Saturday, June 28, 2014

Crops that I saw in Mali: Maize/Corn, Rice, Vegetables, Sorghum, Millet, Soybean

On my first day in Mali with Anounou we went to visit a successful farmer near Selingue in southern Mali. He took us to see his corn fields. I was impressed with what I saw. Most of the rural farmers in Africa, that I have seen, plant a hill of five plants about a meter apart from each other. I am not sure where this technique originated and I have not been able to find out why they do it this way. The best answer that I have been able to get is, the five seeds are in case some of them don't germinate and the spacing is so that it is easier to get between the plants to weed when they get bigger . This farmer planted his corn in rows with the proper spacing between rows and between plants, 60-80 cm between rows and 15 to 20 cm between plants in a row.

Looking at recently planted corn fields in Mali

Rice fields ready to harvest near Selingue, Mali
The farmer then took us to his rice farm near the Niger river. He was in the middle of harvesting the rice. These fields are flood irrigated from the river so they can grow rice all year around. Typically, they plant in July and harvest in December then plant again in January and harvest in June.

With added water almost any vegetable is grown in these gardens in Ouelessabougou
In this community garden I saw a very wide variety of vegetables and herbs. Tomatoes, spinach, onion, kale, sweet potato, corn, beans, soybeans, and many others. The climate is very good for growing just about anything here. The challenge comes during the dry season when everything has to be watered by hand. This community garden has five hand dug wells.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
In Bamako we stopped at ICRISAT, The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and met with Eva a sorghum scientist from Germany that works here to develop better varieties of sorghum and millet. 
Mali has a climate that is conducive to growing a wide variety of produce, from cereal grains to soybeans to vegetables to fruits. With improved cultivation and processing techniques, Mali could produce plenty of food to meet the needs of her population and could export also. I look forward to using the Feed the World program to help the Ouelessabougou Alliance teach improved farming practices.

Rice production on small rural farms in Mali near the Niger River

Rice is a very important crop for the farmers in Mali and is one of the principal foods of the Mali people. In this post I will describe using text and pictures the fascinating process of rice production by the rural farmers in southern Mali.
Rice fields flooded by the Niger River irrigation canals
Because these fields are flood irrigated from the river, they can grow rice all year around. Typically, they plant in July and harvest in December then plant again in January and harvest in June. The farmers purchased the immature rice plants from the nurseries and plant them by hand in their fields.

Rice fields ready to harvest near Selingue, Mali
The rice takes four to five months to mature depending on the variety. During this time the fields are flooded several times depending on the weather and the needs of the rice. The Mali farmers pay the government water office for the water that they use.

The rice is harvested by workers with a hand scythe and gathered in bundles
This rice field has recently been harvested. The rice plant is cut and laid on top of the remaining stalk for several days to dry out. It is then gathered in bundles and carried to the road ready to be threshed.
A portable rice thresher that goes from field to field doing custom threshing
Portable threshing machines are hauled around the valley from field to field to thresh the rice. The rice straw is either burned there in the fields or taken back to the villages to be used as animal feed during the dry season. The rice is spread out on the ground and allowed to dry before being milled, cleaned, and sold in the market.

Rice drying on plastic tarps near the farmers home
This farmer spread his rice on large tarps near his home. The roads make a nice flat place to lay the tarps to dry the rice. Occasionally I have seen the grains spread out on the paved roads even without a tarp. Sometimes the traffic will attempt to avoid the grain, but sometimes they will just drive right over the top of it.

Using the breeze to clean the chaff from the rice before taking it to market
Once the milling has taken place the rice is cleaned by pouring it out onto a large tarp while a breeze is blowing. The lighter rice chaff will be carried to the side, leaving just the rice itself. It is not uncommon to see chickens, goats, or other farm animals helping themselves to the chaff. The rice is scooped into 90 kg bags and hauled to the market using donkey carts or various other forms of transportation. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mali is added to my list of countries

The Ouelessebougou Alliance asked Feed the World to evaluate the opportunities that they have for introducing gardening and crop production into the villages where they work in Mali. I was asked to meet with Anounou, their in country director and have him show me what they had in mind. I spent four days in Mali looking at the country's agriculture and talking with the staff and the villagers. Mali is a delightful country. I will probably have several posts about Mali agriculture.

Weekly market in Selingue in southern Mali
One of the days we went to the local open air market. It was much like the other open air markets that I have been to in Africa. We bought some deep fried soy bean scones, chofufu, that were quite good. I was looking for the way that the local people traded their agricultural products.

We enjoyed some chofufu at the market.

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