In 2008, the Ecofarm and the Plant Establishment projects were finalized in Mali, as far as testing of techniques was concerned. In 2009, the focus was therefore on sharing and upscaling of the good research results. A series of workshops were held at local and national level, where the results were presented both by the researchers and the participating farmers.The purpose of the Ecofarm project was to create an integrated farm system in order to improve the food security of farmers in the drylands. The Plant Establishment project has contributed to this by testing techniques that are of particular relevance for boosting crop production. The two projects are highly interlinked and both are carried out through testing and refining a series of low-cost technologies in order to increase the total production on the farm. The testing is done by the farmers themselves, on their own lands. The expected final result is that the farmers themselves, after succeeding and/or failing, eventually finds the best combination of technologies that will improve their food security, based on their own economic, natural and human resources as well as the local agro-ecological conditions.
Improved food security for the participating farmers and villages
Farmers interviewed recently (March 2010) during a follow up visit from DCG Norway to the involved villages, report that they have indeed achieved improved food security at household and village level due to the skills they have obtained through the project. This has also been confirmed by the external evaluation performed in Mali in 2009. The evaluator did an in-depth analysis of the wealth of the 15 participating households in one of the villages, Kandian. At its start, the project had 10 average households and 5 poor households (as defined by themselves relative to the other households in the village). The 5 households considered as poor, purchased grain at least six months in a year. At the time of the evaluation, 3 of the 5 poor households had become average households, and 2 of them were moving towards the self-sufficient category. With the project, notably since 2007, the so called average group has cut off its reliance on the market by about 50 %, i.e. two months instead of four during which they purchased cereals. According to the evaluation, these findings are valid also for the other Ecofarm and Plant Establishment sites which were visited during the evaluation.
“Before this project, I was wasting fertilizer. With project advice, I have been able to reduce the use of this product as well as the area I was farming. Instead of 2 hectares which yielded generally 8 bags of millet per year, I produce now a bit over one hectare with 11 bags of millet”.
Monzon Coulibaly, Seribougou village
According to the evaluator, the participating farmers found that the approach used by researchers and implementing NGOs was participatory and that it was very much in touch with the field: “The researchers listen to us a lot and take into account our observations”. The tests carried out on the farmers own fields have enabled them to become actors rather than subjects of research, and this has led to the adoption of the best possible result by the farmers, with the accompaniment of the researchers and the implementing NGOs.
“Prior to the project’s arrival, I was totally discouraged by farming. I bought most of the grain for my family on the market. Even though I farmed over 3 ha with millet, I could never harvest more than 8 bags while I needed 22 to feed the family. Nowadays, thank God, I am well off. The previous season, I produced 17 bags of millet, 6 bags of maize, and more groundnut than usual. During the past season, I earned more than all this. Prior to the project, I used to consider myself as average in terms of resources. I think that with ridging, the use of micro dosing of fertilizers and seeds as well as seed soaking, all project participants are better off. Those who were well off before the project have become even better off, the average ones are looking ahead to the category of the rich ones, and those who could be considered as poor prior to the project are now moving up to the medium category. The usefulness of the project was not obvious at the beginning, and it was difficult to believe that the techniques of composting, ridging, micro dosing and soaking could bring us such results. But when it comes to my situation, I have already used the surplus to purchase a solar panel to give light to my family and I can pay the school fees for my 7 children for an overall amount of FCFA 30,000.”
Lassina Bagakogo, Kandian village
Good institutional collaboration
One reason why the project has been so successful is the good collaboration between the participating institutions. In Mali, researchers from ICRAF (World Agroforestry Centre) and IER (Institut d’Economie Rurale) have been contributing with technical assistance to the implementing NGOs and in Norway, Noragric has provided technical backstopping. The evaluation claims that “Albeit the Ecofarm /Plant Establishment projects were based on solid and verified research hypotheses, they were lucky to be blessed with a very good collaboration between Norwegian and Malian researchers used by DCG. As far as the Malian researchers are concerned, their commitment to the projects is simply remarkable”. The close collaboration with the NGOs and the farmers have indeed made the upscaling and spread of results very efficient.
Upscaling of the practices
Reports from the local communities and several monitoring visits have showed that the results of the upscaling so far are very promising. The most useful practices, for instance seed soaking, microdosage and the introduction of new multipurpose trees, have been integrated in the participating organisation’s programmes, reaching several thousands of families. Based on the knowledge from Ecofarm, Care Mali applied for and received funding from the Buffet Foundation for a food security program that will reach 10 000 families from 2009 to 2011. In the Care program alone, more than 900 resource farmers have been trained in the techniques. These farmers will again train other farmers. Another of the implementing organisations, Adaf Gallé, has received funding from AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) for the future implementation of the practices in their programme areas.
A documentary about Ecofarm has been produced and will be used by the implementing organisations, by other DCG members that wants to learn more about Ecofarm in order to integrate it in their own programs and by extension agents. The documentary will also be shown twice at national television at the beginning of the agricultural season in 2010 (in May and June). However, since radio is the most accessible media in the villages in Mali, a radio version of the documentary will be broadcasted at national and local radio stations.
Finally, on the development effect of the project, the evaluation says the following “The Ecofarm/Plant Establishment projects are unquestionably projects with great potential. Beneficiaries as well as non beneficiaries are positive about their ability to boost agricultural production. There is, undoubtedly, little development experience with results as convincing and rapid. The strength of DCG, here, has been to conduct relevant research, demonstrating for example the potential of the Ecofarm/Plant Establishment approach, and to know how to integrate the observations and suggestions of beneficiaries in the tests carried out.”