“When CARE said we should give a field to women, and that they could make the soil better, we gave them the worst land in the village. We didn’t think they could do it. Now, that land and those techniques are more productive than anything else we do.”
Brahima Famanta is a volunteer extension agent on CARE’s Pathways project in Mali. He works in the village of Dona, about 300 kilometers away from the capital city. He and Djeneba Djoni are the two agents work with the local women farmer’s association to adopt improved agriculture techniques that offer ways to cope with climate change, increase the health of the soil, dramatically raise crop yields (the women told me their production doubled), and increase dietary diversity. For them, this project has proven not only that the techniques work to improve yields, but also that women can do anything men can do—and that everyone can do more if women and men work together.
I asked the community what the biggest changes are that they have seen since Pathways started, and I got some intriguing answers. These answers reflect Pathways unique approach agriculture, which includes more nutrition education, and a focus on the female farmer, and to thinking about gender equality as a critical component of food and nutrition security.
Oumar Coulibaly, the imam in the village, told me, “There is not a single person in this village who has not benefited from the project. Now, we all get to eat vegetables at home, and our diets have improved a lot. Vegetables are available all year, and we don’t have to pay for them in the market. Nutrition is better for men, women, and children.” It’s pretty rare to have an imam who can extol the nutritional value of vegetables, but it made an impact on Oumar.
The chief tells another story. “About the time CARE started working with us to plant moringa trees (a species of tree that is very drought resistant and has a lot of nutritional value), a woman died while giving birth to a little boy. Before, he would never had survived. But we were able to make him porridge with moringa leaves, and at 5 years old, he is big and healthy.”
Salimata Coulibaly talks about how decisions in her life have completely changed. “Before, men and women couldn’t even sit together to talk. You would not even have had men and women come to this meeting together. The project changed that. It brought men and women together to talk about our lives. When my husband realized how much work I have to do every day, he decided that he would be responsible for gathering water to make my life easier. Now, my husband and I make decisions together. We discuss everything, from how to feed our kids, to when to sell our crops, to what health decisions we can make. We work together to have a better life.”
Assitan Coulibaly sees that her children are literally bigger than they would have been before. “I started exclusive breastfeed with one child, even though the village didn’t really believe in it. That child grew bigger and healthier than any of my other children.”
Those are pretty big impacts on a person’s life, but the women of Dona are not ready to stop there. They have big plans to keep improving their lives, and in the lives of others.
One major goal they have is to use information to make decisions, and to plan ahead. “We’ve learned that planning is critical for everything we do. Now, we keep careful records of what we have done in an area, and how much we have invested in a crop. Then we measure how much we have produced. Before selling, we check the market price, and see if we’re going to make a profit. If not, we’ll store it until the prices go up.” In fact, this year, with 20 sacks of sesame, they sold 5 sacks to meet expenses, and are keeping the other 15 for a time when the market is better.
The women aren’t content with only benefitting themselves, either. Each woman goes home and teaches other people in her family about the new techniques she has learned. They raise money as a group to build and repair infrastructure like wells and pumps in the community. And each of the 124 members of the group has committed to sharing new techniques with 5 other people, so that they can make sure other people’s lives change. In fact, while I was there, a reporter from the local radio station was doing interviews so that the women could share what they know with even more people.
When these women get a little, they give a lot back. They are making sure that their lives will improve now, and that everyone can have a better life in the future.
– Contributed by Emily Janoch