Posts Tagged ‘Mali’
By Janeen Madan
You may not have heard of fonio, but it is Africa’s oldest cereal. For the Dogon people of Mali, fonio is “the seed of the universe” – an appropriate name considering its high nutritional value, and adaptability to the region’s soil and climate. From Lake Chad to the savannah regions of Senegal and Guinea, fonio is an important source of food for some 4 million people across West Africa.
It is one of the most nutritious of all grains. Fonio is rich in important amino acids – not found in wheat, rice, maize, or sorghum – such as methionine and cystine, which help synthesize protein. And its low sugar content makes fonio an ideal food for people with diabetes.
The plant can tolerate poor soils, which are often too infertile for other cereals, like sorghum and pearl millet. Given its adaptability, fonio is widely cultivated across the Fouta Djallon Plateau of Guinea, because it can grow on acidic soils with a high aluminum content that is harmful to other crops. And when low rainfall makes it difficult for farmers in Sierra Leone to grow rice in their paddies, they often turn to fonio to protect them from total crop failure.
Fonio is also among the world’s fastest maturing cereals. Crops produce grains as quickly as 6 to 8 weeks after being planted, and are ready to be harvested long before most other grains. During Africa’s hungry season, when farmers are waiting for other crops to mature, fonio becomes the “grain of life.” It is this property that gives fonio its popular English name, “hungry rice.” But people also grow fonio because they love how it tastes. (more…)
Madame Coulibaly does something that many seed dealers in Mali and other parts of Africa usually don’t do—she keeps her prices low enough for small, cash-scarce farmers to afford. And instead of packaging seeds in large volumes, Mme. Coulibaly provides seeds of sorghum, rice, millet, maize, ground nuts, cowpeas, and beans in various size packages, making them easier for farmers to buy and use.
Coulibaly explained that before she and her husband began Faso Kaba Seed Company, partly with funding from a grant from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, “people weren’t taking the seed from here (Mali), but taking it from the West.” In other words, there weren’t many places for farmers to buy locally produced and certified seed. That’s changing, however. In addition to advertising her products on radio and television, Mme. Coulibaly has hired and trained agro-dealers who travel to rural communities to sell seeds directly to farmers.
In addition to “being able to take care of me and my family,” from starting the seed dealership, says Coulibaly, she’s also been able to expand the business with two seed outlets, hire 6 full-time employees, and have part-time staff that helps package seed. Unfortunately, she says, it hasn’t been easy for her to find or hire women agro-dealers to reach more women farmers because it’s harder for them to travel. But women make up the majority of seed growers, working through cooperatives to provide seed to Faso Kaba.
More importantly, says Coulibaly, “people have told me that since they’ve started buying her seed they don’t have to buy additional food because they’re self-sufficient.”
Watch Mme. Coulibaly describe how her seeds are helping to improve her own livelihood, as well as the livelihoods of the local farmers that use her seeds:
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.
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.
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.
Listen to Radio Fanaka Fana and Radio Jigiya, in the Fana and Zégoua regions of Mali, and you are much more likely to hear tips for improving compost piles and soil quality than you are pop music hits or current events. That’s because the station is participating in Farm Radio International’s Africa Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), a project to test the viability of using radio as a tool for spreading agricultural information to farmers throughout Africa.
Farm Radio International is a Canadian-based, non-profit organization with partner broadcasters from over 300 radio stations in over 39 sub-Saharan African countries. Its programs reach an audience of over 600 million people speaking more than 300 languages, providing listeners with valuable information that is increasing harvest yields and improving livelihoods.
Though cell phones, computers, and televisions might seem like more obvious—and increasingly popular—forms of mass communication, the radio is still the least expensive and most widespread communications technology in Africa. In Mali, where the soil is often dry and eroded, AFRRI is taking advantage of radio’s popularity by working with local leaders and extension officers to present radio programs that can help farmers improve soil quality. Radio Fanaka Fana and Radio Jigiya—which have a combined audience of over 170,000 people— present regular shows promoting the use of compost pits to create organic fertilizer.
A case study for this particular campaign shows that farmers in the two radio stations’ regions were listening and responding to the programs in overwhelming numbers. In Radio Zégoua ‘s region alone, households practicing improved composting increased from just over 25 percent to over 89 percent. Farmers reported feeling more comfortable with local extension officers after hearing them on the radio, and—based on word of mouth— other communities outside the reach of the radio stations started requesting programs of their own. One outside community even built a homemade antenna so they could hear the programs being broadcast in the next region over.
To read more about innovations that use communication technology to improve farmer livelihoods, see: Makutano Junction Soap Opera, Using Digital Technology to Empower and Connect Young Farmers, Messages from One Rice Farmer to Another, Improving Women’s Access to Agriculture Training and A Sustainable Calling Plan.
This the second in a series about our visit to ECOVA MALI.
Madou Camara, the Country Director at the ECOVA training center, works with farmers, helping them learn more about agro-ecological methods of farming, including intercropping and perennial crops. Growing perennials, says Madou, helps to reduce labor and increase yields. Listen to him explain more about the importance of this type of farming in Mali:
To read part I of this series on ECOVA, see: Building Home Grown Knowledge
Check out this slideshow of photo highlights from our travels through sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve been traveling for a year, and this is just a taste from each country: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Niger. There are plenty more where these came from on our Flickr page.
In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, 60 percent of children come to school in the morning without breakfast, if they attend school at all. Many suffer from health and developmental problems, including stunted growth. Exhausted from hunger and poor nutrition, they often have trouble paying attention and learning during class.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) provides school meals for about 20 million children in Africa. While some national governments, including in Côte d’Ivoire, have provided school meals for decades, the food, fuel, and financial crises of 2007–08 highlighted the role that school nutrition programs can play in not only improving education, health, and nutrition, but also providing a safety net for children living in poverty. For some children, these programs provide the only real meal of the day.
Improved school menus provide students with much-needed nutrition while also creating an incentive for both students and parents to keep up regular attendance. Some programs include a take-home ration, targeted specifically at improving the attendance of girls. In exchange for an 80-percent attendance rate for one month, for example, students are able to take home a jug of vegetable oil to their family. Students also often share the nutrition information they learn at school with family members, helping to improve the nutritional value of meals made at home.
Earlier this year, the Partnership for Child Development (PCD), in partnership with the WFP and with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched the Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) program. HGSF, modeled in part after programs developed by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), works with governments to develop and implement school feeding programs, improving the diets and education of students while also creating jobs and supporting local agriculture.
Starting with five countries that were either already running school food programs or had demonstrated an interest in them and a capacity for implementation—including Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, and Ghana—HGSF hopes to create a bigger market for rural farmers through demand created by purchasing only locally grown and processed food for school meals.
“The definition of ‘local’ varies from country to country,” says Kristie Neeser, program coordinator at PCD. “Some schools keep their food purchasing within the local community and some keep their purchasing within the country. But what is most important is creating that relationship between the farmers and the government program.”
To best facilitate links between farmers and governments, HGSF works closely with the ministries of education to develop programs that will suit local needs and customs. In Ghana, for example, markets are run by “market queens,” women who purchase vegetables from farmers and then sell them to commercial buyers at markets. To avoid disrupting this system, HGSF works to incorporate the market queens with Ghana’s school purchasing process, instead of attempting to deal directly with the farmers, as programs in other countries often do.
Ultimately, HGSF hopes to work with 10 countries, transitioning each program to being fully government owned, funded, and implemented—creating a permanent safety net for school children and a dependable demand for local, small-scale, farmer-sourced produce.
As hunger and drought spread across Africa, a huge effort is underway to increase yields of staple crops, such as maize, wheat, cassava, and rice.
While these crops are important for food security, providing much-needed calories, they don’t provide much protein, vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, and other important vitamins and micronutrients—or taste. Yet, none of the staple crops would be palatable without vegetables.
Vegetables are less risk-prone to drought than staple crops that stay in the field for longer periods. Because vegetables typically have a shorter growing time, they can maximize scarce water supplies and soil nutrients better than crops such as maize, which need a lot of water and fertilizer.
Unfortunately, no country in Africa has a big focus on vegetable production. But that’s where AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center steps in. Since the 1990s, the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (based in Taiwan) has been working in Africa, with offices in Tanzania, Mali, Cameroon, and Madagascar, to breed cultivars that best suit farmers’ needs.
By listening to farmers and including them in breeding research, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center is building a sustainable seed system in sub-Saharan Africa. The Center does this by breeding a variety of vegetables with different traits—including resistance to disease and longer shelf life—and by bringing the farmers to the Regional Center in Arusha and to other offices across Africa to find out what exactly those farmers need in the field and at market.
Babel Isack, a tomato farmer from Tanzania, is just one of many farmers who visits the Center, advising staff about which vegetable varieties would be best suited for his particular needs—including varieties that depend on fewer chemical sprays and have a longer shelf life.
The Center works with farmers to not only grow vegetables, but also to process and cook them. Often, vegetables are cooked for so long that they lose most of their nutrients. To solve that problem, Mel Oluoch, a Liaison Officer with the Center’s Vegetable Breeding and Seed System Program (vBSS), works with women to improve the nutritional value of cooked foods by helping them develop shorter cooking times.
“Eating is believing,” says Oluoch, who adds that when people find out how much better the food tastes—and how much less fuel and time it takes to cook—they don’t need much convincing about the alternative methods.
Oluoch also trains both urban and rural farmers on seed production. “The sustainability of seed,” says Oluoch, “is not yet there in Africa.” In other words, farmers don’t have access to a reliable source of seed for indigenous vegetables, such as amaranth, spider plant, cowpea, okra, moringa, and other crops.
Although many of these vegetables are typically thought of as weeds, not food, they are a vital source of nutrients for millions of people and can help alleviate hunger. Despite their value, these “weeds” are typically neglected on the international agricultural research agenda. As food prices continue to rise in Africa—in some countries food is 50-80 percent higher than in 2007—indigenous vegetables are becoming an integral part of home gardens.
The hardiness and drought-tolerance of traditional vegetables become increasingly important as climate change becomes more evident.
Many indigenous vegetables use less water than hybrid varieties and some are resistant to pests and disease, advantages that will command greater attention from farmers and policymakers, and make the work of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center more urgent and necessary than ever before.
Abdou Tenkouano is director of the Regional Center for Africa of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center in Arusha, Tanzania. Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute.