Context of Mali Rural Development Program

Collapsing soil fertility, climate change and other factors are threatening the lives and livelihoods of family farmers in Mali and elsewhere in West Africa. Many development agencies and governments have responded to these problems by promoting “new green revolution” technologies that depend heavily on external inputs, including fertilizers. However, even when subsidized, the increased price of nitrogen-based chemical fertilizers is unaffordable for most rural households, and drought, erosion, and low levels of organic matter to retain moisture make fertilizer highly risky and uneconomical for poorer farmers.  Providing food aid has become a regular fallback solution for alleviating chronic food deficits, however; these are not long-term solutions for the vast majority of small-scale farmers or for regenerating the natural resource base. In Mali, Burkina Faso and northern Ghana, some innovative farmers have successfully developed agro-ecological solutions, but formidable policy and institutional forces inhibit the spread of these strategies. 

Groundswell’s Response to Development Challenges in Rural Mali

Lacine's son in gliricidia tree nursery in Mali.

Boy playing in a gliricidia tree nursery in Mali. Gliricidia trees help to fix nitrogen in the soil.

In response to the soil and food crisis in Mali, Groundswell implemented a three-year (2010-12) program in Mali in partnership with Oxfam America. The program, called Saving for Change Plus Agriculture (SfC Plus Ag), responded to requests for sustainable ag training by many of the 350,000 women in Oxfam’s Saving for Change community finance groups across Mali. They wanted to learn how to solve their most pressing problems: low agricultural production (caused mostly by rapidly deteriorating soils) and water scarcity (both for domestic use and agriculture).

Through SfC Plus Ag, 26,000 women living 200 rural villages in Mali are learning to sustainably improve their agricultural production by introducing simple ecological farming technologies to improve soil fertility by using nitrogen fixing trees and cover crops, improve seed quality by using short cycle seeds, and improve water management practices.

Regional Agroecology Project in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali

In January 2013, Groundswell launched a two-year initiative called “Scaling Farmer-led Agroecology in West Africa”, which partners with experienced organizations in Mali (Sahel Eco), Ghana (Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development), and Burkina Faso (Association Nourrir Sans Détruire). These organizations have excellent track records and complementary skills in strengthening farmers’ organizations, promoting agro-ecology, generating documentation for spread of effective practices, policy analysis and advocacy, and this program amplifies their current work strengthening farmers’ and women’s organizations (e.g., the directors of CIKOD and ANSD are on the steering committees of the women’s led “We are the Solution” campaign in their countries). Groundswell International, Food First, and ILEIA provide strategic support for program development, documentation, policy analysis and scaling. Learn more about Groundswell’s agroecology project in West Africa