On a sandy plain below Mali’s majestic Bandiagara cliffs, Awa Tessougué describes how she and a group of women farmers are reshaping agriculture in their village, putting money in their pockets and improving their children’s nutrition in the process.
“In the beginning, my husband was sceptical about the project. Now, not only has he given me a larger plot of land so that I can grow more niébé (cowpea), but he also allows me to sell the family’s millet surplus to WFP,” she said.
Traditionally women in this region were denied access to land unless their husbands, who tended to cultivate millet for use in the home, consented. Some women were given tiny plots of land to grow crops for sale to cover some household expenses. Awa Tessougué was among a small group of women whose husbands or male relatives gave them small parcels of land on which they grew niébé, a type of cowpea that is rich in protein, for sale in local markets.
WFP, through its P4P initiative, recognised the challenges facing these women as they attempted to move from subsistence farming to larger scale production of crops for sale, and started to work with them in 2009.
Together with partners such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Government of Mali’s local agricultural extension agent, WFP worked with women farmers to increase their production and to provide a more resilient and higher yielding niébé seeds.
Thanks to these efforts, the women of Logo, which has grown to 200, steadily increased their sales of surplus niébé, from one metric ton in 2011 (valued at approximately US$700) to 14 metric tons (with an approximate value of US$13,500) in 2013.
Yapè Tessougué, president of the Logo women farmers’ organization, says the village chief, who once fiercely opposed the project, is now very supportive.
“He has given 200 hectares of farming land to our organisation for niébé and millet production. He also offered a portion a land on which WFP built a warehouse to store our stocks,” she said.
Awa Tessougué says that she can now pay her four children’s school fees, and is not dependent on her husband for all her needs.
“I even give my children a small amount of money to buy snacks during their break at school and I’ve noticed that they are now more motivated to go to school,” she said.
WFP and its partners have also educated the women of Logo on the benefits of consuming the nutrient- and protein-rich niébé, which in the past was almost exclusively grown for sale. Today, more and more women are using niébé in their own homes, and they explain that this has helped reduce child malnutrition rates in the village:
“My children are less often ill and look healthier since they started eating more niébé,” said Binta Dramé, another farmer and mother of six.
“The P4P project in Mali is very holistic as it brings together key aspects of development, such as nutrition, capacity building and gender empowerment,” said Ken Davies, the P4P global coordinator after he visited Logo in late September.
While the P4P pilot period is coming to an end this year, the support to smallholder farmers in Mali will continue. WFP is currently mainstreaming the best aspects of P4P into its overall activities in the country. Thanks to strong engagement from the Government, the support to smallholder farmers in Mali will be further expanded.
Despite significant achievements of the P4P pilot, many challenges remain. Poor access to credit still compels most of the smallholder farmers to sell part of their production immediately after the harvest at a low price. High post-harvest losses and poor transportation infrastructure are additional factors limiting farmers’ ability to sell at a fair price and to invest in increased productivity.
Story by Daouda Guirou originally published on WFP Mali's country web page.