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Increased local capacities benefit rural communities in Mali

Improving livelihoods using the learning-by-doing approach of FAO’s farmer field school programmes.

Key facts

Established in 2001, FAO’s Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) programme is a multi-donor initiative that aims to improve farming skills, and raise smallholder farmers’ awareness of alternatives to toxic chemicals using the farmer field school (FFS) approach. Initially focusing on West Africa, the programme has implemented activities in nine countries, namely in Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia, and has trained more than 200 000 farmers. At the beginning, IPPM training focused on the major crops estimated to be using the highest quantities of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, i.e. rice, vegetables and cotton. It then evolved towards a broader system approach incorporating training modules for cereals (maize, sorghum, millet, fonio), and integrating themes such as soil fertility management, seed production, processing, marketing and other practices. The programme builds social capital at multiple scales in order to ensure better delivery and sustainability of programme actions and foster community empowerment. 

In the village of Bla in central Mali, FFS farmers organized themselves into a network of facilitators, which they called “Réseau GIPD”, or “IPPM Network”; where GIPD stands for Gestion intégrée de la production et des déprédateurs—the French version of integrated production and pest management.

Forty-year old Siaka Dioni living in Bla, is a member of the Réseau. He became a facilitator two years after attending his first ‘farmer field school’ training in 2009. “I decided to participate in a farmer field school of the IPPM programme because my neighbours were saying that they were getting good results from it. I was curious to know more.”

Siaka is one of the 42 facilitators  who have been trained so far by the IPPM programme in the Bla area, and who are now active members of the Réseau GIPD. The FAO programme first started in the area in 2002, with the training of a handful of facilitators in Sikasso, over 100km from the main district hub of Bla. Nowadays, the Réseau GIPD is developing at full speed and trainings are organized in Bla, making it cheaper and easier to build capacities in neighbouring communities. Since its creation, it has trained over 4 000 farmers, and numbers keep rising. The programme continues to provide support to the network through new and re-refresher trainings for facilitators and institutional development, thanks to support from the European Union and the Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific Secretariat (ACP).

Raising awareness through ‘learning-by-doing’
Using the ‘learning-by-doing’ or ‘action research’ approach, the IPPM programme engages with farming communities to introduce discovery-based methods for field testing, adapting and eventually adopting improved farming practices; for example, the reduction of pesticide risks by using alternative ways of controlling pests. Therefore, farmers become experts in their own field and learn to make more informed decisions.

“Before IPPM started here in Bla, everybody thought that pesticides were toxic to humans, only if they were swallowed” says Gaoussou Coulibaly, the president of the Réseau GIPD de Bla. “Now, trained farmers are well aware that intoxication can also happen by simply breathing the product sprayed in the air”. The IPPM objective is to raise awareness of pragmatic alternatives, thereby empowering farmers and their communities to better protect themselves and the environment they live in.

Working for the communities
Siaka owns 10 hectares of land. Before receiving FFS training, he was only growing fonio cereal on a small portion of it, mainly because of the degraded conditions of his land and its low yields. After training, Siaka decided to apply the methods learned on a section of his fields. Since then, his progress has been impressive: year-by-year, he has increased the area under IPPM practices from 2 hectares of cotton and half a hectare of sesame in 2010, to 3 hectares of cotton, 3 hectares of maize, 2 hectares of sesame and 2 hectares of hybrid sorghum seeds in 2014. In four years, harvested surfaces went from 2.5 hectares to 10 hectares and diversification improved substantially.

Benefits are easy to ascertain: Siaka has now tripled his income because of increased production and in part due to purchasing fewer pesticides. With some of his profits, he bought two motorcycles that allow him to travel faster between his fields. With his diversified cropping system, Siaka can provide better nutrition for himself and his family, and has a higher chance of obtaining a good harvest in spite of the climatic challenges.

“But what makes me happiest is knowing that I now have a precise understanding of how a plant grows and how a field can be properly managed” Siaka explains. “I can now advise people and I have build a wider network that I had before.”

The capacities being developed by the Réseau GIPD and supported by the IPPM programme range across many topics including: environmentally-friendly approaches to tackling pest problems; adoption of improved cropping practices; adoption of early and resistant seed varieties; crop diversification; climate change adaptation practices, such as soil and water management; and the integration of pastoral and agroforestry aspects. Today in Bla these capacities are being further developed and are already serving the farmers, while also contributing to the overall well-being of the community. 

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