Africa RISING Program technology parks in Mali: End of an era, start of a new one
On 11 and 12 November 2021, Africa RISING project partners, farmers and stakeholders in Mali convened at the technology parks in Bougouni and Koutiala for the last farmer’s field day events organized by the project within both facilities. At both venues, the mood was as appreciative as it was reflective. Thanks to the technology parks, farmers within Africa RISING intervention communities in southern Mali and beyond have been introduced to numerous improved technologies that have enhanced their farms’ productivity. From learning about the best practices for soil fertility management to erosion control through contour bunding, improving fodder production for livestock feeding, and introducing new cereal, legumes, and vegetable crop varieties. The Africa RISING program has created a lasting legacy within these farming communities and the technology parks play a significant role by giving farmers a space and place to learn, practice, and see first-hand the improvements new technologies would make to their farm operations.
According to Fred Kizito, chief scientist of the Africa RISING project in West Africa, the project has achieved its objectives. ‘We have not only identified constraints but also provided opportunities by identifying entry points to enable adoption of appropriate agronomic practices in farmers’ environments. In this process, we facilitated the exchange of information and learning. We not only introduced farmers to new technologies, but we also created opportunities for them to access input and output markets, and these actions have resulted in a real improvement in their livelihoods. Building farmers’ capacity to produce and sell their products, process them, and use them more efficiently has also helped facilitate the scaling up of agricultural technologies. Also, these technology parks have been a platform for a dialogue between farmers and their authorities.’
Birhanu Zemadim Birhanu, the national coordinator of the Africa RISING project in Mali, believes that its technology parks have achieved their overall objective of testing and co-validating technologies for adoption and scaling up. ‘Farmers were able to replicate some of the improved technologies and agronomic practices on their farmlands and have continued to spread them across different agro-ecologies and geographies,’ he says. ‘The Africa RISING project’s investment in the technology parks was not in vain. These parks have created an enabling environment for the scaling up of technologies, benefiting thousands of farmers who made use of the knowledge to prevent degradation of their farmlands and to reduce soil erosion in the Africa RISING intervention villages.’ He believes that ‘the legacy of the Africa RISING project in Mali is that it has paved the way to similar projects to either continue to use these technology parks or even establish their own.’
Fred Kizito hopes that the concept of the technology parks will be replicated in Mali and under a regional agenda coordinated by the CORAF on a larger scale. ‘We have shared the information about the Mali technology parks so that it can be considered in the CORAF’s future initiatives,’ says Kizito. In this regard, Birhanu has some advice for other projects considering a technology park model in the future. ‘It is important to secure the support and commitment of farmers and farming communities and to work closely with them. Express your idea and let members of the target community feed in their ideas. This approach has helped to enrich our learning centres concept and has allowed us to best integrate farmers’ knowledge within what we have agreed to call the technology parks.’
Akinseye Folorunso Matthew, an agronomist, and agro-climatologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), is particularly pleased with the impact of trials and demonstrations on several fertilizer strategies in the technology parks within the farmers’ environments. ‘We’ve identified five fertilization strategies along with two sorghum varieties with great potential for increased productivity and profitability for farmers in the Koutiala and Bougouni regions. In each region, we worked with pilot farmers in their fields while the technology parks served as a central point for organizing them to test these fertilization strategies. The results of the cost-benefit analysis evaluation prove that these fertilization strategies have the potential to greatly increase farmers’ productivity compared to their current practices.’
‘Before the project, we used mainly traditional seeds and farming practices inherited from our ancestors. We discovered improved varieties and hybrids of cereal crops such as sorghum and maize in the technology parks. On smaller plots of land, thanks to agricultural production intensification techniques, we can harvest better yields. Also, the new, improved seeds available are better adapted to our weather conditions. Our local seeds had a longer cycle, and when we grew them, the rainy season ended before they matured,’ says Bassiriba Samaké, a producer in the village of Diéba who participated in the technology park in Madina, Bougouni region.
‘In the technology parks, we have access to new seeds that are better adapted to cope with the hazards of climate change, and since 2012, we have learned many things. The lessons and knowledge gained from these parks are the best benefits. For example, I was able to teach about these technologies to many other farmers who have, in turn, created their plots using improved technologies. I am happy I was able to create a technology park in my village, many fellow farmers come to visit and get inspired,’ adds Samaké.
Soumaila Diawara, a representative of the chief of the village of Madina, adds that ‘because of the activities carried out in the technology parks, many young people have learned new agronomic practices that have helped them to improve their yields. The parks are used for market gardening with irrigation during the dry seasons. Many young people in our community have earned up to FCFA500,000 (about USD870) in dry season vegetable production, which has helped reduce youth banditry in the community. The women who are heavily involved in gardening have also earned considerable incomes and are very supportive to the heads of households (mainly men) in managing household expenses.’
Fanta Dembele, a participant in the technology park in the N’Golonianasso Koutiala region, confirms that through gardening, many women have improved their sources of income and have been able to contribute to their daily household expenses. ‘I can pay for better clothes for my children. I can also pay for healthcare,’ she said.
Nematou Togora, a participant in the technology park in M’Pessoba, Koutiala region, says that food security and nutrition have improved and that women have played an important role in this process. ‘Compared to men, women and children are considered more vulnerable, but at the same time, they are the pillars of the household,’ she says. ‘Malnutrition was severe in the community. At a point, older women were accused of causing illness among community members, especially among their grandchildren and their daughters-in-law. There was a misconception about the causes of this malnutrition and its effects. Families and community members rejected elderly women as they were seen as witches. Within the parks, we understood the importance of both elderly and pregnant women eating healthy, balanced foods to keep both mothers and their babies healthy. The mothers-in-law are now accepted in the community.’
According to Karitié Coulibaly, chief of the village of M’Pessoba, the fact that the Africa RISING project is ending soon does not put an end to its impact. ‘A technology park is installed in our village, and it will remain. I am a member of a group of 53 village chiefs and will mobilize these leaders to create a synergy of action to perpetuate the achievements of the technology parks.’
Ousmane Dembele, head of program, Innovation and Applied Research at the non-governmental organization (NGO) AMEDD, believes in the sustainability of the activities carried out in the technology parks. ‘It is a major challenge that will be solved by combining the efforts of all partners. As we were able to assemble many producers in the technology parks to learn and share, we can also join forces to support the sustainability of these activities.’
Seybou Diawara, mayor of Madina, is thankful to the project’s partners who have trained farmers to improve their yields. ‘They have helped the Malian government to satisfy its population. I am confident that this project will not fail in the long run.’ Mahamadou Traoré, acting sub-prefect of Farangana, Bougouni region, assured that ‘all the department heads are committed to work and provide support for the sustainability of acquired.’
‘The government policy to ensure food security cannot do without innovative technologies. These parks are platforms where our farmers have become very familiar with new technologies and have been trained to guide our decision-making,’ notes Kalifa Coulibaly, mayor of the commune of M’Pessoba.
‘The improved and hybrid varieties promoted in the technology parks are useful for both human and animal consumption. The project has contributed to the government’s food and nutritional security efforts. I am proud of these technology parks because many farmers were introduced to different improved crop varieties to feed our commune and the region,’ outlines Traoré Aminata Sanogo, sub-prefect of the rural commune of M’Pessoba in the region of Koutiala, as she recalls that agriculture is the backbone of the region’s development.
Hassane Tolo, director general of the Agricultural Learning Center (CAA) of M’Pessoba (a centre hosting 300 students), proposes transferring the technology parks to CAA. ‘All the technologies experienced in the Africa RISING project technology parks should be taught to our students in partnership with ICRISAT and the Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER). Though we have our demonstration plots within the CAA centre, the Africa RISING project technology parks are far much better.’
In response, Bouba Traoré, knowledge broker in Africa RISING, says that the project is in a process that will lead to the transfer of technology parks and that he believes the technical services of the state and NGOs can contribute. ‘Through options such as soil fertility management, crop varieties for household consumption, and livestock feeding, the project has offered farmers an opportunity to choose technologies that best meet their needs, and it is worth maintaining this momentum,’ he said.
Madina Diancoumba, who conducted a participatory evaluation of sorghum varieties and hybrids in the M’Pessoba technology park, urged farmers, especially women farmers, to use the best varieties and share their experiences with researchers though the project is concluding.
Racky Diallo, research assistant at the World Vegetable Center, notes that improved vegetable seed kits will benefit the farmer communities beyond the Africa RISING project life span. ‘We mainly trained and helped women on trials and demonstrations in the parks and then helped them reproduce these technologies in their fields. In rural areas where women face difficulties accessing land, these gardens are an opportunity for them because they take up little space and use little water compared to traditional market gardening. It is an alternative technology for rural women in some regions.’
Moumouni Guindo, a PhD student at ICRISAT, hopes to deliver the results of an ongoing study on the efficient use of animal grazing for better fertilization of farmers’ fields. ‘I wanted to study a very important aspect of soil fertility management which consists of having animals sleep on a specific plot for a period to quantify the solid and liquid waste needed to increase soil nutrient and thus help plants grow.’ If the study results are conclusive, Guindo wants to promote this improved fertilization method that is inspired by local practice.