Friday, January 30, 2015

Ouelessebougou, Mali Wonderful people! This is a report that I prepared for the Ouelessebougou Alliance after visiting their program.

Report prepared for the Ouelessebougou Alliance
by Lonny Ward, Vice President & Director of Operations, Feed The World

In my position as Director of Operations for Feed The World, I visited the Ouelessebougou Alliance project in Mali to evaluate the project and make recommendations for improving the food security of the people in the area. This was a very brief visit, so my observations and recommendations are based on that small snapshot of time. Further study and evaluation should be conducted before full-scale implementation occurs.

Feed The World has developed very successful programs for teaching and mentoring poor rural farmers, giving them the tools they need to provide for their own nutritional needs and improve their economic situation. This report reviews my observations and recommendations on how the Ouelessebougou Alliance can use some of Feed The World’s techniques and materials to improve the lives of the poor in Mali.

Part of the Ouelessebougou Team and Lonny

The Ouelessebougou Alliance has been blessing the lives of the people in Mali for over 20 years. Currently they work in 25 villages, but they have worked with over 50 other villages where they still have connections. They have developed strong relationships in the communities and garnered the trust of the people in the villages where they work. This relationship of trust gives them the ability to teach the villagers efficient farming practices that will drastically improve their nutrition and economic situation.

Farming can be a risky business, so changes to long-standing traditions can be very difficult. Because the local farmers trust the Ouelessebougou Alliance, they are more likely to implement these new techniques that will drastically improve their production. As these principles spread throughout the community, the whole community and eventually the entire country, will benefit.

Religion and Political Stability:

The country of Mali is approximately 95% Muslim. Overall, there is a sense of helping each other among the people. The government is stable, and has a peaceful transition to new leaders every five years. Even though the main political offices change, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all positions change. In fact, most of the lower level government positions are stable and stay consistent in personnel and policy. Mali has a huge range of political parties, but that seems to work well for the country.

On the local level, Mayors are elected by the constituents, but in the villages, the position of Chief is passed on from father to son.  It appears that there is little interaction between the chiefs and the elected government officials. To implement a successful project, the approval of both the chiefs and the elected officials is very important. Before beginning a project, both should be educated on the purpose and scope of the project.

The Mali government does have agriculture extension officers, and there is agriculture research being done. However, most of this support and information does not trickle down to the villages. Often what the extension workers are instructed to teach is too complex for the village farmers. The extension workers feel that they are wasting their time going to the villages, and the village farmers don’t see a lot of benefit in what the government people have to say. If the extension workers are trained on teaching a simple model to the village farmers, they will see quick results and gain respect in the eyes of the villagers. The villagers can implement the simple training and have success.

An example of the research being done in Mali
There is little terrorism in Mali except to the far north. This stable environment provides a rich base where progressive change can be implemented. It is critical that the rural villages improve their nutritional situation and economic status so that they do not fall prey to terrorist organizations that promise prosperity in exchange for loyalty. By teaching these simple yet life changing principles, the country becomes more secure and stable.

In summary, the conditions are good for an agricultural program to be implemented in Mali. The political climate is stable and the systems are in place that could quickly take the Feed The World model forward. Implementing an agricultural program would require acceptance from the leaders and cooperation in the villages.

Current Cultural Practices in Agriculture:

The diet of the rural Malians is very poor and consists mainly of millet, maize, and okra. In some cases, only one or two meals per day are eaten. There is very little or no milk, eggs, meat, or other sources of protein eaten on a regular basis. A few villagers grow gardens with a small range of vegetables. Consequently, the typical Mali diet is deficient in several key ingredients for proper growth and development.

Young family with twin babies: Good nutrition for the mother and babies is critical

Dr. Paul Johnston and his students have studied similar diets in Africa and South America and have developed very good training materials for schools and communities. His work is the basis for the Feed The World nutrition component. Dr. Johnston is anxious to help in these developing countries, and looks for opportunities for his students to learn with real world situations.  

In most of the areas that we visited, the farmers raised only a few staple crops. These were usually rice, maize, or millet. The crops are the basis for their diets, and proceeds from these crops are occasionally used to purchase vegetables and fruits to supplement their diets. The prices that they are paid for the crops are usually low because of the large supply that is grown and the fact that most people sell at the same time. The price for vegetables and fruits, on the other hand, is high because of a low supply and high demand. By raising their own vegetables in local gardens, the farmers would gain a double benefit. They don’t have to buy vegetables in the marketplace, and any surplus they had could be sold for good prices.

In the lowlands by the river, rice is grown because of the availability of water by flood irrigation. The Malians have about 14 varieties of rice available to them. The farmer that we talked with uses three of those varieties. The rice is harvested and left resting in bundles on top of the rice stalks for several days to dry. Portable rice processing machines travel around the area pulled by donkeys. Small gas engines power the small machines that thresh the rice from the rest of the plant. The rice is bagged up and sent to be dried, hulled and sold. The rice stalks are often burned near the edge of the field, and the ones that are not burned are used as animal feed. Feeding the stalks to the animals and using the manure as fertilizer is the best way to use the stalks. The animals’ digestive systems break down the fibrous stalks into readily available nutrients for the plants. Stalks that are not needed for animal feed should be reincorporated back into the soil as composted organic matter, rather than being burned.

Maize (corn) and millet are grown further away from the river because they do not require as much water. They, along with rice, are the basis of the Malian diet. The maize and millet stalks are treated much like the rice stalks, with many of them being burned. This is a waste of nutrients and is harmful to the environment. However, it is apparent why the farmers do this, since burning the stalks is much easier than plowing them back into the field. Without the understanding of how valuable this organic matter is to the soil health, the farmers do not see the need to go to the extra work of plowing it back into the soil. Here again, feeding the stalks to the animals is an even better alternative because they are quickly turned into valuable nutrients. In some cases, farmers allow pastors to bring their animals into the fields and graze after the crops have been harvested. This is a very desirable practice, adding value to the soil.

Maize (corn) fields
Most vegetables can be grown very easily in Mali. The soil is good in most places, and the climate is favorable. Outside of the community garden and Anounou’s garden, I did not see many vegetable gardens being grown. Teaching and encouraging the local people to grow vegetable gardens can very quickly improve their level of nutrition and surplus harvest could provide an additional source of income that can be used for school fees, clothing, medicines, etc. The community garden would be a good place to start this training.

Community Garden

The community garden in Ouelessebougou was doing very well. There was a wide variety of vegetables being grown and sold to people from the surrounding area. Several deep wells in the garden area provide a near constant supply of water so that the vegetables could be grown year round. The women that were working in these gardens should be encouraged to plant similar gardens near their homes, and teach their neighbors how to grow vegetables.

Participating families at the community gardens
To improve the program, I would recommend that raised beds be built in each person’s assigned area, and that better soil preparation and planting techniques be used to increase the quality and quantity of the vegetables harvested. As the raised beds are built, organic matter such as stalks, leaves, and manure should be mixed into the soil to increase its fertility. The organic matter also acts as a sponge to help retain water so that it is more readily available for the vegetables.


There are a large variety of fruits available in Mali, and some of them are cultivated, while others grow wild. I am familiar with some of the fruits such as mango, papaya, and banana, but others I have not heard of or tasted before. Here are some of the new fruits I was able to experience:

     Zebon is about the size of a lemon, and very sour. The outer shell is cut open to reveal fruit resembling a brain, with fruit surrounding large pits. To eat it, villagers suck the fruit off of the pits and spit them out. It is like eating the sour patch candies, both sweet and sour.
Text Box: Zebon fruitTongue fruit

     Tongue is a small round yellow fruit, about the size of a bing cherry. It grows on bushes in the wild. There is a large pit inside and the fruit is somewhat sour.
     Shea is a medium-sized fruit that looks like a small light green pepper. Inside the fruit is a large nut that is a little smaller than a pecan. The nut can be hulled or peeled and the meat has a sticky milky substance. The oil is used in lotions, and the nuts can be roasted and eaten. The fruit was not ripe, so I could not tell what it would taste like. It was like a very young green apple.
Text Box: Shea
Text Box: Cashew fruit with nut on the end

     Cashew is a funny-looking fruit about the size of a green pepper with the cashew nut stuck to the end of it. The fruit itself is bright yellow and very fibrous. It is extremely juicy and drips all over you as you eat it. The cashew nut has an acid inside that can burn the skin. The nut has to be roasted before it can be consumed. (Side note: Before Anounou told me about the acid, I tried to bite open the cashew to see the nut inside. After he told me about the acid that can burn your hands if you are not careful, I went and washed my mouth out several times. About half an hour later my lips began to burn. I rinsed them several more times. Later that evening they felt numb and were a little sensitive when I touched them. The feeling was similar to the feeling that I feel when the deadening agent that the dentist uses is wearing off.)

All of these fruits should be analyzed and possibly integrated into a nutritional program. Working with nutritionists like Dr. Paul Johnston, diets and recipes could be developed that would meet the needs of the rural families.

Chickens and other livestock:
Some of the Malians have chickens that they raise for eggs or meat. Most of these chickens are just left to run free during the day and stay either close to the home or inside the home at night. They are fed scraps or just left to fend for themselves. Some chickens are occasionally fed maize, and they are allowed to clean up if any grain is spilled. Consequently, these chickens are much less productive and are more susceptible to diseases than they could be if their diet was watched more closely. Because they roam freely, they can be a carrier for passing diseases around the community. Proper care, housing, feeding, and vaccination of the chickens would greatly increase their productivity and would decrease the morbidity in both the chickens and the families. The Feed The World model has specific yet simple recommendations for managing chickens that would be beneficial for production.
Text Box: Free range chickensOxen for plowing

There are other species of livestock that are used for meat, work, and a financial savings device. I will not spend a lot of time discussing them in this report. There are significantly fewer people that have these other animals, and the cost for intervention is greater. In the Feed The World program, working with animals is usually left until later in the program, and we prefer to use the animals readily accessible and accepted by the community.


Ouelessebougou has a large open air market every Friday. We went to Selingue which has a large open air market on Saturday. It is similar to the other markets that I have seen in developing countries. This one had small shops with all sorts of food items both prepared and raw. These markets would provide a good place for the villagers to sell their surplus vegetables. If many of the villagers grew vegetables, the supply may exceed demand. In this case, cooperatives could be formed to transport the surplus vegetables to other markets. Another option would be to use the vegetables in food items sold to the people visiting and working in the market.

Chofufu at the market place

We purchased chofufu, which were small deep fried balls of soybean dough. They were very tasty. The little chofufu balls were made with a little “tail” so that you could pick them up and eat them easily, and throw the tail away so that your hands never touched the food that you ate. In the shops that sold food in the marketplace, they often had ways of washing your hands before eating.

In addition to all of the local products there were many vendors of clothing, sunglasses, jewelry, CDs, and other imported items. The market was quite dirty, and very crowded, but people were used to it. Transportation to and from the market could be a challenge and should be considered. Several neighbors could work together and take turns carrying the produce to market.

Education and support of primary schools:

The Ouelessebougou Alliance supports 11 primary schools, about 75% of the students that start finish all the way through 6th grade. There are secondary schools in the area that have a similar completion rate of about 75%. These schools could implement agricultural training programs and plant sequential vegetable gardens that would be able to educate the children and provide additional nutrients to their diets. I visited the Tamala School, and will use it as a model for my recommendations on what could be done at the other primary schools.

Tamala school:

We visited the Tamala school to investigate the possibility of setting up an agricultural training program that would include a garden area and classes in nutrition and gardening. This is a very desirable program because it infuses the students with a very practical education that will help them throughout their lives and also give them skills that they can teach to their families.

Open area between buildings at the Tamala School

There is adequate area around the school to plant a garden. Setting up the garden would require several steps. The more the students and parents are involved, the more successful the project will be. They should feel ownership of the school agriculture program, giving them more incentive to participate and learn from it.

1.    The first step is to select an area for the garden. Right between the schools might be the best place for it. If everyone is constantly seeing it, the garden will get better care and it will become a source of pride for the school. There could be a friendly competition set up between classes. If other schools are involved, a friendly contest could be set up between schools.
2.    The selected area needs to be fenced off, and strict rules should be enforced as to who can enter. Many trampling feet, and/or hungry animals can quickly destroy a garden. The community can decide what kind of fence they want, and how they will go about putting it in place. We have found that our projects are more successful if some sort of work is required before we start the training.
3.    I would recommend that a water storage tank, fed by gutters from the school roofs, be constructed. The school session does not correspond with the rainy season, so the garden will have to be continually watered. (This is actually very good because they will learn that they can grow food even during the dry season if they develop their water resources.)
4.    The soil is very deficient in organic matter. The students should be recruited to bring leaves, grass, manure, and any other organic matter that they can find to be mixed into the soil. Without added organic matter, the soil does not have sponge activity, and the water that is put on the soil either leaches through or runs off. Bringing organic matter with them to school is a great way for the children to gain ownership and to learn about composting.
5.    Raised beds should be constructed with wood, rocks, or bricks. They should be about 30 cm high and be 1.5 meters by 3 meters. The leaves, grass, manure, and any other organic matter should be mixed with soil about 50/50 to create a fertile environment for the seeds. This is also a great opportunity for the students and parents involvement
  Training for the students and teachers that will be working in the garden will then be carried out so that they can start the project. Expectations should be set and explained, and a plan for follow up should be set up.

The other part of the program that is critical is teaching nutrition classes in the school. The students need to understand the importance of eating the vegetables that they are growing. Acquiring a taste for some of the vegetables may take some focused encouragement and good recipes.

The next generation of Mali

1.    The first step in the nutrition program is to do a 24 hour recall study with a significant group of the students. This method includes the students telling us what they have eaten in the last 24 hours. With this data, we can work with Dr. Paul Johnston at BYU to determine the nutrient deficiencies in their diets and put together a plan for increasing their level of nutrition.
2.    It is highly recommended that when the recall study is done, we take height and weight measurements, and find a way to document the scholastic performance of the children. This type of data will help parents and teachers to be convinced that the gardening and nutrition program is helping their children at school, and will help their children at home also.
3.    With the help of Dr. Johnston and his students at BYU, we can develop lesson plans for the teacher that will be specific for their needs. The lesson plans need to be translated into Bambara for the teacher to present them to the students.
4.    It is always helpful if the parents are included in the learning process. Classes could be set up after school or in the evenings for parents to attend so that the teachings are reinforced to both parents and students.
5.    To encourage the families to learn and implement the lessons that they are taught, a home garden program with a contest and prizes could be implemented. A successful garden requires a lot of work. An added incentive or competition can make the work more desirable.

In summary, the Tamala school could greatly benefit from a nutrition and gardening program. It would take work, but has the potential to yield great results. Growing and consuming vegetables is not difficult, but it does take education, effort, and a desire to have a better life.

NGO Resources Available

Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are also working in Mali to improve the malnutrition problem. One of these organizations, CTB Mali, has a large project outside of Bamako that is teaching single mothers, widows, and orphans how to raise their own food. They have garden plots set up with water available at each site. There are experts on hand to teach classes, answer questions, and encourage these struggling individuals. Networking with other NGOs can extend your reach and increase your success.

Text Box: Young mother next to her garden plot
Water stations for the garden plots

Research and University Support:

There are many additional resources for information in Mali. The Capital City, Bamako, has university programs that teach agriculture, and there is a large research station that includes farms, gardens, laboratories, and conference rooms. The researchers communicate and coordinate with other West African countries, and have ties with Europe and the United States. These organizations can be a good source of information as the programs are implemented.
We have found that partnering with the government’s agricultural extension agents is a great way to improve the success of the training. We teach the agents our simple model, and then encourage them to use it in the communities where we work. Even though it is a simple model, it drastically changes the villagers’ lives for the better. The agents get the credit, and have more fulfillment in their jobs.

This has been a great opportunity for me to see the work that you are doing in Mali at the Ouelessebougou Alliance. Many lives have been blessed by your service. Thank you for allowing me to visit your operation in Ouelessebougou.

There are more great opportunities to bless the lives of others with education and help them lift themselves out of poverty and malnutrition. Here are my further recommendations:

1.    Have Anounou go to the School of Agriculture for Family Independence(SAFI) in Malawi. This is a school that teaches the agriculture model to farm families and government extension workers. It is funded by NuSkin’s Force for Good Foundation.
2.    Prepare a plan for how you would like to implement these ideas. I would be glad to meet with your board to answer any questions.
3.    Choose a school and a village to be the pilot program. Present the idea to several of them and let them compete for the privilege of being the first one. (i.e. The first school to have their planter boxes completed is the one that will be the pilot.) The more committed the people are to the program, the better it’s chances of great success.
4.    Develop a simple system of rewards for good performance.
5.    Evaluate the results of the pilot program, and modify the program as needed. Implement the new program in other villages and schools. Have representatives from the village and school do the teaching with a mentor assisting them.
6.    Celebrate your successes, learn from your failures, and keep moving forward.

The winning team at the Ouelessebougou Alliance in Mali

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