Today began with an overwhelming reception from Mali’s rainy season. It’s hard to be upset, even when my hotel room flooded and the power went out. I spend much of my time here in fields and with farmers, so it’s easy to see how important this rain is to the livelihoods of these people. Most of them depend on their crops not just for food security but for incomes as well. I can stand a little torrential downpour for this. Besides, it was kinda nice to sit in the lobby and watch the rain fall.
When the weather cleared, we drove North along the Gao road for a few hours and then turned off headed West through the Sahel. My driver has an incredible sense of direction. There is no road, there are no signs, and very few landmarks outside of giant fire anthills. We stopped for a while to have some paté for lunch… not the paté with which you’re likely familiar. These are savory meat and onion filled baked pastries. They’re delicious.
After some more time driving, we start driving on a road lines with millet fields. Eventually we come upon a village across a bridge over a creek, with a mountain behind it. We have arrived at Tété.
There is an obvious, unique difference here from the farmlands in Ohio near which I was raised. Trees are grown in the middle of the crops, and not just one, there are many. There are also rock walls and ditches surrounding all the fields. I’m told this is a method of keeping water in the fields while keeping the soil from eroding with the rainfalls.
The importance of trees in Northern Mali’s Sahelian region cannot be underestimated. Much of the work NEF does here centers around soil and water conservation, and the effective replanting and use of trees to this effects has been an important focus on helping the farmers of Mali conserve their precious resources and in some cases, even reclaim the desert. Drissa Kassamba is a farmer from Tété, in the Mopti area. His focus is on growing cereal grains for his village and he’s done it his whole life, using the techniques taught to him by his parents. NEF not only taught him how to conserve his water use and about the benefits of planting trees, we also taught him the French language, the lingua franca for that area of the country.
Drissa was excited to meet me and talk about the things NEF taught him and his village, but he was more excited to introdcue the people he is able to employ and to show the techniques for measuring the rock walls around his fields and ensureing everything he builds is level. He has even taught this to the people who help work his fields. Drissa Kassamba is willing to teach anyone who will find use with his knowledge what he learned from NEF, be it soil conservation or French conversation.