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2. Projet Lutte anti-erosive (PLAE) - Koutiala


PLAE is the largest and longest established conservation project in Mali. The project was set up under the Malian Textile Development Company in 1986 to combat the increasing problem of erosion on fields and village land. Cotton sales had increased farmers' incomes and surplus cash was used to buy more cattle. Overgrazing then caused decreased vegetative cover and therefore more runoff. An increase in erosion followed, and this finally led to poorer crop yields. PLAE introduced the concept of "village land-use management", planned and coordinated by village associations. Several erosion control techniques have been introduced - some more successfully than others. For example, live fences and tree planting on an individual basis have been very popular, whereas grazing control has been very difficult to put into practice.


Name: Projet Lutte Anti-Erosive. Compagnie Malienne de Developpement des Textiles (CMDT)

Contact: The Chief of Project, PLAE

Address: B.P. 01 Koutiala, Mali

Status: PLAE is a sub-unit of an Agro-Industry

Sponsor/Donor: Dutch and Malian Governments

Date of Start: 1986


Unlike most of Mali, the area where PLAE operates is not arid. There is usually enough rainfall for food crops - and also for growing cotton.

But just like elsewhere in the Sahel, there has been a reduction in rainfall over the last twenty years. The annual average in the Koutiala area has fallen from 1020 mm (19311971) to 820 mm (1972-1987).

Farmers now have two main problems. With the lower rainfall, short drought spells during the growing season have become more common. But of more concern is the violence of the rain when it does fall. During the months of July and August there is often just too much rainfall - and it is concentrated into intense showers.

The result is runoff and erosion. A single rainstorm is enough to cause severe erosion if the land is not adequately protected by a good cover of grass or crops.

The land in the area has become degraded by water and wind erosion and the problem has got much worse in recent years. Several factors have helped to accelerate the rate of degradation:

1. The human population has increased in recent years - by more than 40% between 1976 and 1987.

2. There is a growing shortage of good agricultural land. The amount of land farmed has increased enormously, partly because of the needs of the growing population, and partly as a result of the popularity of the cash crop - cotton. There is rarely a chance now to rest fields under the traditional fallow system. The soil becomes exhausted and erodes more easily.

More people need more wood for cooking... and as a result the demand for fuelwood has slipped out of balance with the supply. Only 60 years ago this area used to be a forest. Now it only produces about half of the wood that is required. Villagers have even started to cut the protected fruit and nut trees "Nere" (Parkia biglobosa) and "Karite" (Butyrospermum parkii) which grow within the fields.

Poor husbandry practices, like burning crop residues and ploughing downslope, have helped to make the erosion problem worse.

One unusual factor in the land management problem here is the success of the cotton production in the area, which has indirectly led to erosion. What has happened is as follows:

Cotton production is promoted by CMDT and the families who plant cotton can make a good income from it which is very often invested in livestock. According to PLAE there are now many more livestock in the area than the land can support. The result is severe overgrazing, leading to increased runoff from the plateaux. The runoff has in turn caused erosion on the agricultural fields, and/the yield of the cotton crop has decreased.


In summary the problems are:

• a large, and growing population
• a greatly expanded farmed area under the cash crop, cotton
• a shortage now of good land
• heavy, intense rainfall in certain months
• a fuelwood shortage leading to deforestation
• overstocking of cattle and consequent overgrazing
• poor traditional cultivation practices making erosion worse
• decreasing crop yields due to reduced soil fertility.

The erosion in the cotton fields and the expressed concern of the villagers themselves convinced CMDT that action needed to be taken.

Some recommendations for better resource management had been developed by a research project [the Division of Research on Rural Production Systems (DRSPR)], which had been working on erosion control for a number of years. These were used as the basis of a programme, and PLAE - the "project which struggles against erosion" was born.

PLAE's Approach and Objectives

PLAE began operations in May, 1986. The twin objectives were:

• to halt land degradation
• to improve conditions for crop production

DRSPR had formulated the concept of village land-use management using a "global approach" to conservation. It had been concluded that bits and pieces of isolated activity such as earth bunding, for example, would not answer the overall problem.

The recommendation was to introduce a programme of conservation measures designed to protect the whole watershed from the plateaux at the top to the valleys at the bottom. The programme would be introduced in phases, starting with communal work at the top of the watershed and ending with conservation on the actual fields. This was the approach which PLAE adopted.

After studying the profile of a typical watershed (see technical section) the village land was divided into three zones, each requiring different management systems. These were called:

1. Sylvo-pastoral zone (firewood and grazing);
2. Cultivated zone (cropped fields);
3. "Protection zone" (grazing land which is degraded).

Suitable techniques were designed for each.


The main function of PLAE is to provide training for the staff of CMDT and the villagers.

Once the process of motivation and training is well underway in the villages, the Village Associations take responsibility for coordinating the programme and putting the various techniques into practice.

During its first three year phase, PLAE has helped more than 20 villages, but has concentrated on the typical cotton-growing village of Kaniko. Here the full range of conservation techniques has been tested. Some of the techniques, like stone bunds. have a direct effect on conservation, while others have an indirect effect - for example improved cooking stoves.

Some of the measures could be used in the drier areas of sub-Saharan Africa, for example improved cattle pens. Others are particularly suited to the climatic and economic conditions of this part of southern Mali, for example tied ridging.

The measures are as follows:

Protection of the Plateaux

Grazing control on the plateaux is essential to give the vegetation a chance to recover. However this requires communal agreement, and has so far met with little success - partly because the law allows anyone to graze livestock on the common land, and anyone can cut wood if a fee is paid to the government.

Earth Bunds/Waterways

The original plan was to build earth bunds to lead runoff from the plateaux into waterways between fields. But in practice bunds broke and the waterways led to gullying. The technique was soon replaced in most places by...

Stone Bunds

Stone bunds sited just above the fields slow and filter the runoff. There is no need then for a waterway, and this has proved a better way of protecting fields. Stones are transported by the farmers' donkey carts which have proved cheaper than transport by lorries and just as efficient. Work is carried out by village groups.

Live Fences


Live fences around farmers' fields only give a limited amount of protection against erosion mainly by filtering out sediment from runoff. Their main purpose is keeping out livestock and they are popular!

Grass Strips

Broad strips of grass across the slope in farmers' fields act as living barriers to runoff. These have been reduced in size and spaced further apart since the original design because farmers felt they took up too much space. Lack of suitable grass seed has been another problem.

Check Dams

Gullies in fields are stabilised by small check dams of stone or branches. When built carefully, these can be make a difference very quickly.

Tree Planting

Communal tree planting in the form of village woodlots has not been as popular or as easy to organise as tree planting by individuals. The project has now changed its emphasis towards planting at the farm or household level by individuals.

Cultivation Practices/Tied Ridging

Conservation farming techniques have not been fully adopted. However most farmers now plough across the slope as recommended. A special ox-drawn implement which makes tied ridges is being introduced. But most farmers still have to make earth ties in the furrows by hand - which is time consuming and therefore not very popular.

Improved Cattle Pens


The traditional cattle pens have been increased in size. Stems and leaves from crops are thrown in to be trampled and mixed with manure to form a rich and bulky compost. This is spread on the fields and helps to maintain fertility.

Improved Stoves

Improved low cost cooking stoves are 30% more efficient in terms of fuelwood usage than conventional stoves. Stoves are made locally from earth, and save women some of the time and labour involved in collecting firewood. This programme began in 1987, and up to 1989 more than 6,000 stoves have been made.


Management of the Project:

PLAE has its headquarters at Koutiala, where a small team of specialist trainers are based. These trainers run technical courses for CMDT's extension staff. The village associations are motivated and trained in better conservation methods by PLAE and by the CMDT staff. However, since 1983 the number of extension staff has been reduced in this area and because they have several other duties related to cotton growing, it is not always easy for them to give enough time to PLAE activities.

Organisation of Conservation Work:

CMDT is handing over increasing responsibility to the village associations for the management of cotton production and general development. Village associations were set up by CMDT several years ago to assist with activities such as cotton marketing. In Kaniko, the village where PLAE concentrated its early interventions, the village association was set up in 1979.

Village associations are responsible for conservation of all land within each village and it is PLAE's hope is that they will eventually accept full responsibility for the management and development of their own territory. Within each village association, there is a development committee which controls technical teams, each of which is responsible for a particular task. For example, one team is responsible for surveying and lays out contours with a water tube level. Technical teams also direct group work and record achievements.

The village association helps organise working groups: it has been found that, for communal work, large groups are very difficult to organise on a regular basis. Small groups of people who know each other work better than large units!



PLAE does not, at present, use incentives to encourage conservation work. They are considered to be unnecessary because the people in this region are relatively well-off. Also, people are given credit for farm inputs under CMDT, the amount owed being deducted from payments for cotton.


Because the village associations are the focus for conservation activities, local participation in planning and implementation has been assured. PLAE's objective is to help the associations to take control of their own development. However experience shows that it will take a number of years to achieve this fully, particularly with the more complicated issues such as grazing management.

Extension and Training:

PLAE sees itself as a training programme. Specific technical training is given to CMDT extension staff during intensive in-service training courses. Villagers are motivated and trained in better conservation methods by means of the "GRAAP" method. This is an interactive system of training based on the use of "flannelgraphs", where cut out pieces of cloth are stuck on a felt screen. Stories can be built up on the screen by the villagers - the process of erosion, for example, can be illustrated.

This process is combined with a tour of village land by a delegation of extension agents in the company of the villagers. This has proved to be a very effective system in teaching the villagers about land use planning.

Slide shows are also used. There are two sequences of slides - one for staff training, and one for the villagers. The sequences show the whole cycle of erosion and degradation, followed by the planning process and then conservation measures put into practice.

Written material for training villagers is in the local language, Bambara. Demonstration and experimental plots are also used for extension.


There are no precise figures yet for the benefits of the different conservation measures in terms of yield improvements.

However, it is estimated that cotton yields can be raised from the current average of about 1,300 kg/ha to 2,000 kg/ha if a programme of conservation measures is adopted. Likewise, sorghum and millet yields would probably rise from the current 800-900 kg/ha to 1,000 kg/ha or above.




Popularity of Measures

The best accepted of the measures have been ones which can be carried out on an individual basis. Examples are the live fences around private fields and tree planting near the homestead. Several techniques - especially those which require communal action - have not gone further than the pilot phase. It is proving much more difficult to organise group work on communal land than individual work on private land.


There is already a heavy work load on the villagers for whom cotton is a six-month activity. There is a need to develop and emphasise less labour intensive techniques.

Village Land Use Management

Physical conservation measures are the framework for the programme. But until there is a change in attitude by the villagers to the use of fuelwood and grazing land there will still be a major challenge for the project. However a change in attitude is difficult to foresee with the present laws on the use of communal land.

Women's Role

Women still only occupy a background role in the village associations. For example, only two out of 17 members in Kaniko's Development Committee are women. Women need to be brought more into the process of decision making.

Monitoring and Evaluation

PLAE does not yet have as much information as it would like to be able to measure the effect of each conservation technique. This is essential to be able to show which techniques work best!


1. Land degradation is not only a problem in the drier, poorer areas of the Sahel! Even in this relatively prosperous zone where there is a profitable cash crop, there are serious problems of overgrazing, fuelwood supply and erosion.

2. The technical answers to conservation in a relatively wet area may be different from the drier zones, but the basic approach by a conservation project should be similar.

3. Village land-use management is a new idea in Mali. Village land-use management looks for solutions for each of the land use categories - and the village as a whole is responsible for putting them into practice. PLAE's experience will be of interest for all of Mali.

4. The project may have been overoptimistic. Several of the technical research recommendations have not proved workable in the reality of village life.

5. Flexibility is very important! PLAE has been prepared to alter techniques where necessary. For example earth bunds with waterways, which was an unpopular and unsound technique has been replaced by a much more appropriate system of stone bunding.

6. A change of attitude by villagers towards more responsibility for the environment may take years to achieve especially with the current legislation on use of common land. Strong local institutions like the village associations supported by PLAE are needed to take the lead in communal resource management.

7. The measures which have been adopted most quickly are those which are cheap, do not take up productive land, and are implemented on an individual basis. Groups can work here- but only small informal groups of family and friends!

8. Mechanised transport of stone is not always more efficient than donkey carts - as PLAE's experience has shown.

9. The "GRAAP" system of motivation and training combined with the slide sequences have proved very effective.

10. Remaining problems include the need to improve monitoring and to increase the representation of women in decision making.

Mahamadou Laryea Cissť Extension Worker

"In the places which had no vegetation cover there has been a regeneration since we started the various conservation measures, and in the parts of the fields where there were gullies, the gullies have been healed by the farmers' action after one or two years. There are many measures adopted here which you can really say have improved matters."

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