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.
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.
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.