In Baguinéda, in eastern Mali's Koulikoro region, the lowlands on the banks of the river Niger stretch as far as the eye can see. Between two irrigated rice-growing areas, a group of women, together with their young children, are at work pulling weeds. Dramane Diallo, 54, works alongside them.
Thanks to the the Koulikoro Region Food And Nutrition Security Enhancement Project of Mali (PReSAN-KL),funded by the African Development Bank, rice and cereal harvests in Mali's "rice bowl" have risen dramatically. And families like Diallo's are reaping the benefits.
"It used to be that you couldn't go near the embankments because they were in such poor condition. We had problems irrigating our fields," Diallo says. "But the irrigation channels have been restored and this has made my work less of a chore now."
For this farmer, the hungry years are a distant memory. He has rediscovered his taste for work and is able to think about family's future without anxiety. "My yields are getting better with every harvest and I'm able to provide for my family. "I have even been able to buy a plot and build a nice house. Life is far better today than it used to be," he says with pride. Diallo has become a main supplier of cereals and grains to Baguinéda market, which no longer suffers shortages of these staple crops.
Shopper Ténin Traoré was vocal in her praise: "Previously, agricultural products were scarce in our market. Despite the demand, what was available from farmers was expensive and poor quality. It hasn't been like that for the last two years. Now, we have a modern market, we have everything we need and the quality is good too."
Retailer Adiaratou Traoré says she sells vegetables, "because these products are available around here". Every evening, she goes to meet growers on their production sites, where she buys vegetables to sell the following morning in what is considered the biggest market in the Koulikoro region.
The neighbouring settlements of Balazan, Figuiratomo, Koursalé, Séguéla and Faragué, each PReSAN-KL beneficiaries, are seeing the same results.
The project aims to boost agricultural production with a target of 10,600 tonnes of rice and 20,300 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. This will improve food security for some 178,000 people, reduce poverty in the region and above all act as a source of food supplies for the northern region, which suffers ongoing security threats.
The project has received $51.8 million in funding, including a $10 million loan from the Nigeria Trust Fund and $4.56 million from the African Development Fund. The project has also received $37.21 million from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.
Since implementation of the project began four years ago, four new irrigated areas totalling 1256 hectares have been built in Balazan, Figuiratomo, Koursalé and Séguéla and a 50-hectare lowland area has been improved in Faragué. In Baguinéda, the project has secured the water drainage for a 3000-hectare irrigated area and has improved 1000 hectares of lowlands and 18 hectares allocated to women to set up market gardens.
All appears set for a bumper harvest.
Rice yields in Balazan are expected to grow from 900 kg per hectare in 2014 to 3.5 tonnes per hectare by project close at the end of 2019. Faragué is on track to achieve 3.1 tonnes per hectare, up from 900 kilos, while the vast rice bowl of Baguinéda is approaching 6 tonnes per hectare, against 4.75 tonnes previously.
"This is an integrated development project, from harvest to processing to sale," explains PReSAN-KL coordinator Adama Diarra. "The greatest success lies in the restoration of all the production sites. The improvements have helped us to have high yields, use less water, higher production and sales."