Women and children drag heavy buckets of water through the vegetable garden of Sangubaka-Djénerie, a small village in eastern Mali. Besides the daily heat, irrigating crops is relatively easy since the well is few steps away.
By Luc van Kemenade
"I grow onions, cabbage, eggplant and tomatoes," says Deinaba Barri, as she wipes her sweaty forehead. Deinaba is married and has four children, who help her in the field. Sangubaka kids usually don't go to school. "Most of what I harvest, I sell on the local market," she says. "What remains is for personal use."
Deinaba is one of the 76 women who own a small field in the vegetable garden on the outskirts of the village. She says she doesn't know her exact income, but one thing is sure: "My life has improved lately".
The green fields of the garden look like an oasis in the dry landscape that surrounds Sangubaka. And, in fact, that is exactly what it is. The 16-metre deep well and the solar powered pump not only provide the fields with essential water but also serve the community and its cattle.
The garden is sponsored by the Mopti Foundation, an initiative of 63-year-old Dutchman Willem Snapper, who lives in the nearby town of Sévaré. Snapper used to own a computer repair service but with donations from his family, friends and former customers,he prepared one hectare of land for cultivation.
When the plans to build a vegetable garden were presented to the ethnic Pheul women of Sangubaka in late 2007, they knew little about agriculture. But they were certainly eager to learn and went back to school. In workshops provided by agricultural experts, they were taught how to manage a seedbed effectively and which vegetables to grow when and how.
Since the women have been in charge of the field and they earn their own income, the female villagers feel empowered. They set up an Association of Women, led by a board consisting of ten volunteers. They hold town meetings to discuss crucial and less crucial matters, such as how to keep naughty children, who steal crops, away from the field.
In Sangubaka, illiterate does not mean indifferent. The meetings are loud and with much arguing. When an agreement is finally reached, the women applaud.
Also, they save money together. Every month each woman has to put 200 CFA (about 30 eurocents) in to a collective cash box. Women who fail or refuse to contribute, run the risk of losing their piece of land.
For now the Mopti Foundation continues to provide the women with seeds and tools, but once they have saved enough money, they will be on their own. After all, the main goal is to help the Sangubaka community become self sufficient.
"We provide the hardware," says Snapper, revealing his past as a computer expert. "But it is up to the women to use it to their own advantage and eventually become self sufficient."
"Ah, grandfather!" cries Bourti Dembele when she sees Snapper. The middle-aged woman rushes at him with a basket full of freshly picked eggplants from her field. She explains she is just on her way to the local market in Fatoma, a nearby village.
Bourti proves to be a talented sales woman. "Do you want to buy some eggplant?" she asks. Snapper agrees and purchases half of the twelve kilo's in the basket, which would have made her 2000 CFA (about three euro) on the market.