What follows are excerpts from a report by Severin Oman on a Women’s Community Garden project in Mali, West Africa, sponsored by the Earth Institute Millennium Village Project (MVP) and the Columbia Water Center. The project is located within the Tiby, Mali, Millennium Village cluster.
The project’s objective is to assist the women of the village of Koila-Markala to rise out of poverty – increasing the revenues they generate and reducing malnutrition in the village – by supporting women’s horticulture activities.
Nearly a decade ago, Sidiki Darago, a forward thinking man from the village of Koila-Markala, began to grow melons during the rice off-season. He created a garden in a small section of the rice growing plain known as Tibibas. An informal canal runs the length of the plain, from the major irrigation channel at the northern end to an overflow pond on the southern side. After the January rice harvest the water slowly recedes from the area, eventually exposing the 365 hectare plain.
The plain area to be made into the garden:
By April the land which borders the canal and the pond is sufficiently dry to begin planting, with three months before the rice season begins in July. Seeing the potential offered by the three months of dry land situated along the permanent water reservoir of the canal, Sidiki seized the opportunity to grow vegetables during a time of the year which was otherwise unproductive for the peasants. Women from the village of Koila-Markala also began cultivating along the canal banks. Their primary crops were melons and cucumber, followed by okra and a few watermelons.
A meeting with the women and men of the village to discuss the women’s garden project:
In 2010 the MVP/Columbia Water Center project approach would aim to improve production while continuing to support the women’s group to attain better organization and sell into higher value markets. The Koila-Markala women’s group would begin to operate as a cooperative enterprise, with value-adding activities across each of the value chain’s links, rather than acting as an unconnected bunch of individuals, following no best practices and reaping minimal benefits.
The men begin preparations to build the fence around the garden area:
When asking the women why they did not cultivate a larger area – as an entire 365 hectare plain lies at their disposal – the primary reasons were two: the expense and difficulty of gathering brush to build a fence and the exhausting task of hauling water in buckets to water their plants by hand. MVP designed a plan, through many discussions with the men and women of the village, to overcome these two constraints.
The issue of animals eating the plants is certainly a serious one, as Koila-Markala is in an agro-pastoral zone, where livelihoods are based on the cultivation of cereals such as rice, and from herding cattle, goats and sheep. During the dry off-season, the plain of Tibibas is covered with roaming animals seeking sustenance from the dry stalks left from the rice harvest. A green garden of melons would be quickly consumed by the cattle if not protected.
MVP designed a system of chain-link fencing supported by bamboo poles, which was installed by a group of men from the village. The bamboo poles reduce the cost of the fencing, and will make the fence more easily removable at the end of the season.
The fence being built:
MVP also researched irrigation methods which would liberate the women from their hand watering practices and enable them to irrigate larger areas more quickly.
As the growing season is only at its midpoint, and data collection is still underway, it is too early to report on the 2010 results. It is evident however, that the area cultivated by the women has greatly expanded. The ambitious effort to fence 30 hectares ended with the peasants fencing about 25 hectares, with most of the area within the fence planted with melons, watermelons, cucumber and okra.
The women rest from watering their planted garden by hand:
MVP is in the process of taking GPS coordinates of each individual plot, determining the percentages of improved seeds planted in the plots, and tracking each woman’s expenses.
We hope that when we subtract the women’s expenses from their sales, we will find that the women of Koila-Markala will have moved closer to rising above the “two dollars per day” poverty line.
Watch for more information about the Tiby project on the Millennium Villages website.
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