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CONTRASTING VIEWS ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF COMMERCIAL HORTICULTURE


Clearly, market gardening is significant in contemporary Niamakoroni. However, it is clearly a male-dominated commercial activity, which focuses on largely exotic, non-traditional crops. Nonetheless, as stated in the introduction, gardening has not always been male dominated, market-oriented and based on exotic plants. Moreover, not all people have quietly accepted market gardening, nor is it likely to affect everyone in the same way. Indeed, men and women in the community tell the story of market-gardening development and current garden tenure patterns in different ways. The juxtaposition of their accounts highlights a significant change in the nature of gardening over time.

From the viewpoint of an elder man, garden tenure in Niamakoroni shares a characteristic with the settlement of the community: first farmers made first claims. When the initial Jara settlers began farming in Niamakoroni, male lineage heads established themselves as guardians of the land (Wooten, 1997). As such, male descendants of the founding Jara patrilineages retained the right to distribute upland tracts to the community's household heads. However, it appears that the original Jara claim did not necessarily include lowlands, which men at that time did not see as being central to the food production regime. Based on the commentaries provided by Nene Jara and Shimbon Jara, the two male elders, it seems that control over these areas fell to those who opened them for cultivation, in most cases to the first generation of market gardeners: their fathers.

Others subsequently joined the first wave of gardeners in the community, as they began to see the advantages of garden cultivation. Young men entered into the domain by clearing what Nene referred to as 'unused areas.' In addition, over time, some young men, who had worked for the original garden heads, established their own operations. They either claimed 'unused' land, or obtained a section of their fathers' or elder brothers' original holding after death or retirement. Later still, some individuals obtained plots from non-related individuals. Rent was not mentioned, although short-term, non-monetized loans of plots were made. Nene and Shimbon noted that recently a few women had begun gardening activities, far out in the bush, on lands that they said men deemed too distant for serious horticulture activities. The women cleared these areas themselves in order to garden.

Women offered quite a different view of the development of market gardening. Various older women reported that, prior to men's development of the low-lying areas for commercial gardening activities; women had cultivated crops and collected plants in some of those areas. Wilene Diallo, the community's oldest woman, said she and the other village wives used plots in these areas during the rainy season to cultivate traditional vegetable crops for their sauces (naw). She also said village women sometimes planted rice in low-lying areas during the rainy season. The rice produced was a traditional variety, used in special meals or marketed. The pattern was noted in published accounts on rural production patterns in other areas of Mali (e.g. various papers in Creevey, 1986; Becker, 1996).

Thus, before the first generation of market gardeners became established, it appears that women used some stream areas freely, without direct competition from men. They did so with the primary goal of producing local sauce crops. Such uncontested use of these areas may be associated with the fact that a ready market for specialized horticultural produce had not yet developed, and that men perceived low-lying areas to be less desirable. Mamari Jara, one of Niamakoroni's contemporary male garden leaders, said that about a generation ago some land was originally used by a few village women to produce leaves and vegetables for sauces.


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