In Mali and Niger, communities are working to escape the constraints of their environment | Development and Peace

In Mali and Niger, communities are working to escape the constraints of their environment

February 10, 2016
Stéphane Vinhas, Program Officer – Emergency Relief

In January 2016, my colleague Ann Dominique and I had the opportunity to go on a project monitoring trip to the Sahel, more specifically to Mali and Niger. Before our arrival, we were warned: get ready for the cold as temperatures drop to 16 degrees Celsius … it just goes to say, everything is relative!

In the present context of Mali and Niger, countries shaken by terrorist attacks and faced with impending important elections, our visit was intended to express our solidarity on behalf of those who support Development and Peace. This visit also enabled us to witness initiatives that work well in the Sahel, thanks to the communities that manage them.

It’s always a joy and an honour to be received in communities to the sounds of drums and laughter, with smiles of the residents, dances of joy, handshakes, and glances full of curiosity or fear on the part of the children. Sitting in the centre of the community group, protected from the sun under straw huts, women on one side, men on the other, we openly discussed issues affecting the village, its successes but also its difficulties. We learned many things from the communities themselves about the specific context and importance of the projects we support.

Visit of the vegetable perimeter in Kilabo, Mali.

In the process, we received confirmation that precautionary community granaries provide protection against food insecurity. Granaries are an economic model for savings for more effective risk management and they also play a social role in structuring traditional solidarity at the village level to fight structural poverty. Granaries, as infrastructure, serve as a concrete visual reference for existing initiatives in the village. They are a symbol of motivation, ownership, mobilization, and the organization of the communities being supported. They are at the heart of a production, exchange and redistribution system operated at the local level. They also serve as support for the income-generating activities they finance with their profits and as places for meetings and exchanges to reduce and defuse conflicts. Women's organizations assured us that market gardens have changed their lives: financial support, better child nutrition, a decrease in excessive tree cutting, initiative- taking and a boost in self-confidence through management and results, and a rebalancing of power within couples and at the village level. It is always impressive to see the colour green, a result of community initiatives, tinting the yellow ocher of the desert soils. It is a symbol of resistance to climate change.

Difference between drought on one side and the work of the other community .

The words of the people we met echo their actual experience: “a hungry belly has no ears” or “these projects have not filled our pockets; they filled our bellies and minds, which is more important to us!” More requests were already coming to us from neighboring villages, as they witness the success of projects and also wish to benefit from support granted to initiatives enabling a certain freedom of choice.

Before leaving, we were told of the importance of our visit in terms of recognizing work done, motivating the communities already deeply involved, and facilitating the efforts of those on the ground who manage the projects on a daily basis. Our temporary presence has underlined, in any case, our interest and our willingness to see the communities move forward with their specific talents and their own initiatives.