The small farmers of Mali practice a subsistence system of agro-pastoral farming based on crop production and livestock. During the rainy season crops include maize, millet, sorghum, groundnut, beans and cotton. Many of the small farmers in this region have added livestock to their farming practices as a way to limit the risks associated with climate fluctuations that impact their water supplies critical for crop farming. When emergency or household cash is required for school supplies, clothing, and other necessities sheep and goats are easily transported and sold at the weekly live animal markets.
Unlike crop production, raising goats and sheep is challenging for these farmers. They lack a tradition in livestock husbandry common to the semi-nomadic cultures of the desert and semi-desert areas. The sheep and goat flocks are primarily open-range grazed during the rainy season (June-September) and provided little or no supplemental feeding throughout the dry season (December through May). In many cases the small ruminants are allowed to scavenge for food with little regard for their nutritional requirements. The breeds that thrive best under these conditions are the dwarf breeds with a low meat yield.
Despite the growing demand of the local and nearby urban customers for meat and goat milk and the existence of crop residues and forages small crop farmers are hesitant to dedicate time and resources to their flocks due to their poor genetic potential. No matter how well they are fed they will not grow beyond their genetic potential. Breeds with increased size and growth potential require a significantly increased nutritional base and will not perform to their potential under the current management conditions. Both factors, genetics and nutrition, need to be changed concurrently. This is a difficult step to take successfully without outside professional support. This project provides genetic and nutritional technical support through the collaboration of the University of Segou, Mali and U.S. agriculture extension volunteers.
Volunteers provide training and quality breeding animals to village cooperatives, low-resource families and youth including individuals with disabilities to help secure their future.
Why Sheep & Goats?
Only 5.6% of Mali’s land mass is classified as arable land, meaning capable of producing crops, or to be plowed or tilled. Sheep and goats do well on marginal, rocky and non-arable land. They leave minimal impact on their environment while providing a reliable and healthy source of protein.
Sheep and goats are unique when compared to other livestock. They do not thrive in industrial farm confinement systems or reproduce with the frequency or volume of hogs or chickens. In comparison to cattle the labor is more intense per meat yield. Yet, in low resource environments sheep and goats do remarkably well. They are able to utilize moisture from morning dew and harvest their own maintenance feed from prickly brush that would starve a cow. Around the world, and especially in drought areas, sheep and goats thrive in areas where cattle will perish.
Sheep and goats are critical in low-resource environments for supplying essential protein and nutrients not available from a maize or rice based diet. Increasing the productivity and quality of Mali’s small ruminant breeds will provide a predictable source of increased income for low resource farmers and a high quality source of protein and fat to supplement the family’s basic diet of rice or maize products. Small and consistent changes in sheep and goat breeding can increase their production dramatically without the industrial farm approach that is proven to be so harmful to the environment.
This project’s volunteers work with families on nutritional concerns to improve the daily diet of children and youth through healthy food and protein choices.
Traditional & New-age Shepherds
Mali possesses the most important livestock population in West Africa and stock breeding plays a key role in Mali’s economy. There is a high regional demand for Malian livestock and meat. Livestock products rank among the top ten key agricultural commodities produced in Mali. Their combined value accounts for approximately half of Mali’s agricultural GDP (FAO 2014). And yet, this exponential growth of livestock inventories over the last 20 years has not been reflected by increased productivity and is far behind productivity rates in other developing countries (FAO 2014).
Reasons for stalled livestock production include recurring droughts and the encroachment of the Sahara desert into former grazing lands. Also the increased land needs of a growing population have redirected common grazing lands into commercial development or small farms. These events have pushed thousands of Fulani (traditional nomadic shepherds) from their traditional homelands to areas further south resulting in many of the traditional herding families being forced to give up their nomadic way of life and their livestock traditions. And although they are occasionally hired by crop farmers to manage their livestock their full potential and knowledge base remains untapped.
This project provides an infrastructure to increase collaboration between cultural diverse groups for the education and benefit of all.
Climate Change & Its Consequences
Mali faces numerous environmental challenges, including desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, drought, and inadequate supplies of potable water. Deforestation is an especially serious and growing problem. According to the Ministry of the Environment, Mali’s population consumes 6 million tons of wood per year for timber and fuel. To meet this demand, 400,000 hectares of tree cover are lost annually, virtually ensuring destruction of the country’s savanna woodlands.
Trees with economical value, such as shea, baobab, locust-bean tree are spared from cutting and coexist with common crops such as sorghum, maize, millet. Volunteers on this project donate and facilitate the planting of special legume trees that improve the soil and provide nutritious supplementation for goats and sheep during the dry season.
Volunteers introduce solar ovens to lessen the destruction of the native trees and lessen the many hours women and youth spend gathering wood for cooking.
Where Is Mali?
Mali is a landlocked country in the middle of West Africa. It is the largest country in West Africa and consists of 3 zones; the Sahara Desert, the Sahel, and the cultivated Savanna.
The Sahara Desert and the Sahel semi-desert covers over 65% of the land mass. The Sahel is a transition zone of semi-arid grassland between the Sahara Desert and the more wooded southern savanna. At one time it was home to large populations of grazing animals. Traditionally, most of the people in the Sahel have been semi-nomads with strong livestock traditions whereas the cultivated Savanna is a broad belt of tropical savanna that supports a variety of crops, trees, and grasses.
Mali was once a crossroad for trade and well known for the historical city of Timbuktu. Camel caravans loaded with gold traveled through the desert and the historical city of Timbuktu to Morocco. Although now under threat of desertification, during the 15th and 16th centuries Timbuktu was a wealthy, intellectual and spiritual center and an important market place for manuscripts, salt, gold, cattle and grain.
Volunteers share their hope and vision of a powerful future Mali capable of directing its own future and providing employment, food security and a healthy environment for their diverse communities.
The Niger River Basin
The Niger River is the third longest river in Africa flowing through nine countries. Its source is in the highlands of Guinea. It takes a most curious path, a large snake like curve, to its outlet in the Gulf of Guinea. Some sources state it was actually two rivers that merged centuries ago. The Niger creates a large and fertile inland delta as it arcs northeast through Mali and the river is generally described as Mali’s lifeblood. It is the source of food, drinking water, irrigation and transportation.
Farmers are highly dependent on the Niger River for food crops like cotton, maize, rice, sweet potatoes and peanuts, but seasonal water level fluctuations and longer-term climate change have made farming an unreliable source of income and sustenance. Water resources are under constantly increasing pressure from irrigation practices and climate change.
Through education and demonstration of sustainable practices volunteers help enrich the soil and preserve the water quality of this marvelous resource for future generations.
With a diversified diet of protein and grains, improved land management techniques, and additional sources of income, farmers can expand their flocks to provide meat to the urban markets, experience better health for themselves and their children while developing land and livestock management practices that will secure a solid future for their families and communities.