Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Food security: hope from Mali for desertification, climate refugees

Zeinabi Maiga, president of Kabara women's co-operative near Timbuktu
source: BBC News 10 Dec 2007
Village women are using traditional and scientific knowledge to reverse desertification. This offers hope for millions of others, plagued by the drought, climate change and desertification that are driving out climate refugees and exacerbating violence throughout the Sahel.

For 2 years they plant and water eucalyptus trees, after which the trees can survive almost without rain. This reforestation restores soil nutrients back into the soil, and prevents wind erosion. Despite scientific reports from other areas of the world that eucalyptus trees can drain large amounts of water out of the soil, Daouda Diarra from the World Food Programme in Mali says they are a good choice in the desert environ-ment. "In dry zones, a five-year-old tree's root system actually pumps water back into the water table."

The co-operative's president, Zeinabi Maiga, says they can now grow beans and other vegetables on land which was previously useless. "Before the co-operative project started, our husbands were always away from home looking for work... now they don't have to go because we can grow food here... The men always used to take decisions for the family, now the women are also making a contribution."
Timbuktu is fortunate to be just a few kilometres from the massive inland delta of the River Niger, as well as having vast underground aquifers. A nearby irrigation canal brings water from the river to grow rice. The shoots are a startling green in the brown of the desert. The women farm 16 hectares with the help of a motorised water pump and a tractor. Their first harvest promises 4.5 tonnes of rice per hectare. Elsewhere in the Sahel, simply building a mound of earth around a field to contain infrequent rain can make a dramatic difference. Farmers in the village of Syn near Mopti have used this technique to harvest 72 tonnes of rice this year.

According to World Food Program official Josette Sheeran, the region can continue to support a population if scarce resources are well managed. The Sahel now has a drought early-warning system which allows prediction nine months in advance. "We know that's a better choice than environmental migration... to towns and cities which can't support them".

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