Agro-economist and PRECAD project leader, Salif Kanté, is working with some 25 villages to improve livelihoods for farmers through access to technologies and enterprise development. He guides communities in choosing ‘village teams' of four to six individuals to receive training, who return later to share their knowledge and experiences with others in the community. Farmer field schools and demonstrations help farmers improve their farming practices through fertilizer use, better fodder for their animals in the dry season, and improved storage of their produce after harvest. At the same time, the farmers learn the business skills they need to better manage their income and expenditures.
Faso Jigi is improving access to markets by collecting and selling cereals and ensuring farmers receive the best prices for their produce. In the first year of the PRECAD project, four villages sold 88 tons of millet and sorghum, the locally produced cereal. New storage facilities also mean rural communities can store surplus grain beyond harvest time, and until the prices improve.
The partnership is optimistic that the program can be successfully transferred to many other communities in Mali.
Strengthening organizational capacities
In 2007 PRECAD broke new ground in capacity building in these communities. Twenty-five farmers were trained in the advantages and process of organizing themselves into officially recognized farmers’ association. These farmers then went on to instruct 532 people. Subsequent to these training events, five heads of informal farmer’s associations developed their organizational capacities and are now on their way to registering themselves as cooperatives. This will give them recognition within their local governments and position them to increase their economic influence with private actors in the supply chain.
Five farmers' organizations received their official certificate as a cooperative: two seed producers each from Cinzana and from Katiena, one grain producer from Cinzana , one sesame producer and and one nursery and plant producer. The sesame cooperative was able to sign a contract with wholesalers for more than 25 tons (at CFA 275 per kg).
PRECAD also helps to develop farmers’ marketing capabilities. Owing to extensive training, over 530 producers joined Faso Jigi, among Mali’s largest cooperatives, and received 17.5 million CFA as advance for expected future sales of 358 tons of cereals after the harvest in 2008. This advance by Faso Jigi permitted producers to buy inputs for their farms, which is expected to lead to better crops and higher yields.
Bulding technical competencies
In the same vein, over 1,200 people were trained on techniques to improve yield. These technologies are adapted to local situations to ease integration by farmers, for example, techniques on how to produce and use compost effectively, how to rotate cereals effectively for soil conservation, how and when to use fertilizers in micro-dosage, how to enrich straw with urea as fodder for oxen and cows, and how to conserve production after harvest. Over 800 people reportedly apply these techniques in 25 villages
Promoting new products and services
PRECAD also investigates how farmers can diversify their sources for revenues. Most farmers have little access to money and face difficulties to exchange goods in the marketplace, often resorting to bartering. PRECAD gave credit – in effect a village cash fund - to ten women’s associations so that they can start micro-business activities like buying and selling soap, rice, fish, and other basic products in the local marketplace. From the initial 1.5 million CFA given, these associations were able to increase the village fund to over 5.8 million CFA in one year. The effort underlying this simple but effective initiative will be expanded to other villages of Katiena and Cinzana to help improve livelihood of smallholder farm communities there.