Farming, livestock-rearing, and aquaculture are central to Mali’s economy. 83% of Malians live by agriculture, and the sector makes up 38 percent of gross domestic product. Growth in agriculture, however, is largely limited to cash crops and state-run agri-businesses. Smallholder farmers are especially vulnerable to drivers of change in Malian agriculture, as a growing population is putting pressure on land and water, and the climate appears to be shifting toward less rainfall and longer dry seasons.
Currently, women smallholders make up 30% the labor force in rain-fed agriculture and 100% for irrigated vegetable gardens. Despite women’s significant contributions to agriculture, Mali’s patriarchal society has restricted them from significant gains in the sector. Women’s workloads serve as a major barrier to their agricultural productivity, with responsibilities ranging from laboring on husbands’ or fathers’ fields, care-giving and preparing meals at home, collecting water, firewood and wild foods (to supplement diets), cleaning, and managing large households. Even when women are able to get access to land, it is often of poor quality and they lack the financial resources, inputs, or support to improve its productivity.
Research on environmentally sound farming techniques, laws and policies which commit government resources to agriculture and women farmers, and the strength of women’s collectives in many of the communities in which CARE operates all present opportunities for agricultural development in Mali. CARE Mali’s Nyéléni initiative is designed to use the Pathways model to build on these strategic entry points for gender and agricultural development.
Nyéléni is being implemented in four agricultural zones in central Mali—Kouroumari, Inter-Riverine, Inner Niger Delta, and Dogon Plateau, with a focus on farming, aquaculture, and livestock rearing. The overall objective of Nyéléni is to enable more productive and more equitable participation of selected segments of poor women smallholder farmers in sustainable agriculture within three livelihood systems, and to contribute to their empowerment. The initiative will directly impact 39,000 poor rural women from extremely poor households, as well as 167,500 other members of their households, with indirect impacts on the remaining 455,000 people from similar households in the intervention area through diffusion of impact, transfer of lessons, and achievement of key anticipated breakthroughs.
Key interventions being that make up the Nyéléni initiative include:
- Supporting collectives and community groups, especially women’s support and solidarity groups, functional agricultural interest groups, and other agricultural development stakeholder groups. Nyéléni will focus specifically on village savings and loan associations and smallholder producer groups.
- Promoting the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices, as well as joint ventures with the private sector, and achievement of quality standards for selected products. This approach will draw on the Ecoferme package which encompasses non-tillage and fertilizer micro-dosage; erosion control; zero-grazing; small irrigation; integrated management of vegetable nutrients; multi-use conservation areas; and diversification of crop varieties. Nyéléni will also establish cadres of extension workers to serve as a resource for farmers.
- Developing more inclusive and efficient markets, based on a value chain approach to market analysis. In targeted sectors, Nyéléni will establish an advisory board of technical specialists, consisting of leaders from producer associations and women entrepreneurs to provide technical guidance and to build capacity to expand the initiative into other sectors.
Additional approaches include: the utilization of action research to facilitate social change, engagement of power holders to solidify social change and acceptance of women farmers; strengthening of agricultural service provision with a focus on microfinance and extension services; and a review of the application and efficiency of legal frameworks and policies that promote more equitable access to land and other valuable assets.