Part of our new Summer Travel Blog series!

Driving to Mopti, the region in Mali where we work is like driving through a moonscape. The region is like a sauna–so dry and hot that it’s difficult to comprehend people farm in these conditions. The region only receives an average of 14 inches of rain per year, most of it in the rainy summer season. The wet season is the lifeline of farmers. I was impressed to learn how the farmers we work with are so resilient under these and many other difficult conditions.

Leanne Sedowski, a program officer with the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), recently returned from Mali, where she met with local farmers and trainers who participate in the Mopti Coordinated Area Development Program (Mopti Program), an initiative of the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even though 85% of Mopti area farmers grow millet or sorghum, only 28% of them grow enough to sell and eat year-round.

To reverse this trend, AKF USA is training farmers in improved methods in composting and techniques to prevent plant diseases and invasive parasites that can destroy their millet and sorghum. These improved methods can increase the farmers’ production so they have more to eat and sell.

During her trip to review progress with the Mopti Program, Leanne visited five villages in the area, Pèrimpè, Youré, Ourgnon, Soufouroulaye and Torokoro, and had a chance to talk to beneficiaries of the program as well as AKF USA’s community development agents who train the farmers.

Sitting down with farmers and trainers, Leanne sought to find out the impact of the Mopti Program. She found that AKF USA’s training is paying off. Leanne learned that farmers have seen a dramatic increase in production in just two years–from 80 sacks of grain per year to now nearly 120 sacks.   

Training in plant disease and invasive parasite control has also allowed local farmers to reclaim farmland abandoned, which has further increased production. One female farmer told Leanne, “We are using the new techniques AKF USA taught to stop pests from eating our plants. We use soap on the plants to keep the insects away and do not need to purchase chemicals (pesticides).”

Trainers have also introduced companion planting, which allows farmers to grow cowpeas between rows of millet or sorghum. Households can either eat the cowpeas, thus increasing the amount of food they have, or they can sell the cowpeas in the market and buy necessities like clothing, medicine and school fees.

Farmers are so eager to learn better techniques that village trainers are highly sought after. To meet this need, each trainer instructs selected farmers to not only be a better farmer but also a trainer. Villages select farmers who are trained and must pass down their knowledge by training 5 to10 other local farmers. In this way, the program’s reach becomes even greater.

Leanne learned that the most important improvement farmers wanted was to read and write. One farmer asked directly, “Can AKF USA send more trainers to each village to teach farmers to read and write? So many people want to learn, and the current trainers can’t train everyone.”

Currently nearly 95% of Mopti’s farming population is illiterate.

Leanne came away with new appreciation for local farmers, the problems they face in Mopti and the ways that AKF USA is helping improve their lives:

“With a stable government and as the target of investment and international assistance, visitors feel the tide against poverty in Mali is turning. Although tackling the challenge of poverty is a long-term process, I felt that Malians were positive about the changes in their lives and their country. I look forward to returning to see progress in the Mopti Program, listen to great Malian music and visit with such warm people!”

The Mopti Coordinated Area Development Program is an initiative of the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) and made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Department of Agriculture.