Mali once had it good. Mansa Musa, the great ninth mansa of the Mali Empire, and considered the world’s richest man ever, has roots there. It was West Africa’s second largest exporter of gold after Ghana.
The good times look so far away. There has been a food crisis since 2016. And to compound its situation, terrorist attacks have multiplied in the centre of the country, in the Mopti region. With the heavy toll of civilian and military victims and damage to farmers' fields, it has been plunged into food insecurity. In Macina and Dogofry, the damage caused by this crisis is enormous, even if the causes are not the same.
In Dogofry, in the commune of Niono, in early January 2021, several fields were burnt by terrorists. In videos that have been widely shared on soacial networks, one can see hectares of rice fields, harvesters and motorbikes being burnt. This scene was repeated several times during 2021 in this part of the country.
This marked a new turn in the modus operandi of Amadou Kouffa's Macina Katiba, which began carrying out attacks in the centre of the country in 2015.
For fear of being attacked by the terrorists, the farmers gradually abandoned their fields and withdrew to the few hectares bordering the village, "not enough to feed the family, so it is not possible for us to sell the surplus as we did before the arrival of the terrorists in order to be able to meet the needs of our families," says a resident of Dogofry, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
In this area, known as the "granary of Mali", foodstuffs are no longer within the reach of everyone. According to the people contacted, a kilogramme of rice which had never reached 325 CFA francs now costs 450 CFA francs.
"Today, even those who grow rice in Niono and the surrounding area prefer to sell it and buy millet in quantities that cost a little less," says Aly Napo.
Unable to work their fields and thus meet the needs of their families, the able-bodied, by the dozen, leave the localities of this rice-growing area to find work elsewhere. Many of them are now focused on the gold panning sites in the south of the country, with all the consequences that this entails.
This situation does not spare women. With their gardening activities, their harvests of tomatoes, cabbages, onions, carrots, chillies and others, they used to be able to support themselves and help out in the household. But since the crisis broke out, they have been reduced to ploughing backyards. "
If we have just a few vegetables for our sauces, that is more than enough. But even with that, at the rate things are going, we may not have any more," says the head of a women's organisation in Dogofry.
The bad rice office
Unlike Niono, the commune of Macina was until a few days ago spared from terrorist attacks on fields.
"At the beginning of November, in Bougouwèrè, terrorists burned a rice field that had just been harvested. This is the first field burnt in the commune since the beginning of the crisis," says Kalilou Sow, a resident of Macina.
If these attacks are at the root of the food insecurity that is taking hold in the cercle of Niono, it is the Rice Office that the farmers point the finger at as the author of their difficulties.
According to Dramane Kalapo, a member of the Macina farmers' group, the fields in their area are no longer profitable because of poor infrastructure maintenance.
"This year, it rained a lot, and many dykes broke, causing the flooding of several hectares of rice fields. The last development of our fields by the office was done in 1999. Since then, nothing has happened," he says.
Yields per hectare have fallen short of expectations. "Every year I used to harvest an average of 25 bags of rice per hectare, but this year for my two hectares I only have 30 bags," says Kalilou Sow.
In addition, fertiliser is not available this year. Usually subsidised in large quantities by the state, fertiliser was unaffordable for farmers because of the lack of subsidies. The 50kg bag of DPA went from 17,000 CFA francs to more than 42,000 CFA francs; at the same time, granular urea went from 12,500 CFA francs to more than 32,000 CFA francs per bag.
"Usually we get seven bags of subsidised fertiliser from the state. But this year it was only two bags, and even then, there was a form of discrimination in the sharing of these bags. Some were favoured over others," says Issa, who is a lease developer in the Rice Office of the Macina area.
"Even those who had vouchers from the office to collect subsidised fertiliser from traders were unable to get hold of the bags. Many traders did not want to give the fertiliser because they had unpaid bills from the authorities," says Issa.
Russian-Ukrainian war ripples
With the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the cost of fertiliser has increased. Businessmen, knowing that the price of fertiliser is very high on the international market, have set some conditions listed by the Minister of Rural Development in September as: the State should pay the arrears of 2020 and 2021; the State to buy in cash; to sell a 50kg bag of fertiliser for at least 55,000 CFA francs.
Youssouf Coulibaly, president of the Collective of Agricultural Input Suppliers of Mali (CFIAM), disagreed, saying that "the price of a bag of fertiliser has not been sold at 55,000 CFA francs", confirming that the suppliers are demanding payment for services that date back two to three years.
In this war between the government and agricultural suppliers, the farmer finds himself caught between the hammer and the anvil. Today, with a more noticeable presence of the Malian armed forces in this part of the country, attacks have decreased. Since the beginning of 2022, there have been almost no attacks on fields in Dogofry in the cercle of Niono.
For the farmers of Macina, the crisis between Russia and Ukraine seems to be the cause of their misfortune, if they are to believe the explanations given by the authorities.
According to figures from the Office du Niger, this year, out of a forecast of 900,000 tonnes, the seven production zones of the Office du Niger will produce 800,000 tonnes. These are Kolongo, Niono, Ké-Macina, Molodo, NDébougou, Kouroumari and Mbéwani.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, cereal harvests are generally average in the country, with pockets of medium to large production declines (-25 per cent to more than 50 per cent) compared to the average in the insecure areas of the centre (Koro, Bankass, Bandiagara and Douentza), the north (Rhaous, Ménaka, Ansongo and Gao) and the western Sahel in the regions of Kayes and Koulikoro.
The provisional outcome of the agricultural campaign shows that overall cereal production is slightly down by about four per cent compared to the five-year average, and by seven per cent compared to the year 2020-2021.The decline in agricultural production is linked to the poor spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall, crop pests — and insecurity.
By Mohammed Dagnoko and Ali Kabre