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Helping Farmers in Mali Develop Business, Weather a Political Crisis

Mali might have seemed an unlikely place for farming innovations and new agribusiness approaches to take root because of its outdated farming technologies, limited access to credit, climate variability, and political instability.

Yet Abt Global, through USAID’s Integrated Initiatives for Economic Growth in Mali (IICEM) project, successfully tapped Mali’s vast agricultural potential, introducing practical tools and new approaches to growing, marketing and processing rice, millet and sorghum.

IICEM – USAID/Mali’s cornerstone economic growth program under the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative – helped strengthen weak links along the entire value chain of these staple crops, from smallholder farmers to supermarket buyers.

Lowering Costs, Growing Profits

The project continueddespite a 2012 coup d'état and rebel takeover of Mali’s north, by dealing directly with farmers’ associations, traders, bankers and processors.

Key achievements of IICEM include: 

  • Increased crop productivity: Achieved yield increases of more than 56 percent for millet/sorghum farmers – a key Feed the Future value chain;
  • Secured harvests: 158 new warehouses helped farmers maintain harvest quality and facilitate grouped sales to wholesalers for a better yield;
  • Strengthened agricultural markets: More than half of 2013 crop sales were sold through 222 formal sales contracts, a 93 percent jump over the previous year;
  • Improved access to finance: 3,300 farmers received bank financing in 2013, one-fourth of whom were women;
  • Market-led innovation: Sales contracts and bank financing were a first for Mali’s millet/sorghum value chain, with 140 sales contracts and 103 loans in 2013;
  • Stimulated private sector investment: More than $9.5 million in private investment was leveraged in target value chains: and 
  • Supported new infrastructure: 29 new dams and 48 rehabilitated irrigation canals helped improve more than 8,700 acres of farmland.  “IICEM helped transform subsistence crops into commercial products, which brought farmers more income and higher prices for better quality crops,” said Jean-Francois Guay, IICEM’s director.  

 “The project also visibly impacted farming by supporting communities as they built new irrigation infrastructure, which boosts crop yields, conserves water, and reduces pumping and production costs by up to 50 percent,” Guay said.  
“We use much less diesel for our pumps than we did before,” said Souleyman Kouyate, a farmer in Dire, in the north of Mali. “We don’t spend as much money on fertilizer, rice seed, or fuel as we did before.”

Taking Agribusiness to the Next Level

But IICEM’s longest-lasting impact may be in helping to formalize the business of agriculture in Mali: Encouraging farmers to sell as groups, traders to sign purchase contracts, and bankers to finance improved seeds and other necessities with the reassurance that farmers will have revenue to pay them back.
“Before the project, the wholesalers set the price of millet and we were forced to accept it,” said Djeneba Goita of the Yeredon Ton women’s association in Nizanso, southern Mali. “But now with the project, there is a contract between the producers and the wholesalers. This put us in a better bargaining position so that we were able to sell the millet at a better price.”
Under a more predictable system — and with help from IICEM to build trust and improve farmers’ loan documentation — bankers began financing millet and sorghum farmers for the first time in Mali.
“Before, the bank didn’t give loans to millet farmers. The bank gave credit to cotton farmers only,” said Fadjigui Dembele, a cooperative president from Sougoula in southern Mali. “IICEM helped us build the capacity of our cooperative, to form stronger relations with the bank. We wrote the names of the farmers and gave it to IICEM. They help us to prepare correctly our documents and go to the bank for the loan.”

Lending During a Crisis

After the 2012 coup, the project mounted a crisis food security response for project partners in the hard-hit northern areas of Mopti and Timbuktu. IICEM acted as a lender, enabling farmers to buy crucial supplies such as improved seeds and fertilizer. To ensure sustainability, IICEM required farmers to save enough of their crops to finance future planting seasons.
View videos about IICEM:
Innovations for Food Security in Mali
Reinforcing Food Security in Timbuktu

Sub-Saharan Africa