Growing Grains and Empowering Women Farmers in Mali

Farming and production of cereal grains, such as sorghum, are important to the food security of communities in rural Mali and to women’s incomes.

Farming and production of cereal grains, such as sorghum, are important to the food security of communities in rural Mali and to women’s incomes.

A little more than a decade ago, women farmers in Wacoro, a small village in Dioïla, Mali, began forming groups to become more productive in growing cereal grains. At the time, the women’s groups were being supported by international NGOs Oxfam America and Freedom from Hunger, which placed an emphasis on helping the women develop financial savings and credit. Cereals, such as sorghum, which grows in a manner similar to corn, are important cash crops in Mali.

In 2016, 30 cereal farming groups in Wacoro, totaling about 800 women, united to create Binkola Cooperative. Together, they had more womanpower to do the actual farming, but they continued to face incredible obstacles. It was the challenges one would expect of farming that occurs in rural African communities that lack resources and infrastructure – the women didn’t have adequate equipment and tools, for example. But it was more extreme: They faced gender inequality.

“What complicated matters for us women is that we did not own land for farming, causing our production capacity to be low,” said Aminata Diarra, president of Binkola Cooperative. “Women normally had to wait until men had finished with the equipment, and we would often miss the critical season in which to farm.”

The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) began supporting the cooperative in September 2016, awarding them a two-year, $100,000 grant and providing local technical assistance. This effort became known as the Wacoro Cereal Marketing Project. USADF’s investment started addressing some of the most critical challenges.

Binkola Cooperative - Wacoro Cereal Marketing Project in Mali.jpg

With the grant funding, the cooperative purchased 30 plows and 60 cows, giving the women immediate access to some of the physical resources they desperately needed. According to Diarra, local leaders saw how productive the women were becoming and decided they would be allowed to own land. In 2018, they farmed across more than 75 acres.

USADF’s funding and support enabled the cooperative to build a storage facility and a central office as well. The women also received training on best agricultural practices, including organic compost production to increase soil fertility in an economic and environmentally sustainable way; and on financial literacy.

By the time the USADF grant ended in September 2018, the average woman’s income had increased by more than 500 percent. And many of the women expressed how this is allowing them to be able to pay for their children’s school fees – another responsibility that typically falls on women in their community.

Watch the video below of the impact USADF’s investment was making with the Wacoro women, midway through the grant project.