Last week, I arrived in Mali on a freelance assignment. Mali, I’m told, has recently been given an improved rain prediction, which means the next harvest will likely be better than the last. But there’s still a huge shortfall. Many families sold off their assets to survive the lean season, and so have little or nothing to plant... and what they have planted will take months to grow.
I’m all for humanitarian emergency repsonse - if there were no aid agencies identifying the most vulnerable people, and giving them cash, food or seeds - then many would die needlessly. But what I’ve been encouraged by in Mali, is the long term, sustainable solutions to help communities build resilience being explored.
In the region of Kayes, Oxfam is working with a number of communities to both help them through the lean season with emergency aid, but also to help them prepare for whatever may come next. I’ll explain more about that a little later.
Right now, Mali is a very unstable place to be. Two extreme Islamic groups have hijacked another rebel group’s take-over of the north and are imposing strict Sharia law among civilians. There have been reports of looting, rape, murder, and the recruitment of child soldiers.
The country’s government is attempting peaceful negotiations, but it too is on shaky ground. The government was only formed at the end of August, the end of an interim government in place since a coup back in March, which forced out the then democractically elected President.
And to top it all off, the Malian government is facing increasing pressure to use military intervention.
So, where does that leave the large number of Malians, living both under the Islamists, and in the rest of the country.. who don’t have enough to eat?
Oxfam, like other aid agencies, is doing what it can, but the need is much greater than the funding.
The sustainable approach I mentioned earlier, I believe, is the way forward. The example I saw of that today was a cereal bank, built by Oxfam but managed and controlled by the Koussane community. They will buy cereal after the next harvest when prices are low, and keep it until the next lean season when prices are high and they cannot afford to buy from outside the area.
It’s a simple approach, but one I hope will work.