Archive for the ‘Mali’ Category

May29

Five Microcredit Programs That are Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

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By Isaac Hopkins

One of the best ways to encourage economic growth in poor areas is to provide affordable small loans to farmers and small-business owners. Called microcredit or microloans, these programs can inject capital into communities that lack the collateral required by conventional banks.

Ecova Mali’s first microgrant went to Fatoumata Dembele, to buy vegetable seeds for her village. (Photo credit: Ecova Mali)

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five innovative microcredit programs that are encouraging economic growth in poor communities.

1. Farmer-to-Farmer Programs: Microcredit programs tend to be most sustainable when they promote cooperation between residents of a community. Encouraging farmer-to-farmer support can be an effective technique because it allows participants to be less reliant on outside financing and guidance.

Farmer-to-Farmer Programs in Action:  When Africa’s Sustainable Development Council (ASUDEC) connects farmers with microcredit loans, the recipients have several expectations placed upon them. ASUDEC requires farmers to not only pay back the loans, but also to offer equally affordable loans to their neighbors. This policy generates a ripple effect, helping communities increase their incomes and fund their own progress, rather than relying on ASUDEC. As the trust and cooperation between farmers builds, it “helps the poor transition from subsistence to entrepreneurship,” says ASUDEC’S Director, Dr. Salibo Some.

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Apr14

Internet and Mobile Phone Access Help Farmers Help Each Other

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By Graham Salinger 

For 25 years Yacouba Sawadogo, a small-scale farmer in Mali, has been working to stop the process of desertification in the Sahel region of western Africa. During  the 1970s and 1980s the Sahel, a semi-arid area along the southern edge of the Sahara desert that stretches from Senegal’s Atlantic coast to the Ethiopian highlands, experienced severe droughts that left the land baron.

For years farmers have been adapting numerous innovations to re-green the Sahel. (Photo credit: W4RA)

For years farmers like Sawadogo have been adapting numerous innovations to re-green the Sahel. In 2010 the Web Alliance for Regreening in Africa (W4RA) was established to increase access to communication technology so that farmers in the region can share their innovations with one another.

The program, which lasts through 2012, partners with Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam  and the Africa Regreening Initiative to increase the means of communication between farmers. With only 5.7 percent of the population in Africa having internet access, the program helps provide web based and mobile phone based communication technology to small scale farmers in the Sahel.

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Feb04

Connecting Farmers to Markets in Mali

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By Kim Kido

Farmers near Tominian in eastern Mali rely on rain to grow food. With a dry season that lasts as long as nine months, farming is only possible for a short amount of time each year. During droughts, food can be scarce until the next growing season.

Tree Aid and Sahel Eco are helping farmers in Mali connect with potential buyers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

To cope, farmers diversify their income and food sources. Some harvest and sell firewood from forests while others harvest non-timber forest products like fruit, nuts, seeds, and honey to eat or sell. Trees are more drought tolerant than other cultivated crops, and can be easier to manage and harvest.

The shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is particularly important in the Sahel, which includes Mali, since it begins to produce fruit at the start of the wet season when food stores tend to be lowest. People eat the fruit and save the seed for processing into shea butter. Women traditionally process the nuts into butter, then sell it at local markets.

Two non-governmental organizations, Tree Aid and Sahel Eco, formed a partnership in 2005 to help shea processors in more than twenty Tominian communities improve their access to markets. Recognizing the lack of electricity and prevalence of cell phones and reception in the area, the organizations set up a communication system to collect and disseminate information from farmers about the products they have available for sale.

Farmers call the Sahel Eco office in Bamako, the capitol of Mali, and provide their product and contact information, the office passes the information on to local radio stations and newspapers to spread the word. Interested buyers can then call producers directly on their cell phones. As a result of this effort, many farmers have established connections with buyers for large retail markets and small processors in urban centers of the country like Ségou and Bamako.

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Dec12

Shea: For people and planet

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By Kim Kido 

Shea (Vitellaria paradoxa, nilotica) is one of few trees that can withstand the harsh, semi-arid climate of the Sudan and Guinean savannas and the Sahel. Hardy, drought-resistant, and with fireproof bark, the uses of the shea tree are numerous and ancient, dating back to the 1300s.

Woman processing shea kernels into butter. (Photo credit: TREE AID)

Tools and coffins are made out of the wood, while the wastewater from processing seeds acts as a pesticide against weevils. The tree provides forage for sheep and goats as well as food for people. The sweet pulp of the fruit, similar to an avocado, is eaten fresh, providing a valuable source of nutrition early in the rainy season when food can be scarce. And, the tree’s flowers can be added to salads.

The shea tree also provides many environmental benefits. Farmers often intercrop the shea tree with cereal grains where they help to prevent wind erosion, provide shade, and contribute organic matter to the soil.

The uses of the shea nut are most widely known and offer the highest economic value. The seed contains a kernel that is eaten fresh, roasted like almonds, or processed to extract shea butter. Shea butter is traditionally used as a waterproofing material for houses, a cosmetic, a primary source of vegetable fat in cooking, and as a medicine for treating various skin diseases, arthritis, and other ailments.

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Nov16

Nourishing the Planet TV: School Feeding Programs Improve Livelihoods, Diets, and Local Economies

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In this week’s episode, we discuss school feeding programs that are helping children and their families in many parts of Africa, where 60 percent of children come to school in the morning without breakfast, if they attend school at all. But, programs such as the The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), are helping to provides school meals for about 20 million children in Africa.

Video: http://youtu.be/HZjiisyOGcc

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.
Oct27

Innovation of the Week: Calling for a More Secure Livelihood

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By Janeen Madan

In the Tominian district of eastern Mali, farmers have to rely on the short, three-month rainy season to grow the crops they need for the rest of the year. The region’s dry season lasts up to nine months, leaving farmers vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns.

Tominian farmers protect a shea tree seedling in their fields. (Photo credit: Sahel Eco)

But farmers are finding ways to cushion themselves from these uncertainties and ensure a steady source of income to feed and care for their families. They are selling nuts, fruits, and honey that they collect from trees in the surrounding forest. Growing trees can be more reliable than cultivating crops because they are more resistant to drought. And, they have a different growing pattern, enabling farmers to sell their products year round.

Farmers are growing a variety of fruit trees, including shea—a popular tree across the dry Sahel region that stretches from Senegal to Sudan at the southern fringe of the Sahara desert. Women farmers collect shea nuts, which they process into shea butter products, such as creams, lotions, and soap, that they sell at the local market. And, because the shea fruit ripens at the beginning of the rainy season, it is an important source of food security at a time when families may not have much to eat.

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Jul16

Farm Radio International

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By Molly Theobald

More trusted than the evening television or the internet,  newspapers and radio broadcasts are consumers preference for their news. But what if it also helped put food on our plates and increased our incomes? Ottawa-based Farm Radio International is hoping that its radio programs will be able to do just that.

In Mali, farmers are benefiting from up-to-date information provided by various means of communication, including the radio. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Despite the fact that the number of hungry people worldwide is nearly 1 billion people, funding for agricultural development has been steadily declining. Much of the funding that does exist is directed towards ‘one-size-fits-all’ innovations that are often expensive and inaccessible to those most in need. But for the millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, dependent on their small-scale farms to feed their families and bring in an income, there are a multitude of inexpensive and relatively easy steps that they could take to improve their harvest yields and their livelihoods.

Even more important than coming up with new agricultural innovations, is getting information about the agricultural innovations that work to the farmers that need them. What farmers in Africa might need turns out to be much closer to what we’ve come to enjoy in our homes  every day.

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May30

Sweet detar: Food, Fragrance, Fodder, and More

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By Kim Kido

From food to fragrance, virtually no part of the sweet detar tree (Detarium microcarpum) goes unused. A study of the Mare aux Hippopotames Biosphere Reserve in western Burkina Faso identified the tree as one of six multi-use species “most appreciated by people” and thus “most important”. Two varieties of the species exist. The tall, forest variety produces bitter fruit while the shorter savannah variety produces a sweet, green fruit that is particularly popular in West Africa. The brown pods of sweet-sour fruit have the shape and size of apricots but a shell and pulp akin to its relative the tamarind.

Illustration of detar fruit and flower published in 1891. (Photo credit: Paul Hermann Wilhelm Taubert via Wikipedia Commons)

Usually eaten fresh by children, the fruit is sometimes sun-dried then sold in markets. The fruit is boiled with jackalberry and black plum and concentrated to make fruit leathers in northern Nigeria, while in Sierra Leone, it’s made into a drink. Detar is higher in vitamin C than guava, and has a very good shelf life. It can be returned to its fresh state if it dries out by soaking it in sugar water, and the liquid by-product makes a fruity drink.

Boiling the fragrant seed breaks down the seedcoat to expose a kernel rich in essential amino acids and fatty acids, which is pounded into ofo flour in Nigeria and used to thicken egusi soup. Alternatively, cooking oil is extracted from the kernels by crushing them, with the by-products of this process used as an animal feed. When the seeds are not eaten, they are strung together to make fragrant necklaces.

The fragrance of other parts of the tree is useful as well. If the bark is damaged, a sticky, fragrant gum is secreted that is used to deter mosquitoes. Heated roots produce a sweet scent that is used as a perfume by women in Sudan, and as a mosquito repellent in Chad.

Resistant to moisture, weathering, and pests, the dense, hard wood is workable and thus highly desirable for carpentry and joinery when making houses, boats, and fences. The wood is also sought for firewood and charcoal since it lights quickly, even in the presence of moisture.

The bark, leaves, and roots help to treat a variety of ailments throughout West and Central Africa. Boiled powdered bark is used as a painkiller, fresh bark or leaves are used to dress wounds to prevent infections. In Mali, the bark is used to treat measles and hypertension while the leaves or roots are used to treat meningitis and cramps in people and diarrhea in cattle. The fruit pulp is used in Burkina Faso to treat skin infections, whereas in Niger and Togo the fruit is used to treat dizziness. In Senegal, the leaves mixed with those of other trees and milk is used to treat snakebites, while in Benin the leaves are boiled to treat fainting and convulsions.

The tree itself is heat and drought tolerant and capable of thriving on infertile sites. With its many uses, the tree would be a good candidate for reforestation of degraded lands.

Its usefulness, hardiness, nutritive value, and ability to be propagated by budding also make the tree a good candidate for domestication, according to a study of wild African fruits in 2008 by the U.S. National Research Council.

Kim Kido is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Sep28

Transforming Vegetables into Products

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Vegetables are not only nutritious, but add taste and variety to staple foods, such sorghum, rice, and maize. But tomatoes, okra, and leafy greens, including amaranth, spiderwiki and other vegetables indigenous to Africa tend to have a short shelf life. Most are only available part of the year. During the “hungry” season before the rains come, rural communities have few ingredients available to add flavor to the staples they depend.

Danielle Nierenberg meets with staff at The World Vegetable Center in Bamako, Mali. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

At the AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center office outside of Bamako, Mali, however, researchers and scientists are working with farmers to make vegetables  available year-round through different preservation techniques. Theresa Endres, a community development specialist, is working with women farmers to determine not only which vegetables can be “transformed” into different products, but what products the women will actually want to use. Okra powder, for example, which is made from drying and then grinding okra, is commonly used in Mali for sauces; powdered tomato products, however, aren’t and the women prefer using fresh tomatoes for cooking.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), up to 50 percent of crops is wasted before it ever reaches the dinner table in Africa, making it more important than ever to find ways to preserve and transform food so that it’s available all year long.

Stay tuned for more on innovations that prevent waste in the food system State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, which will be released in January 2011.

Sep04

Video Spotlight of the Week

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Nourishing the Planet features a video each week to give you an inside peek at the different projects we see on the ground that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty. We showcase past favorites and some brand new videos you’ve never seen.  Check out Nourishing the Planet’s Youtube channel to see more.

In this week’s new video meet Mme. Coulibaly Maimouna Sidibe of the Faso Seed Company in Bamako, Mali as she introduces us to locally grown seeds and grains from her community.