In Mali, one of the poorest countries in Africa, the basic challenge for most families is getting enough food and nutrition. Communications Fellow Marriam Shah recently spoke with Schafer Bomstein, Regional Grants Manager with the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in Mali, about how AKF overcomes these challenges.
What Aga Khan Foundation projects in Mali are funded by U.S. donors?
There are four U.S.-funded projects in Mali:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress III (with partners ACDI/VOCA and Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance)
- AKF’s project with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), “Scaling-up Climate-Smart Agroforestry Technologies for Improved Market Access, Food and Nutritional Security in Mali (SmAT-Scaling)” and
- Two projects with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), are called “Large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Systems in Mali” and “Disseminating Learning Agenda on Resilient-smart Technologies to Improve the Adaptive Capacity of Smallholder Farmers in the Mopti Region, Mali.”
These projects contribute significantly to AKF’s Mopti Coordinated Development Program, which spans rural development, healthcare, education and civil society strengthening. Together these programs address major obstacles of malnutrition, access to markets, and climate change that Malian families face.
What is the Mopti Coordinated Area Development Program?
Consistent with the integrated approach of multi-input area development, the Mopti Coordinated Area Development Program combines interventions in health, education, rural development, financial services and civil society to improve the quality of life for people in the Mopti region, one of the poorest in the country. In rural development, the program works in four main areas: improving farmer productivity, enhancing marketing for farmers’ production, increasing access to financial services, and building strong community organizations.
How do the four U.S.-funded projects contribute to rural development in Mali?
The USDA-funded Food for Progress project aims to develop markets for millet and sorghum, two highly nutritious crops that are native to Mali. By increasing market development, farmers will be able to access new buyers for their harvests. This project will link producers to larger markets, thus increasing the opportunity for improved livelihoods. Food for Progress works closely with the many female farmers in Mali to encourage a wider impact that has a positive ripple effect. As many of the farmers are women, this program ensures that they are better able to provide for their families and become recognized as valued members of their society.
The World Agroforestry Center is working with farmers to implement agroforestry practices. Through theSmAT-Scaling, AKF is helping farmers to introduce agroforestry into cereal production to mitigate the effects of climate change and increase dietary diversity. One technique involves planting ‘live fences’ which are permanent hedge or mass of trees surrounding cropland, sturdy enough to protect crops with added agricultural benefits. For example, in Mali, live fences can improve soil fertility by adding nutrients. And, farmers can improve their families’ diets with the fruits and other tree products that are produced by the live fences.
As part of the Global Climate Change project, AKF is conducting a participatory study that will explore what communities can do to mitigate the effects of climate change. Part of the study will involve scaling up working techniques, meaning that pre-existing solutions can operate on a larger scale to accomplish greater results. The Millet and Sorghum project focuses on training farmers in practices that increase millet and sorghum crop productivity. As these crops are native to Mali and have a high nutritional value, increasing their production will be valuable to the community at large.
How have these programs affected the lives of the people in Mali?
AKF projects in Mali reinforce one another to improve the quality of life holistically, a method known as integrated development. One example is the Mother Care and Child Survival Project in Mali. This Canadian-funded project specializes in improving prenatal care, childbirth, and postnatal care. The project also combats malnutrition of young children by training community health workers to test children for malnutrition. When children are deemed moderately or acutely malnourished, their mothers participate in a local training on how to cook highly nutritious recipes using local ingredients.
Women farmers who learn to produce high-quality vegetables in the Food for Progress project often also participate in the Mother Care and Child Health Survival project. This way, they can use vegetables they are growing as part of their nutritious recipes. When I visited a nutrition seminar, I asked an older man if these seminars were actually useful. He said “we used to have a lot of sick kids. They were tired, they were dying. We didn’t know what it was. Now, we understand that this sickness was malnutrition. Today, we don’t have this sickness in the village anymore. ”
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope that these programs are sustainable and long lasting and I hope that we continue to see integrated development across the various sectors in a way that improves Malians’ quality of life.