Mali smallholder farmers see benefits of smart climate agriculture technologies

Farmers harvest millet in Mali. Photo by: P. Casier / CGIAR / CC BY-NC-SA

ABIDJAN — While African agriculture experts emphasize the need to transform the continent’s raw food materials into finished goods, the impact of climate change — inconsistent rains and rising temperatures — could be disastrous for smallholder farmers seeking to maintain yields and harvest products beyond subsistence farming. 

During the African Green Revolution Forum held in Abidjan earlier this month, leading researchers on agriculture discussed ways to build farmer resilience and adapt to climate change in Africa. An estimated 60 percent of the continent’s workforce is in agriculture — the majority being small-scale farmers. With a booming population that needs to be fed and nourished, the imperative for the development community is to mitigate the impact of climate change.    

Speakers at the Abidjan meeting urged attendees to acknowledge the need to adopt farming techniques that can help them adapt to the shifting climate. Without these steps, climate change could cause Africa’s agricultural productivity fall at a time when it desperately needs to rise.

“Africa contributes to 4 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. There is scientific evidence that a 2 percent increase in temperature would result in 10 percent reduction in agriculture production in Africa by 2050,” Hamady Diop, head of natural resources and governance at New Partnership for Africa's Development, told the audience.

Creation of agribusinesses and 'agripreneurs' key topics at AGRF

Agriculture experts at the African Green Revolution Forum urged Africa to transform the sector by creating more agribusinesses and providing a stable and enabling environment for private investors. Experts also discussed the need for capacity development of smallholder farmers to increase yields.

Experts predict, however, that if preparations are effectively in place, the African agricultural sector could be a real driver of economic development and growth.

“The way I see it is that developing resilience looks at protecting growth objectives, so you start with the assumption that you are trying to find a way where smallholder farmers can gain access to prosperity through agriculture,” Andrew Mude, an analyst at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute, said during the conference.

During an April visit to the millet-growing central region of Mali, Devex learned how local farmers near Sevare are seeing significantly more yields following their adoption of climate-smart agriculture techniques. Since 2009, a project sponsored by the World Food Programme and Catholic Relief Services has been introducing new technologies, crop varieties and techniques suited to Mali’s dry conditions.

Farmers here are now knowledgeable of intercropping, rotation, microdosing and composting — practices internationally-recognized as climate-smart agriculture techniques.

“It’s not difficult to get farmers to adopt these practices, because they see the results of their neighbors and once they learn more they are eager to apply the techniques themselves,” Peter Shapland, CRS Mali agriculture expert told Devex.

Due to sporadic rainfall over the past few years, farmers in Mali said they were barely able to grow enough food for their families.

Tansa Tessougue, a 15-year millet and cowpea farmer, said that, with no natural water source or irrigation system nearby, she depends on rains during planting season. Through microdosing — a process by which small quantities of fertilizer is mixed with seeds to provide sufficient growing conditions on poor soil — Tessougue has more than doubled output. This inexpensive method also preserves the environment through the use of just a small amount of fertilizer.

According to a CGIAR impact assessment on microdosing in sub-Saharan Africa, the technique has been credited for increased crop production, reduced output and yield risk, as well as improved food security.

“Without these techniques, I produced five sacs [0.5 tons] per harvest, now I can get up to 12 or 18 sacs [1.2-1.8 tons],” Tessougue explained. Her yields are enough to sell roughly 80 percent of her crops to markets.

Other techniques include building compost heaps near planting areas to improve soil quality, help retain moisture during sporadic rain and limit the presence of pests.

Farmers here have also adopted intercropping — a planting technique where a few rows of millet are followed by rows of cowpeas in a repeating pattern. Intercropping slows the spread of a parasitic weed called striga, known to overtake entire plantations. In past years, when farmers would plant seeds of a single crop, striga would completely dominate and practically eliminate output. By adopting this method and crop rotation — introducing legume seedlings during the cowpea/millet off season to deprive striga of its favored host plant — farmers like Tessougue have increased productivity, reduced hunger and diversified output, allowing more harvest to be sold.

In 2015, Malian farmers using CRS’ smart agriculture technologies experienced an average of 69 percent increase in sorghum production, reduced poverty and increased stability in local food security.

The Food and Agriculture Organization has developed a nearly 600-page climate-smart agriculture sourcebook with topics ranging from soil management to financing and mainstreaming climate-smart practices into national policies.

Tessougue told Devex that these techniques have also expanded her ambitions as a farmer.

“Before I couldn’t have even imagined this, but now I am writing, weighing products and evolving towards commercialization because I am producing so much quantity and a high quality.”

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About the author

  • Christin roby

    Christin Roby

    Christin Roby is the West Africa Correspondent for Devex. Based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, she covers global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her Master of Science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.