Mali: Beyond food relief: building community resiliency
Words and photos by Maria Mutya Frio, Food Crisis Communications Manager in World Vision, West Africa Regional Office
We’re in the middle of a 120-hectare field, baking under the scorching sun but Kiasy Mounkous, village chief of Ouane commune is all smiles. He stretches out his arms as he proudly shows us the land his community prepared for the planting season.
San province in southern Mali was one of the hardest hit areas by the food crisis in West Africa. In the Sahel belt, more than 18 million people across Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal and Chad have been affected. Droughts in late 2011 significantly decreased harvests, depleting food stocks that led to shortages in many provinces. This year, excessive rains inundated crops. Food supplies in markets dwindled as prices soared. For many families, especially children, this meant not having enough to eat day after day. The youth migrated to neighboring villages in the hope of getting better food security.
|Village Chief Kiasy Mounkous (right) in Ouane commune where World Vision helped communities through its food-for-work program|
“Last year it was very difficult. Shortness of rain was the cause of the food crisis,” recalls Mr. Mounkous. “During the past years we worked hard. It’s not because we are lazy. Our area is considered as the desert zone (Sahara). Geographically speaking we are in Segou region but we do not receive the quantity of rain that this region is supposed to receive,” he explains.
World Vision in Mali responded to the food crisis through its Emergency Operations food aid program with support from the World Food Programme (WFP), consisting of general food distributions, food for work, and nutrition programs. It has a cash value of US$ 1,010,370 and food value of US$ 2,434,143.
Apart from providing cash transfers, World Vision carried out a food-for-work program, supported by both WFP and USAID’s Office for Disaster Assistance (OFDA). In Ouan commune, leaders and community members themselves identified the work required in their area -- in this case land preparation and soil conservation of community fields. In return, World Vision provided basic food commodities to individuals registered under its electronic tracking system. Five members per family worked wherein each received 12 kg rice, 36 kg pulses (peas and beans) and 22.5 kg vegetable oil, which would last for at least three months.
Individuals under the program helped in building stone hedges in between agricultural plots to prevent soil erosion and inundating crops during heavy rains, which occurred in several areas in the middle of the year. They prepared the land and planted Jatropha trees known to withstand drought and pests. Oil can be extracted from the seeds which communities can sell or use for generator fuel. For 20 working days, 723 individuals contributed to the agricultural system that will help them survive another food shortage – for in these same lands, crops such as sorghum, millet and ground nuts are also planted and maintained by community members, the harvests from which many villages will collectively benefit.
“I am impressed with the community organization,” reveals Thokozani Hove, World Vision commodities manager in San province. “Many times when the food distribution is over, the project also dies. But here in Ouan they’ve organized themselves into groups and continue with the project well after the food distribution is over,” he explains.
The FFW program concluded in July but those who benefited from it continue to till the land since this is where their food security lies. And with good rains this year, the Department of Agriculture is optimistic about upcoming harvests. “We expect that harvests are good. Production this year will be twice more than the consumption,” says Arouna Sangare, Chief of Agriculture, San province. “Even with flooding and submerged crops, they will have a good harvest that will beat the record. Our concern now is to advise farmers how to manage the production because even with a good harvest, people surpass their usual consumption, therefore supply decreases,” he states.
The road to resiliency
Complementing the food relief response at the height of the crisis is World Vision’s on-going support in setting up, stocking and managing cereal banks. Food stocks here helped the poorest of families have food in their households especially during the lean season. World Vision provides sacks of cereals according to the size and needs of a family and they pay it back after the next harvesting season.
“We train communities in post-harvest management such as proper food storage,” says Bakary Thiero, World Vision’s Food Security National Coordinator in Bamako. “We advise them not to sell all their stocks at once, to estimate their household food need during the year, how much of their produce they should sell – whether vegetable, livestock or forestry products – and how to preserve and stock harvests,” he states.
In Mali, World Vision works in 25 area development programs that help build communities’ food security. Communities are trained in small-scale agriculture such as vegetable gardening which ensures at the very least, food security at the household level. Beneficiaries also learn how to use and gain access to improved seeds that are resistant to natural calamities such as drought or flooding.
Further, the Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration project or FMNR has helped reverse the effects of deforestation by restoring soil to become fertile and productive. This initiative has shown significant increase in crop yields not only in Mali but also in Niger, Senegal and Chad where World Vision runs the same projects.
In addition, World Vision helps mobilize community organizations such as farmers groups and small agro-entrepreneurs within the value chain like seed distributors and buyers, seed bag producers and cereal vendors in the market. Through shared information and collaboration, communities and groups are empowered to take stock of the whole agricultural process where they can maximize their respective investments and identify opportunities.
“We have a preparedness plan that is aimed to reinforce resiliency. One is to create and train a committee at the community level to help them respond to food crisis or natural catastrophes such as flooding,” shares Mr. Thiero.
“Second is to assist them towards rehabilitation and recovery, for instance by building road infrastructures, tree planting or FMNR. We advise them on agricultural conservation such as compost making or practicing crop rotation. Third is to train communities in post-harvest management such as proper food storage.”
Ouan village chief reflects on how World Vision has helped them. “World Vision knows how much we suffered from the food crisis. For those who are not living with us, they don’t know the degree [of our suffering]. World Vision is our eyes and our support,” he says.
More information on World Vision: www.wvi.org/