Mali spans three climatic zones, but in general the country experiences two distinct seasons, dry and wet. Droughts often result in devastating crop losses and it can sometimes take three plantings to yield just one crop. When the rains do come, they can come all at once, provoking flooding or water logging with disastrous impacts on crops.
Unequal rain distribution and very short and unpredictable rainy seasons remain the main challenges to adequate food production and food security of peasant communities. Producing locally adapted seeds capable of weathering the difficult environment is extremely important.
In addition to harsh climatic conditions, the recent political unrest that affected the country, in particular in the North, including the Douentza area, and the fragile return to peace, are other important obstacles to food, nutritional and economic security.
USC Canada in Mali
USC Canada’s program in Mali is anchored in over two decades of active presence, namely in the northern region of the country. USC-Mali operates in 31 communities in the Mopti region. Our Seeds of Survival program is being implemented together with small farmers to strengthen the resilience of local farming systems and support community-based seeds supply systems.
USC Canada also works with Cab Dèmè So, a Malian national NGO, in the commune of Safo outside the capital city, Bamako, reaching out to 14 villages to enhance agro-biodiversity for greater food sovereignty.
In the last five years, through our support, the network of seven established seed banks expanded to nine community seed banks (CBS) and one field gene bank, despite incredible political instability and armed conflict. Farmer networks and seed bank resources, well established in our program communities, enabled planting, harvesting and adaptation to continue.
USC Canada’s role is to support community efforts to build and increase resilience in this challenging environment. Our programming aims to diversify the varieties of crops planted to spread the risk of crop failure. To this effect, USC Canada puts biodiversity at the heart of its work promoting both gene banks (conservation of diversity) and seed banks (multiplication and dissemination of locally adapted seed varieties). With each season, saving and sharing seeds of the hardiest varieties of millet, bean and sorghum offers farmers an increased number of planting choices.
USC Canada’s Local Partners
A key feature of the program is to support farmers’ organizations. USC-Mali has been working closely with farmers and supported the creation of the Coordination of Village Committees for Activity Monitoring and Evaluation6 (CCVGSE) and the Community Seed Bank (CSB) Network in Douentza. Both organizations have been playing a key role since the beginning of the conflict in northern Mali, by taking on community accompaniment, data collection and program activities monitoring.
Cab Dèmè So works with and supports the Dunka Fa Cooperative in Safo and women’s groups, in particular those active in the Dognoumana and Somabougou ecological farms. The program focuses on strengthening food sovereignty and biodiversity trough production increase, crops varieties multiplication and market garden activities. Cab Dèmè So seeks to consolidate women farmer leadership and enhance women’s revenue through the establishment of ecological farms for market gardening and agro-forestry and providing and support and accompaniment to 56 women’s groups. Also, Cab Dèmè So does a lot of awareness raising campaigns through supporting a youth theatre group, on issue such as organic composting and access to seed and gene banks.
Our Seeds of Survival program in Mali concentrates on reducing foreign seed dependency. Programming aims to enable better access to seeds through conservation in CSBs and crop multiplication and improvement through participatory varietal selection (PVS) activities. Farmers have diversified the types of crops they cultivate and are cultivating improved local varieties, enhancing the community’s seed security. Almost 3,000 farmers are involved in PVS activities – a crucial element in expanding seed diversity and adapting to changing climate conditions.
Activities to address climate change adaptation in the Mali program include work on soil and water conservation, agro-forestry and multiplication of improved local varieties. In recent years, USC-Mali Seeds of Survival program focused on:
- enhancing farmers’organisations autonomy
- the consolidation of gender equality at all stages of agro-biodiversity activities
- the development of vegetable seed production, market-gardening during the cold season, and post-harvest conservation and transformation activities
- ongoing work including PVS, CSBs (through seed supply, equipment and credit funds), and different capacity building workshops for producers, CSBs and cereal bank managers
Much of the programming concentrates on producing crops for market. Market-gardening programming and seed grants focus especially on women farmers as a way of increasing household economic and nutritional security. USC Canada and our partners have provided hundreds of women with seeds that they can cultivate year-round.
With one ecological farm already underway producing vegetables and practising agro-forestry, a second farm is currently being equipped. The women will use this farm for market gardening and agro-forestry for species with high market value.