A story from the Guardian today talks about farmers in Dandoli, Mali building elevated farming plots and surrounding the young plants with stones. Writer Madeleine Bunting says that it is usually these primitive solutions that often are ignored when receiving international development aid funding.
Chief Temboli says the rainy season is shorter and when the rain comes, it's heavier. Flash floods can cut small valleys and then pour silt into the river. A few years ago, heavy rain led to flooding so that the river burst its banks and washed away the small vegetable plots on which the villages depend for income. A small local non- governmental organisation, AEDM, has helped them to build new plots using better techniques.
As the mayor explains, the key is composting. He recounts with pride the methods they have adopted using a mixture of ash, animal dung and vegetable waste. Standing there by the compost bins, I was struck by how such huge issues as climate adaptation and food security for millions of people come down to such micro matters as composting. It is not primarily technology that is needed – although it has its place – but far more prosaic solutions which are well within the reach and capability of small communities.
The vegetable plots have been rebuilt with painful effort. Patches of level bare rock are used and low stone walls are built to create a form of raised bed. More stone walls, a foot deep, are laid in a lattice work so that each growing area is no more than 2ft square. The walls help keep the soil in place, preventing it from being washed away or the wind in the dry season from dispersing it as dust. The women gather baskets of earth enriched with compost to fill the beds. It is a back-breaking labour. During the growing season, the women fill gourds with water several times a day from the river, 200 yards away, to sprinkle over their tiny plots.
The biggest crop is onions, which can be sold in the local market, but AEDM has introduced other varieties of vegetables to ensure a wider range of nutrients for the villagers than just the staple millet on which they depend for the bulk of their diet.