Farmers in Mali are now better equipped to fight the challenges of climate change, thanks to training sessions on climate-smart agricultural practices. Over 1,300 farmers and extension workers in Mali participated in a series of trainings earlier this year, in sessions that included practical demonstrations. They in turn, would then propagate this knowledge across the region to over 31,000 farmers, through the creation of 90 sustainable climate-friendly businesses and savings groups focusing on the market. This initiative was part of the project BRACED-X Waati Yèlèma Labenw, the ultimate aim of which is to increase incomes, savings and access to finance for smallholder farmers.
Smallholder farmers in the dryland regions of Africa are one of the most vulnerable populations with regard to climate change and its impacts. Extreme weather events, reduced and unpredictable rainfall, and increasing temperatures all add to the preexisting challenges of degraded land, poverty, hunger and violence. In these circumstances, national and non-governmental organizations are working to equip the rural population with means to absorb the climate-related impacts, adapt to them and sustainably manage their livelihoods.
According to the 2017 AdaptationWatch Report, capacity building of farmers, extension workers and other key stakeholders through training is critical for national resilience to climate change. The capacity-building measures need to be self-sustaining and designed for the long term; this requires grassroots-level involvement of key stakeholders such as farmers. Forming working partnerships, groups and sharing experiences are also important ways to ensure uptake and continuance of the mitigation methods.
With these pointers in mind, the Waati Yèlèma Labenw project enlisted farmers, municipality counselors and other extension workers to participate in capacity-building exercises spread over three months. After an initial session on Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) technologies, six training sessions were organized in different rural districts for 150 farmers; they would in turn train 1,200 farmers from the 30 project villages. For both training sessions, modules on CSA were provided by ICRISAT and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), especially on climate information. Courses were imparted through PowerPoint presentations and /or video and practical exercises.
CSA techniques specifically discussed were Zaï pits (shallow ridged pits dug around plants to trap rainwater) and demi lunes (half-moon) (semi-circular pits with contour bunds to prevent rainwater runoff) techniques aimed at recovering degraded land and restoring poor soil fertility; preparation of organic compost using crop residues; optimum application of biofertilizers using microdosing method; intercropping cereals with legumes (cowpea, groundnut); alley cropping and integrated Striga management.
Additionally, ‘Climate Information’ groups were set up in 30 villages for dissemination of climate information (via a platform called Sènèkèla) such as daily rainfall forecast, good agricultural practices, price of cereals in the local market, and crop planting date. In Koulikoro, Segou and Mopti regions, a total of 1,171 farmers were trained at the end of this exercise.
According to an FAO report released in 2017, the following factors form the main framework of climate-smart agriculture i) Awareness ii) Techniques iii) Finance and iv) Policy.
Awareness about climate change among the smallholder farmers and techniques for adaptation were covered in the training sessions. Creation and execution of such campaigns needs government and stakeholder support on the ground. As the re-greening of the Sahel region in Africa demonstrates, with over five million hectares of dryland being converted to farmland, innovation-led ground-level campaigns that run with local support from the farmers can have greatly successful results.
Farmers in Mali, too, are counting on changing their own livelihoods with the help of the Waati Yèlèma Labenw project. Under this project, new community assets such as watershed protection, flood control and groundwater recharge dikes are also planned in the future in 30 new target villages.