It has been well-documented that increasing women’s financial power is one of the most effective ways to develop a country (see: World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development). Mali is no exception, but due to laws that limit the amount of land women can hold, Malian women work mainly on small plots as horticulture farmers which can restrict profits. Improving horticulture practices, however, offers a unique opportunity to address gender inequality, as it is practiced almost exclusively by women. In the Tiby Millennium Villages Project (MVP), vegetable production occupies 70% of female labor and is a vital source of household income and nutrition.
Investments in augmenting women’s capacity to sell high-value vegetable crops were made early by the MVP team in Mali. Before the MVP work began, there were only a few functioning horticulture gardens where nearly 3,000 women farmers were growing fruit and vegetables such as shallots, okra and watermelon in an area called Sama. Implementation barriers to fully exploiting these gardens were mainly due to the lack of fencing from agro-pastoral animals eating the crops and the lack of water sources. These barriers were addressed by the Tiby MVP team through designing a system of chain-link fencing supported by bamboo poles, which was installed by the local community.
To address the second barrier, a subsidized credit scheme to supply motor pumps was introduced. Using motor pump technology, women no longer had to haul in heavy buckets of water for their crops. Instead, they were able to irrigate 100 acres in only two days. Coupled with these infrastructure improvements, regular monitoring and technical training in seed production, planting, harvesting and marketing strategies helped boost yields of household consumption, with surplus vegetables sold in local markets. Women’s cooperative groups are currently under development in Tiby as production has increased steadily over the past couple of years.
The promotion of women’s horticulture in Tiby experienced initial success with more than 500 women taking out microloans for motor pumps. But more rapid uptake by more women farmers was challenged by their reluctance to take risks, likely as a result of living in a subsistence manner for so long. The Tiby MVP team is working with business and community members on several creative approaches in order to help women engage in more productive enterprises, thus increasing the value of their products and generating more income for their villages.