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Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Working from a farming community on the banks of the Senegal River in Mali for more than thirty years, Ladji has used action research and networks of small farmers that he has created to introduce a steady stream of innovations into small farmer agriculture in the Sahelian region. His innovations have transformed farming communities along the Senegal River, diversifying crops and improving the health of farmers. Now Ladji is turning his attention to dealing with the effects of climate change, including previously unknown fluctuations in the volume of water in the Senegal River and its tributaries. He is also a leader of small farmer efforts to resist threats to the shared local patrimony by multinationals seeking to trademark widely used local seed varieties.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In the 1970’s the Sahelian region was gripped by a multi-year drought that severely affected local farmers. Ladji had been working as a laborer representative in Paris, but he decided to return to Mali and figure out solutions to this problem. He had been raised on a small farm and so he supplemented that knowledge with training at research centers and farms in France. He and thirteen others who shared his same vision were given sixty hectares of land in Mali by a local military governor to establish a farm and come up with innovative solutions to the problems faced by farmers. In addition to introducing new approaches to irrigation, crop planting and farm management, Ladji soon realized that part of the problem was the government controls in the farming sector. From 1976 to 1991, when the government changed and the farming sector was allowed more flexibility, a great deal of his time was spent convincing government officials to let him do things like set up a cooperative and negotiate prices at the local level instead of selling unprocessed produce to the government for a pre-set fixed price. With the shift away from military government the challenge shifted to disseminating knowledge across the region and making these innovations sustainable. Ladji created a network of farmer-supported community radio stations to spread news of the innovations and recruit farmers to spend time learning new techniques at his farm in Sinakota. He also organized networks of farmers along the banks of the Senegal River to share knowledge and further disseminate new farming practices in an area that encompasses four countries and whose land mass is the same size as the country of Senegal. The issue that occupies Ladji now is food sovereignty. The threats come from several directions. The first is shifting climate conditions, which have produced much higher than normal periods of flow on the Senegal River, causing riverbank erosion and threatening river bordering farms. The second challenge comes from multinational corporations which seek to patent and trademark local seed varieties as something they have developed or created, thus causing farmers to have to pay more for such seeds than if they were commonly available.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Ladji’s approach has been to involve local farmers and those from the surrounding regions in his efforts to pilot new approaches to economic livelihood. He began in the late 1970’s by introducing the first cooperative to Mali and negotiating the price of products in the local markets. At the time the farming system was based on government fixed prices for all agricultural produce. In 1978 he pioneered the effort in Mali to allow cultivators to diversify from cultivation to into raising animals like cows and goats. At the time the farming system was organized around the strict separation of these farming practices. Ladji’s innovations in irrigation made it possible for farmers along the banks of the Senegal River to plant banana and papaya on a large scale, an idea which had been deemed impractical to that point because of the drought conditions in the region. Ladji also pioneered the planting and sale of a much wider range of vegetables than had hitherto been the case. This innovation has changed the diet of local farming communities which has had a documented effect on the health of the local farming population in the area. Previously the local diet relied heavily on cereals, meat and milk, with few if any vegetables. Ladji also introduced the systematic cultivation of seed varieties in this region of the Sahel. His first successful effort involved Galmi violet onions that had previously been grown exclusively in Niger. Producing this seed required long-term, focused attention to irrigation and waiting for the second generation crop to flower and set seed, in addition to careful harvesting and storing. His current efforts to stabilize the banks of the Senegal River are focused on a mix of netting, tree planting and crop cultivation to prevent erosion. He is also a leader of a pan-African organization that monitors and resists efforts by multinationals to obtain trademarks on available local seed varieties.