be introduced on farms in the Sahel. From what she sees, women are keener than men to experiment with new seeds and farming practices.

Ms. Sidibe does not receive any commission for selling seeds. She simply wants to ensure that her village has access to better seeds. She is proud that she has shown herself to be just as capable at this kind of business as any man.

To read the article on which this story was based, Mali’s women take up arms against ‘miniyamba,’ go to:

Photo: Sitan Traore takes part in a sorghum variety tasting session in southern Mali. Credit: ICRISAT/Jerome Bossuet