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Sunday, September 26, 2021

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Malian farmers lose their crops to climate change

By Mody Kamissoko

African states like Mali are among the least polluting nations in the world, but often bear an outsized cost of the effects of climate change. This year Mali has seen a heavier than usual rainy season, with downpours flooding farming areas and destroying farmers’ crops in many areas of the country. In Dembakoro village in the Kita zone of Kayes region, there was more rain in 2020 than in any year in the last 70 years, according to villagers.

The flooding has sown desolation for the inhabitants of Dembakoro, a village where agriculture and livestock remain the only means of subsistence. On a recent December morning, the chief of the village, which is located about 100 kilometers from the Malian capital Bamako, called an important meeting to discuss “the heavy rains that have impacted harvests” this year.

The first adviser to the village chief sounded the alarm on Kassaro Rural Radio: “Here in Dembakoro, it’s not a question of 30 years. Those who have preceded me in the village say they have never seen such a disaster. The current village chief, Modibo Diakité, who succeeded his older brother, says he has never seen such rain since he was a child. He is now almost 70 years old. He certainly had years of abundant rain, of high humidity, but such damage caused by humidity, he had never seen, let alone us,” Touba Diakité said.

In this village comprised of 127 families, incessant rainfall flooded 90 percent of the fields during the rainy season. Farmers like Yacouba Diarra watched helplessly as he witnessed the water invade his five hectares and his neighbor Daboulou Diabaté’s 15 hectares of corn. “In September, I came to put fertilizer on my crops. At that moment, I realized we won’t be able to harvest much from the corn. The water flooded the crops before we could do anything,” Yacouba Diarra said.

For Daboulou Diabaté, it was a considerable loss in a field that had brought some measure of prosperity in the previous years. “I lost 15 hectares of crops. What I myself spent on agricultural inputs is worth 325,000 CFA francs, not including the debts of the CMDT (Malian Company for the Development of Textiles). Last year, I had a little over seven tons in cotton alone,” he explained.

The farmers’ faces betray a high degree of anxiety. Faced with a near total crop failure, many residents are relying on the production of charcoal, another action that aggravates the phenomenon of global warming. But, according to them, they have no choice because they fear food insecurity. “We have no solution but to abandon the field. The water flooded day and night under the plants. If they can help us, we’ll be happy. That’s the appeal I have to the authorities. Apart from that, we have no other alternative than to produce coal, even if we have to do it in secret because the water and forests department agents will arrest us if they see us,” Sali Konaré, a mother of six. “When you have a good result in your field, you don’t need to do this work. We don’t have the means or other jobs, that’s what motivated us to do this.  If you see me cutting wood, it’s because of the lack of work,” Konaré explained.

6.8 million people Malians need humanitarian assistance, up from 4.3 million in January, according to the Humanitarian Response Plan, published in July by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This increase “can be explained by the persistence of humanitarian needs related to conflicts, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic in a context marked by the lean harvest and the consequences of pockets of drought and seasonal flooding.” Flooding affected approximately 3,993 households, or 26,711 people in the different regions of Mali, according to official figures. Besides the damage done to houses and food, 736 hectares of crops were affected and more than 300 head of livestock lost, according to a report published in August.

Every month, the water resources monitoring commission of Sélingué and Markala, a commission created by ministerial decree to find solutions to water resource issues, holds a meeting in Bamako. “We recorded an exceptional flood, higher than that of 2019 and 2017 but comparable to that of 2018, which was also an exceptional year. These years allowed us to know exactly what measures to take in time. We know that 2017 was a deficit year. We had a water deficit, but again, thanks to very good management, we were able to meet the irrigation needs of the offices, especially the Office du Niger, where we did not feel a deficit because we managed the reservoir not only at Sélingué but also at Markala very well. In 2018, when we had an abundance, the concern was the flooding, not only of the large cities but also of the irrigated perimeters. It’s true that we need water, but a lot of water also creates losses,” says Djoouro Bocoum, deputy national director of hydraulics.

The farmers of Dembakoro, caught between food insecurity and rising debts, are calling for more flexible methods of paying their debts. While waiting for a lasting solution, some are gardening vegetables to sell at the market to meet their needs.

*This reporting was done with the support of the IMS Sahel Program, funded by DANIDA.

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