First Harvest: Irrigation Rice Project Reaches a Milestone in Mali
Rice Harvest Moves Farmers Closer to Food Security, Greater Income
Farmers in the Segou region of Mali this month are harvesting approximately 3,000 tons of high-quality Gambiaka rice on a 1,000-hectare test plot. It is the first rice harvest of the Agriculture Development Systems Activity (ADSA), and is expected to benefit 10,000 members of producer families who previously struggled to subsist as nomadic cattle herders in a semi-desert zone.
The benefits of the program are visible, as truckloads of rice and fresh vegetables leave market towns in Chango, Diabaly, Kourouma and Niono. After three years of planning and infrastructure development, the rice harvest represents a milestone in the first phase of production of ADSA, which is financed by the U.S. government through the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA-Mali), and implemented by ACDI/VOCA with subcontractors Nyeta Conseils and G-FORCE.
Irrigation Renews Diversified Agriculture
The irrigation project represents a new model of improved agriculture, which should foster long-term food security and real economic growth for Malians. This year, instead of struggling to help drought-stricken cattle herders, the Malian government will be able to purchase surplus stocks of grain, store it in warehouses and, if necessary, share it with vulnerable populations during the long dry season in the Sahel.
Leaving the state-managed monoculture model behind, farmers receive practical training through ADSA, which encourages investment diversification based on sound business planning. Potential investments in the zone include fish farming and production of value-added animal products such as yogurt and dried beef.
Greater Economic Opportunities ...
Through the program, each farmer receives 11 acres and has the potential to make $5,500 net profit annually in a country where the annual per capita income averages $700. These profits offer new opportunities for farmers to invest in family health and education.
Farmers also can invest in small business development in burgeoning agroindustries such as grain processing, post-harvest storage, transportation and trade. Local banks based in the Diabali commune—CVECA, FCRMD, Faso Jigiya and Nyesigiso—now provide area farmers with resources to purchase small tractors and portable grain processing equipment, and short-term credit to buy high-quality seed and fertilizer.
... and Responsibilities
Rice production is not new in this region, but new trends are developing in a changing world. Water is scarcer as populations in West Africa increase, and efficient water management is essential.
Farmers are becoming self-reliant and accepting the responsibilities and rights of land ownership. The Malian government supports the establishment of self-managed, autonomous producer cooperatives that decide how the water flow is managed in the secondary and tertiary canal systems. Through an innovative land ownership plan, farmers are being empowered to decide what crops to grow, how to grow them and where to sell them.
Best Is Yet to Come
Perhaps the greatest development is the recognition by project leaders of the inherent capacity of the former nomadic herders to pursue a better quality of life using what they have learned.
Today may be the first harvest, but the best is yet to come.