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Helping Water Work for Women in Mali

Meeting with the women's association in Koila-Markala.

Last month I went to visit our Mali project site with two other Columbia Water Center staffers, Daniel Stellar and Abdrabbo Shehata. We visited the village and garden where we worked last year (Koila Markala and Tibibas, respectively) and many other gardens where we hope to work in the future. All of these areas are within the Millennium Village Tiby cluster. Farmers here mainly grow rice, and in smaller quantities they also grow horticultural crops in gardens, such as shallots and melons. But unfortunately they face a number of challenges which make it difficult for them to make much of a profit from their fields. With our project, we are hoping to help them improve their irrigation systems, increase the diversity of their crops, increase their plot sizes, and make other changes that will lead to increasing their incomes.

Residents of Koila-Markala giving feedback on the project.

In 2010 our project in the Tiby cluster worked to support and improve horticulture (done mainly by women) in the village of Koila-Markala. The program helped to finance improved fencing and the purchase of 12 water pumps, and also helped connect the women to higher value markets in which to sell their produce (melons in this case). In an earlier post we posted excerpts and pictures from a progress report. The growing season has since ended and the results show that the project’s interventions made it possible for incomes to increase two to three times.

Last month we went to Koila-Markala and met with the women’s association and a group of men who are rice farmers to get their feedback about the project. They told us that not only did their incomes increase, but they also saw other positive effects, such as not having to send their children out of the village to find work for the season. We also talked about what they would like to do in the next phase of the project. Ideas included assisting them with organizing groups to do the seeding, tilling, irrigating and other gardening tasks, and also helping to finance the purchase of fuel for the irrigation pumps.

Meeting with farmers from another garden within the Tiby cluster.

While there we visited other gardens within the Tiby village cluster and found that though most of them were in varying states of disrepair, people were still doing their best to use them. One of the most difficult challenges is watering these gardens. While the Niger River and canals are not all far away, they are lacking the infrastructure to efficiently transport the water to irrigate their fields. As a result, they mostly have to use buckets to water their gardens, which takes up a huge amount of time and energy and makes it impossible for them to garden larger plots.

We are still working out the details for the next phase of the project, which is funded by the PepsiCo Foundation, but we are hoping that it will include an expansion to include some of these neighboring villages and gardens. We are really looking forward to returning to Mali in 2011!

For many more pictures from our trip, check out our Flickr page.

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13 years ago

Dear people.

To see work like this done, it does bring relief to the many problems mankind faces.
I would like to ask just a few questions and hope this does not sound inappropriate.
So for your project:
Does the project change the amount of their being self – sufficient farmers?
Does the self sufficiency lower or does it rise?

Do the people abandon techniques, used maybe for a long time, in favour of using water pumps for instance, but at this time relying heavily on input from “outside” resources like spare parts and possibly ever more expensive fuel?

Could, while the fence is in place, this time be used to plant hedges, which in return could replace the fence some time and this be used somewhere else?

Maybe the questions can sort of deliver the point I’m aiming at:
Whatever help is provided and resources brought in from outside, what will happen if the help and outside resources for some reason diminish?
How much know how of previous days will be lost by then?
(This I am asking as almost all food growing has become entirely dependant on the use of fossil fuel,the know how to do otherwise is lost and I dearly wish that we could somehow return to production similar to the techniques the Amish people use)

Is there a way of doing the (much valued) work you are doing, in evaluating the local resources and try to rely entirely on these?

Well, I do hope these questions are admitted and maybe in some way considered as reasonable.
Wishing all the best. Kind regards. Answers most welcome.

13 years ago

I did not see a reply to your queries you posted and found them to be quite valid. I have spent many years in Mali working in the private sector and have seen many programs that come along that are really half-baked seemingly to allow foreigners to come in and feel good about themselves. It is a rare occasion when an organization, or a person comes in with the dedication to understand the variety of cultural differences, Mali’s lack of understanding of more modern technologies, or teaching them to see the big picture. Mali is a day to day, hand to mouth civilization.

I have travelled all over the world and find Malians to be some of the kindest, warmest people I have met; yet they are extremely reliant on outsiders helping them get food on the table, purchase medicine, pay for education, or maybe purchase a small motorcycle. Many times you will find Malians doing things that may seem to be somewhat unethical to the foreign eye, yet there is usually a reason of need behind it.

One day I hope to see a group go to Mali to look for a project that is needed, not get off the plane with a prepackaged idea of what they think is needed. In order to do this you would need to spend at least 2 years on the ground learning about their needs, and teaching them about the big picture. Providing Mali with a way to grow a garden is great if there is enough to feed those involved and then show a profit large enough to support their family, otherwise it is just a second job you are filling their day with while the groups are spending thousands of dollars just on airfare to fly in people who would not be qualified to get a job in a garden center in their hometown.


Samantha Tress
13 years ago

Dear Bernhard and Donald,
Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments and questions, and apologies for taking some time to get back to you. I certainly want to address your questions.
Does the project change the amount of their being self – sufficient farmers? Does the self sufficiency lower or does it rise?
We have completed one full horticulture season with the melon garden at Tibibas. The project provided fencing materials, pumps and seeds, and the farmers are repaying us for these inputs over time. They do not have the capital to purchase these inputs up front, but they are still paying for them, while at the same time their incomes are increasing through the benefits from the inputs. We also helped to connect them to buyers who will pay higher prices for their produce, with the hope that they will continue to come back to these growers each year. It’s hard to define self-sufficiency, but I would say that these program elements will make them more self-sufficient over time.
Do the people abandon techniques, used maybe for a long time, in favour of using water pumps for instance, but at this time relying heavily on input from “outside” resources like spare parts and possibly ever more expensive fuel?
The infrastructure for irrigation in the area is very old, poor and in disrepair in general. Previous to our assistance with this melon garden, they were watering their plots by hand with buckets of water drawn from the nearby canal. Using pumps is a change, but it vastly cuts down on the number of hours spent carrying water, and increases the area they can garden.
Could, while the fence is in place, this time be used to plant hedges, which in return could replace the fence some time and this be used somewhere else?
This is a great idea, and people in the area do use “live fences” at other gardens, but it wouldn’t work in this particular situation. A moveable fence is necessary for this particular field because the use of it changes by season. They did the melons in a smaller area of the field during the dry season, but in the wet season the field is flooded and they use the whole area for rice. When we were talking to these farmers they told us that this fence was much better at keeping animals out than what they had previously.
Regarding Donald’s remarks, we certainly agree that this needs to be implemented with the full buy-in of the farmers and villagers involved and that this has to actually be useful for them. This project is being done in partnership with the Millennium Villages Project. Most of the staff at the nearby office are Malian, and they are the implementing team for this project. In addition, this project was built in conjunction with the community involved, through months of village meetings and discussions about what they need. When I was lucky enough to visit, the farmers told us about what they would like to see us to in the next season, and those suggestions are what we are working on now.
Thanks again,

12 years ago

[…] interest the development of a customized tensiometer’s to help rice farmers in that country. The Mali portion of the Rural Outcomes project, conducted in partnership with the Millennium Villages Initiative, […]