Yacouba Diarra, an émigré from Côte d’Ivoire to Mali, has lived and worked in the small southern community of Bougouni since 2005. Diarra is a member of the 70 member Bougouni Farmers’ Cooperative (BFC), and they organize fishermen and animal breeders to mutually support one another to increase production, improve nutrition, and raise incomes throughout their community. “I have a deep gratitude to the Farmer-to-Farmer program,” says Diarra.
In April 2010, Diarra asked to host the first Feed the Future Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Mali volunteer assignment supporting the BFC. At the time, Diarra struggled to convince people that the effort of attending a training would be worth the investment in the long run. Most members of the cooperative felt that only money could improve their businesses, but Diarra has lived by the Nelson Mandela quote “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Confident that F2F volunteer experts could benefit his community, Diarra lobbied the BFC members to engage in a series of trainings to transform and diversify their livelihoods. Initially, through the efforts of American volunteer Dr. Joseph Sullivan, an expert in fisheries and aquaculture, Diarra began to bring business training and expertise into his community. Over the next decade, 15 F2F volunteers from the U.S. traveled to Mali to teach sessions on fish farming, organization of agriculture suppliers, small ruminant and cattle husbandry, breed improvement, tree forage integration, and entrepreneurship.
The change was remarkable. Members of the BFC learned new skills and approaches to the management of their businesses and techniques for improvement of their inputs. Trainings and subsequent improvements among the members’ businesses led seven other villages in the surrounding area to join the co-op and expand into a union. Looking back on the achievements that the BFC has realized as a result of F2F support, Diarra noted: “Our organization has expanded membership and now includes 27% women. Members are farming over 500 sheep and goats, along with cattle and fishponds. We have improved varieties of sheep which sell for 2x to 3x the value of local breeds at market. We have learned the principles of sustainability and are producing our own urea lick blocks and planting forage trees such as moringa to improve animal nutrition, reduce input costs, and increase productivity. BFC is also now selling tilapia and catfish fingerlings to other fisherman and earning hundreds of dollars. Our cooperative’s skills in fishpond construction are highly sought after. We now provide trainings on fish farming to others based on what we learned from the American F2F volunteers.”
Diarra is proud that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Farmer-to-Farmer program has improved the lives of people throughout his community. He hopes to see many more volunteer assignments to build on the long and fruitful collaboration. Through this example of diversified livelihoods and improved economic opportunities, the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program in Mali is supporting resilient communities and increasing the self-sufficiency of households to manage risk, while building goodwill with the American people. In Mali, F2F is currently implemented by Winrock International and the Browse and Grass Growers Cooperative and has directly assisted more than 5,300 farmers and others in the agricultural sector since 2010.