On a mission to improve quality of life in rural Mali

posted on August 30, 2017 8:40am

  • Pin It
  • Share on Tumblr
 (view larger image)

Fatimata Diarra grew up splitting her time between the urban and rural worlds. The granddaughter of a farmer, she grew up in the capital city of Mali. During visits with family in rural Sikasso, she was often shocked and saddened to learn that another cousin or family friend had moved away to escape the poverty in their community. She promised herself that when she grew up, she would work to improve the quality of life in her family’s ancestral home.

With help from the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, she’s now fulfilling that promise. The goal of BHEARD, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is to develop agricultural scientists and increase agricultural research capacity in partner countries. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

Diarra, attending Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, expects to earn her master’s in philosophy in sustainable and integrated rural development by July 2018. Her research includes studying the different strategies rural Malian women and men have developed for coping with climate change. She has found that women are more likely to be affected by climate change, due to limited financial opportunities and a lack of access to information (such as that provided by extension agents, or training opportunities outside their villages).

As part of her research, Diarra listened to stories rural women told about their daily lives. She learned about their fears, needs, constraints, aspirations and projects. A common refrain was a group of farmers experimenting with a new technology, but lacking the information to use it in a way that impacts their daily lives. One focus group explained to Diarra how they had been asked to inter-crop peanuts and soybeans for a field trial. They obtained excellent results and had a bountiful harvest, but they received neither training nor information on how to process soybeans, a new crop for them. At the time of the interview, they had more than ten 50-kg bags of soybeans in their storeroom, but did not know what to do with them.

Diarra met more than 3,000 rural women in a four-year span. Her impression was nearly universal: Women are working a lot but don’t earn much, and what little they do earn is overseen by their husbands. They are not empowered to take advantage of economic, political and social opportunities.

Diarra wants to help rural women empower themselves, and hopes her research results can influence future policy interventions in Mali.

But it’s not just women who need help. Despite all the research that’s been done and the investments made in agricultural development technologies and practices, the average rural citizen in Mali is still living in a precarious condition. Diarra has concluded that a lack of communication and knowledge-sharing between producers and researchers, and between producers themselves, is the main challenge. This lack of communication is accentuated by factors such as gender, age and education.

In September 2017, Diarra will present a paper on her research at the International Colloquium on Food Security and Nutrition in a Time of Climate Change. She won a scholarship to participate in the event, which will be held in Quebec, Canada.

– Matt Milkovich