The programme to assist IDPs and support agricultural and livestock activities in Northern Mali, implemented by The Association of Professional Farmers’ Organisations (AOPP) aimed primarily to combine the provision of humanitarian aid to the displaced rural population – and their host communities – and the reintegration of these IDPs. This reintegration involved not only restarting the IDPs’ economic activities, but also a ‘development’ programme (in the strictest sense of the term), aimed at improving agricultural and livestock outputs.
To achieve these two objectives, the programme aimed to be agile, in terms of its design and its implementation, and accountable towards beneficiaries, in terms of the choice of projects to be funded. And, of course, it also aimed to achieve high quality results. From these three points of view, the programme was therefore in line with recent trends in the aid sector, particularly in crisis situations.
Context and challenges
The security crisis that Mali has been going through since 2012 has had two negative impacts on the people directly or indirectly involved. The first is that it has threatened the coverage of IDPs’ basic needs and placed additional pressure on their host communities. The second is that the IDPs have had to stop the farming and livestock activities that had allowed them to be economically autonomous. What is more, when they returned to their homes – once the security situation had been stabilized – their means of production had been damaged, as we will see below.
The programme aimed to provide assistance to those affected by the crisis using an LRRD approach (Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development), that is to say, by combining humanitarian aid for the IDPs and the host communities, and economic recovery activities for the IDPs when they returned to their homes. There was therefore a double challenge: adapting to changes in the context as they moved from the humanitarian phase to the reintegration and development phase, and remaining relevant to the needs of the beneficiaries. In order to meet these challenges, it was necessary to be agile in terms of the different forms of assistance provided, and accountable vis-à-vis the beneficiaries.
Objectives and implementation
Given the situation, the programme had several objectives in keeping with the two types of action involved, with humanitarian assistance first, followed by reintegration and development aid. The first objective, during the humanitarian phase of the programme, was to cover the basic needs of both the IDPs and the host communities. This involved distributing food kits and insecticide-treated mosquito nets, training health workers in screening, and providing care to malnourished children. These needs were identified in discussions with the two target groups.
The second objective was to help relaunch activities to allow the IDPs to regain their economic autonomy once they were back in their home region, so that they would no longer need humanitarian aid. This took two forms:
- for the farming activities carried out by men: seeds and fertilizer, spades and wheelbarrows were distributed so that they could repair the small dykes in the irrigation areas, as were donkeys and carts which are essential to transport crops and manure;
- for the livestock activities carried out by women: two ewes and cottonseed cake for animal feed were given to each beneficiary.
The agility that should be underlined here concerns the adaptation of the programme to the human context. It included components targeting men, irrigated rice growing, and components targeting women in terms of livestock farming, and, to a lesser extent, market farming. As such, it was in keeping with the diversification of activities that allows the families involved to cope better with hazards, particularly climatic hazards, but also market fluctuations for the products that they sell. It should also be noted that this diversification of activities is a very old practice which allows these communities to manage some of the hazards that their activities are faced with.
The third objective was to build the resilience of beneficiaries in relation to climatic risks and improve performance in agriculture and livestock farming. Thus, the seeds that were distributed were selected seeds, including wasa rice, potatoes and onions, with varieties that all combine good yields, are adapted to erratic rainfall, have a short cycle and are resistant to parasitic weeds such as striga. The women, who each received two ewes, received training in fattening and care, which allows early lambing.
The fourth objective, on which the accountability of the programme is based, was its appropriation by beneficiaries using a bottom-up approach. This gave priority to working with local bodies, not only to establish an in-depth analysis of the situation, but also to define the content of the programme and how it was implemented.
As a consequence, the content of the programme and its implementation method were decided in discussions with grassroots farmers’ organisations who were also supported by the regional AOPPs and the national AOPP, without involving foreign organisations, whether humanitarian or development NGOs, consultancies or businesses.
The choice of beneficiaries and the content of the ‘Village par village’ programme were the result of discussions between members of each local farmers’ organisation concerned. To do this, the latter received different kinds of support from their regional and national authorities, which also helped to consolidate them.
The choice of beneficiaries was the responsibility of each farmers’ organisation and concerned the most vulnerable people, particularly widows, and also some of the most productive farmers so as to serve as an example to the other members of the farmers’ organisation. At the local level, whether for irrigated rice farming, livestock farming or market gardening, the farmers’ organisation supplied seeds, inputs, tools, diesel for the irrigation pumps, and animals. In exchange, after the harvest or the new-born lambs had been sold, the farmers’ organisation was paid a fee to cover the cost of its services. It was also able to buy the farmers’ excess produce and sell it on wholesale markets.
The regional AOPPs provided technical support and provided local farmers’ organisations with funding delegated by the national AOPP. The latter centralised requests from the local level, which it weighed against the financial resources that were available. It was also in charge of knowledge management and sharing of successes and failures with member organisations, for example, by organising exchange visits between farmers’ organisations. This brought both agility and accountability to the beneficiaries of the programme, helping them to improve their performance in their different activities, in keeping with a quality approach.
In addition, the national AOPP conducted advocacy activities in order to push the public authorities to implement the new Agricultural Orientation Law and denounce land appropriation due to population displacement. Another of its objectives was to reinforce grassroots organisations and gradually increase financial autonomy as secondary outcomes of a programme which otherwise had very concrete production objectives.
Results and future prospects
The results of this programme have been positive in terms of what it has achieved for both beneficiaries and organisations. Some uncertainties remain, however.
Rice yields for the beneficiaries of the programme were very respectable, in the order of 50 to 60 quintals per hectare for the first harvest. On the other hand, farmers in the same region who had not benefited from the programme and who traditionally cultivated rainfed or bank crops suffered from the lack of rainfall during the last winter.
Thanks to the veterinary and fattening training received by the women, the ewes gave birth earlier. What is more, each woman involved in market gardening was able to increase their number of beds from two to six, which allowed significant increases in production. And they were able to secure a certain amount of revenue by selling their products on credit to civil servants, who are more reliable buyers because of their regular income.
It should also be pointed out that, thanks to this, they were able to borrow from a micro-finance organisation and have two storage warehouses built, and that they were then able to pay back the loan without any difficulty. The programme also helped to boost seed production since the seeds that were used were of good quality, were suited to the region’s climatic context and were supplied by farmers’ organisations that are specialised in seed production.
In terms of the results obtained both in crop cultivation and livestock farming, the programme achieved the objectives that had been fixed and the level of quality that was being aimed for. Nevertheless, this does not mean that it will not be faced with difficulties of different kinds in the future.
The first of these difficulties is obviously the unstable security situation in Mali. Armed forces, including France’s Opération Barkhane, the United Nations’ MINUSMA and the G5 Sahel, have helped to reduce conflict in certain regions of the north. But the lack of results to date of the Algiers Agreement, and the spreading of insecurity to central Mali and the three-border region (whether this is due to Jihadist groups, drug trafficking, particularly cocaine of Latin-American origin, or community conflicts, particularly between sedentary farmers and nomadic livestock farmers), clearly means that there are threats to the population of these regions, and therefore potentially those who have benefited from the programme. We should not under-estimate the risk of renewed population displacements which would bring us back to the initial situation that the programme was designed to address. And it is unlikely that agility alone will make it possible to overcome this security challenge.
To this should be added the question of crop commercialisation. The arrival on the market of greater quantities of produce has destabilized the relationship between supply and demand and therefore has had a negative impact on selling prices, which sometimes has led to the loss of some of the produce. The reason for this is that without any storage (or the ability to conserve perishable goods such as onions or milk), it is not really possible to extend the period during which they can be sold. That said, and this is another sign of the agility and involvement of beneficiaries, certain farmers’ organisations have begun to consider complementing this programme by building collective grain stores.
Another difficulty, or unanswered question, concerns the displaced persons who are shop owners or tradesmen rather than crop farmers or livestock farmers. Their economic reintegration will require other types of assistance, such as micro-finance for investments that are necessary to restart these activities. If this were to be implemented in a new phase of the programme, it would have objectives of agility and accountability and would target new categories of beneficiaries based on their needs.
For the time being, the adoption of the concept of agility in the initial analysis, the choice of content and the implementation (while adapting to the changing Malian context and the economic practices of beneficiaries), and the focus on accountability towards beneficiaries, have allowed this programme to achieve satisfactory results.
In addition, it has established new relations between humanitarian aid – except, of course, in relation to emergency relief – and development aid. As such, this programme is removing a distinction that no longer makes sense, particularly in situations where there is evolving, long-term insecurity.
Jean-Bernard Véron – Jean-Bernard Véron spent most of his professional career at the French Development Agency, where he held a number of positions, including Head of the Macroeconomic Studies Division, Head of the Agricultural and Rural Development Division for Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, and Director of the Asia, Caribbean, Pacific Department. He also created and ran a department focused on crisis situations, with a particular accent on the Sahel, Somalia, Afghanistan and Colombia. He is currently Chairman of the Fondation de France’s French Committee for International Solidarity, Editor-in-chief of the review Afrique Contemporaine and a board member of the Committee for Cooperation with Laos. He is also a novelist and a photographer.