Self-Reliance in Action – in Mali
By Schafer Bomstein, Program Officer with the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A.
|Rice cooperative leader Moctar Traoré (at right, wearing hat) leads a discussion of the irrigation system. In Mali, rice farms tend to be owned and run by men, while vegetable cooperatives are often owned and run by women.|
One of the best parts about my job is visiting the projects that I support in the field. Most recently, I traveled to the Mopti region of Mali for a two-day visit to see the Mali Food for Progress Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The integrated development project is implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation Mali, the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM), and our partner ACDI/VOCA. The project provides training for smallholder farmers on improved agricultural techniques; builds the capacity of agricultural associations and cooperatives; facilitates agricultural market linkages; and provides microfinance services to local borrowers.
During my trip to Mopti, we visited an irrigated rice farm owned by a cooperative of local rice farmers. The cooperative’s director, Moctar Traoré, was proud of the farm’s success and explained that the Aga Khan Foundation’s community development agents had trained members of the cooperative on how to build and manage an efficient irrigation system, as well as use better inputs, such as high-quality seeds.
After the training, cooperative members pooled their resources and bought a water pump to take water from the Niger River into the irrigation system, a distance of over 100 yards.
“Now we can grow rice during the dry season, while other farmers must depend on rainfall and can only grow rice during the rainy season,” the cooperative’s director explained. This off-season rice farming has given a big boost to the incomes of the cooperative members.
The rice farmers also shared their experience working with ACDI/VOCA, which helped the cooperative to develop a business plan for expanding their rice business. They were excited that they had the opportunity to submit the business plan to AKAM’s Première Agence de Microfinance (First Microfinance Bank) for a potential microfinance loan. If approved, this loan will allow them to purchase an additional pump and expand their irrigation system, allowing them to irrigate more of their rice fields, and produce even more in the off season.
Taking photos on the field visit was Innocent Manishimwe, AKF USA grants officer. Working on the financial side of programs in the Washington, DC office, Innocent rarely gets to see the projects he helps to administer. “It was a good experience,” Innocent said later, but he found it sobering to witness the conditions and seasonal vulnerability that Malian farmers face each year.
Later in the capital, Bamako, Innocent and I helped with the workshop to launch the USDA-funded program’s third phase.
I am so thankful that I get to meet such hardworking and passionate people, and I know that their rice business will continue to grow.