Impact Story: The proof is in the productivity-Advocating for women’s land access in Pathways Mali 

By Boniface Diallo, Project Manager, Nyeleni, Mali and Emily Hillenbrand, Technical Advisor for Gender and Livelihoods, CARE USA

I’m very satisfied that the women in this network have negotiated and obtained this parcel with the official Deed… . It’s the first time in my village that women have asked for land—and also insisted on having an official Deed.” -- Village Chief, Amadou Plea, Soumatogo, Mali

Community members working with Nyeleni.

Community members working with Nyeleni. Credit: Elly Kaganzi.

Last May in the village of Soumatogo, Mali, the village chief Amadou Plea, and the local mayor Seydou Diarra organized a community dialogue at which a collective of women farmers asked the chief for a piece of land.  Their goal was to own a plot that they could collectively farm, applying new practices that would increase their yields, raise their incomes, and make sure their children were well nourished.

Appearing astonished at both the request and the forceful case made by the women, the chief promised in front of the assembled community to allocate a hectare, along with an official Deed of Surrender, to make the women’s collective the landowners for a period of three years. And he did. 
The chief later told us that he was very satisfied with the dialogue: it was the first time in his village that women had asked for land—and insisted on having an official Deed.  

It Begins with Land

I’m overjoyed to have built these competencies, thanks to the training on ‘Women’s Land Access,’ by the Junior Expert.-- Madame Sata Diarra, President of the Soumatogo Women’s Collective

Madame Sata Diarra

Madame Sata Diarra.

The women were even more elated. Madame Sata Diarra, the president of the women’s group, later told us how trainings in women’s land access, and agricultural techniques were making a difference.

We women were able to build a compost pit on this plot, which enables us to create natural fertilizer, which is a lot less expensive than chemical fertilizer, and means we don’t have to pay the cost of transport (to markets). This [will enable] us to improve our yields per hectare,” she said.  And they did.  

The women’s collective was working with the Nyeleni project, part of CARE’s Pathways to Empowerment program.

The project works with women’s collectives to secure land, disseminate improved agricultural practices, develop market skills, and build gender awareness and nutrition knowledge. 

Women working on Nyeleni’s collective plots have achieved substantial yield increases—and reductions in input costs—from following improved and sustainable techniques. On the shallot farms, they increased yields from 30 to 40 tons per hectare; on millet farms, they increased yields from 700 to 1000 kgs per hectare; while on rice farms, they increased yields from 3 to 7 tons per hectare.

And it all started with secure access to land.

Overcoming Obstacles

We can’t do demonstrations on little individual parcels. We need larger collective plots that women have secure long-term access to.  Advocating for women’s group plots is a foundational activity. We also certainly to encourage women to get access to bigger sizes and more productive land at the household level." -- Boniface Diallo, Nyeleni, Mali

Boniface Diallo, Project Manager, Nyeleni.

Boniface Diallo, Project Manager, Nyeleni.

In Mali, the Nyeleni project operates in two districts, Mopti and Segou. Before the project started, the women’s average per capita income was just $12.36 per month, with about half of that coming from agriculture. While almost all women (93 percent) farmed, only one-quarter had decision-making power over crop production or marketing.
A major challenge for women was a lack of access to good land and to inputs for production—usually because of their cost. Women’s access to land in Mali is very insecure. This is because customary law allows women to cultivate land owned by her family of birth, but she cannot retain that land or transfer that right to her husband when she marries.
Nor does she have any say over the land held by her husband’s family.  In addition, women are unable to access the land on their own for the simple reason that men doubt women can enhance the land beyond subsistence farming.
This has begun to change.  Nyeleni makes access to adequate, quality land the essential first step of the action-research cycle, in which women’s producer groups collectively demonstrate new, sustainable agriculture practices, and build up to commercial agriculture. 

Path to Empowerment

Our goal is long-term or permanent land agreements. This way, the women can construct the infrastructure (storage sheds, processing mills, etc.) that they need to develop their farming as a business.” -- Boniface Diallo, Nyeleni, Mali

In order to build support for women, we’ve emphasized the importance of involving the Commune Authorities or the village chiefs who are authorized to allocate land—and we know that the poorer-quality land often is given to women. In our advocacy, we make it clear that we work with this commune to improve women’s livelihoods, but only on the condition that women are provided with good quality land. Some of the chiefs are reluctant at first, but when faced with the possibility of the project going to a neighboring chiefdom, they accept. 

We make sure that the women get written agreements, so that their access to land is secured beyond the project’s duration. In places where land is scarce, agreements can extend for three or more years. In places where land is abundant, it can even be permanent. 

Three Key Activities

The dialogues generally take place in the presence of the authorities and villagers, women farmers, and project staff. We use these dialogues to reassure men that women's land access does not present a threat to men, but benefits the entire community.” Boniface Diallo, Nyeleni, Mali

Three key activities pave the path to empowerment: community dialogues, training of field staff, and demonstrating results.
We’ve learned the critical importance of community dialogues to raising awareness of the problems of women's access to land. Within our first year, we had organized 61 community dialogues on increasing women’s access to land. 
We train Junior Experts—field staff that work with the women’s networks.  One of the first trainings with the Junior Experts was on Mali’s Agriculture Orientation Law, which mandates that 10 percent of new State land developments be allocated to women.
Within Nyeleni’s first year, we had organized 29 training sessions just on the topic of land access.  

From Dialogue to Results

The Pathways program develops models for transforming more gender-equitable agriculture systems at scale, and addressing some of the fundamental disparities and biases that disadvantage women. We’re finding that access to land is one the first and most challenging issues. Mali’s work with engaging community leaders to secure land for the women’s producer groups is a promising approach, and lays the groundwork for communities to gradually challenge and change other gender beliefs and norms.” - Emily Hillenbrand, CARE USA

The official deed

The official deed.

With the support of the project and training in sustainable farming techniques, women across the two districts have demonstrated results. 
They’ve shown that they can produce more—and that’s what makes men allies in their effort to obtain land, not only at the community level but also at the household level. 
The Nyeleni project has already secured 214 hectares of land for the women through our advocacy--some individual parcels, and some collective plots for producer groups or for networks of women producers.
In total, about 2,700 women have benefitted. We think we can double these numbers, as more and more people see the successes of the farmers.  And success will enable the women to secure more and better-quality land for production and income-generation.

What began as a community dialogue to increase women’s secure rights to land has further strengthened the women’s economic empowerment, their confidence, and their standing within the household and community. 

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