Africare: Doing Its Part to Help in the Mali Crisis

October 16th, 2012

Political upheaval and complex security problems in Mali, one of the world’s 10 poorest countries, threaten to destabilize Africa’s Sahel region – which is already in crisis from prolonged drought. Africare is addressing the country’s greatest problem, food security, using tested agronomic practices and the best of common sense traditions.

Africare’s System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Project in Mali received the 2010 Best Practice award from InterAction; the largest alliance of U.S. based international organizations.

SRI has yielded beneficial results in other African countries, and its introduction to Mali has been transformative.

The process, originally developed by a Jesuit priest named Fr. Henri de Laulanié in 1983, utilizes an irrigation and drainage system, using less water to grow larger hectares of crops – singly planting each rice seedling in moist, aerobic soil.

It is then carefully cultured from organic matter – mostly compost, which keeps the soil moist and reduces the need for watering. The many advantages of SRI include increased yields, less weeding, and stronger and faster plant development.

Furthermore, the environmental benefits associated with SRI methodology (e.g. reduced water requirements, intensification of production on less land, stronger stem and root systems, diminished methane gas emissions, reduced nitrogen fertilizer use) mean that even in the face of increasing climate variability, smallholder farmers are able to remain productive, secure, resilient and self-reliant.

Our mission in Mali is ultimately, to work with rural smallholder farmers to end the cycle of relief-based food aid distribution by building sustainable, resilient food security systems at the local level and creating initiatives— such as SRI and tree planting, to protect the environment.

Since March 2012, armed groups have occupied Mali’s North, forcing Africare to flee from the sustainable projects in Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. Operations were relocated to a region South of Timbuktu called the Kilukuru in the districts of Nara, Ouagadou and Dilly, where internally displaced persons from the North are settling and finding refuge.

In the meantime, despite this setback, the farmers working under the USAID funded project Timbuktu Food Security Initiative (TSFI) have yielded a better crop than projected this year.

The cooperatives established to support the smallholder farmers have come together to protect grain stocks against looting by armed groups, going as far as storing them in individual households.

We are confident that we will continue to do the work necessary in this area by empowering smallholder farmers to create a sustainable existence—regardless of the hardships they may face due to the political unrest in the country.