A delegation of various parties involved with the peace process in Mali visited NMBU this summer with the purpose of getting better acquainted with the University's work in the West African country.
NMBU's Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric) has been working in Mali for many years to, amongst other things, promote increased security in the area with a particular focus on food security, including the development of climate-resilient farming ('climate-smart' agriculture) in the country. This work forms part of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affair's new strategy for Africa's Sahel zone, a region threatened by state fragility and recurring humanitarian crises, including a food insecurity crisis with 20 million people vulnerable and nearly 5 million children at risk of acute malnutrition [source: UN].
The delegation heard Noragric's Gry Synnevåg and Jens Aune explain the department's work on developing rainfed agricultural systems that are adapted to climate change, including the use of Arabian camels (dromedaries) as livestock for both food production and cultivation in this semi-arid region. Horticulture in dryland areas and forest conservation are other important components of this work.
Innovative farming using Arabian camels and seed drills
This MFA-funded project has established a veterinary service in the region specific to the dromedary and the production of yogurt and cheese based on dromedary milk, with the intention of supporting food production from these animals, developing a value chain and increasing farmers' incomes.
Simple, innovative technical solutions have also been developed by the project team, such as seed drills that allow farmers to sow with better precision and at the right time.
Weather forecasts adapted for Malian farmers
Farmers in Mali rely heavily on timely, seasonal rainfall. Unexpected, out of season weather events are an increasingly frequent challenge. The project team, in collaboration with the Bergen-based research institute NORCE, is working to help farmers tackle this challenge by adapting the weather forecasting service yr.no to Malian conditions, and training Malian farmers in the use of modern weather forecasting services.
This project is now in its second 5-year phase. Impacts of this project to date include:
- Food security increased from 6 to 8 months of the year in the project areas.
- Higher yields and less labour demand for sowing and weeding due to small-scale mechanisation and 'climate-smart' technologies.
- Employment generation for youth and local blacksmiths.
- New technologies scaled up to 10 000 farmers via extension services and NGOs in Mali, as well as in neighbouring countries Niger, Ivory Coast and Sudan.
American assistance in Mali
Noragric Head of Department Shai Divon informed the delegation about his work on US foreign assistance efforts in Mali. Between 2010-2013, Divon worked with pastoral communities set up in permanent villages built as part of the Alatona Irrigation Project financed by the United States, in which irrigation systems were modernized and expanded in an attempt to 'drought-proof' crops and increase food security in the area. The discourse of American assistance in Mali is given in a historical context in Divon's book United States Assistance Policy in Africa, written with Noragric professor emeritus Bill Derman.
Regreening rather than desertification
Tor A. Benjaminsen has been researching various issues in Mali since 1987. An overview of his work was presented to the delegation including his work on desertification issues in Mali, where he and his colleagues showed that there is regreening rather than an advance of the desert in Mali, and in the Sahel in general.
Benjaminsen, a professor at Noragric, has also worked extensively on land conflict issues in the region, particularly between pastoralist and sedentary communities and, more recently, has collaborated with the lawyer Boubacar Ba to analyse the connections between land disputes, governance issues and recruitment to jihadist groups in the Mopti region of the country.
Benjaminsen's work on agricultural development issues in the cultivation of cotton in Mali was also explained to the delegation.
30+ years of global efforts have failed to curtail jihadism in the region
The delegation, focused on the peace process in Mali, was informed of Stig Jarle Hansen's ongoing research based on field studies in more than 15 countries, including Mali, to determine why jihadism is thriving in sub-Saharan Africa despite more than thirty years of global efforts to curtail it. Hansen's work indicates that, in Mali, many ordinary citizens have little choice but to integrate with jihadist groups to ensure local protection, and that sources of funding from the local community are heavily underestimated as 'lifelines' for jihadist groups. This 'semi territorial’ situation, in which jihadists exert control over the local population despite facing superior military forces, is fully explained in Hansen's book 'Horn, Sahel and Rift - Fault-lines of the African Jihad', published in May this year. Hansen is a professor at Noragric and one of the world's leading experts on Islamists in East Africa and Yemen.
The meeting was part of an extended visit to various institutions in Norway working with natural resource management and political governance.