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Imagine using grain as currency. Our new Cereal Aid project has launched to bring new scales of opportunity to Mali. Already one of the poorest countries in the world, Mali is a landlocked country whose economy rests of agriculture. Despite there being many trained and skilled farmers, few have the tools and equipment to put their skills into practice, let alone generate an income from what they know.
Muslim Hands began its Cereal Aid project starting with 10 farmers and their families in Sikasso and Segou provinces. And by family in Mali, we're talking up to 50 people from many generations living under one roof with a tiny handful of breadwinners. These farmers have the skills and capability, but lack the land, tools and grain to put it into practice. Muslim Hands provide millet, rice, maize and fertile soil to farmers.
Once the cereal is harvested, the farmer donates a portion of the profits which is given to other farmers so they may have the same opportunity. This whole process grows in reach as time goes on and not only feeds the farmers, but they are able to trade and sell their produce onto wider networks. Naturally, every step of the process is absolutely interest free and some of our 'Cereal Aid' farmers have become so sufficient they even give their own zakat back to Muslim Hands to help other aid projects!
Balla Doumbia, 57, tells us about how the Cereal Aid project has impacted him and his community.
"It's a busy and sometimes uncertain life I have here in Kankare village. Like many people in the Sikasso region of Mali, I'm a seasonal farmer, but unlike many others, I have a huge network of immediate and extended family members who all rely on my income to live. Some years, the harvest can be unpredictable and I experience an almost annual anxiety wondering if I've made enough to feed my family, let alone think of providing an education for my 8 children!
"When I heard MH Mali was starting up a cereal aid project, I felt like I had received the long-awaited answer to all my prayers! You see, I have two farms that I own, have many locals willing to help and I am experienced in what I do, I just lacked the equipment and initial crop to get me started up.
"After meeting with the MH Mali field worker, Brother Sarjo Jammeh, I really began to envision what the project would entail. Sarjo helped in pinpointing what kind of grain and equipment would be best to return a regular and reliable batch of crops. I decided to grow maize on one farm and millet on the other. Both these crops are a staple part of our diet in Mali and I knew if, insha'Allah, I was successful in growing them then I'd have many willing traders who would be interested in buying and selling these grains! So far, I have two farms which are two hectares each and have sown over 200kg of grains altogether, alhamdulillah.
"The kids from the village and enthusiastic locals all play a part in cultivating these crops each year. We used to use a cattle cart with a ploughing machine, but are now working with MH Mali to modernise and mechanise our farming techniques so we can run faster and more efficiently.
"This season we're expecting to reap 50-70 sacks (100kg each) of grains for each of the farms and are going to give MH Mali 30% of this back to help neighbouring farmers in our area. The buzz in the community is around the fact that this project has knock-on benefits for everybody. The more grain I'm able to yield, the more I can pass on and the bigger the benefit to more people. As the project grows insha'Allah, our farming community will have complete food self-sufficiency. This will eradicate so many of the problems we face today, whether it's ill health or having children too malnourished to attend and benefit from school.
"These are exciting times for us, not only for me in securing a regular income for my family, but for the community as a whole. It has been a breath of fresh air as people have all come together to give their own time and skills and when they have nothing to give, they are never short of words of encouragement for everything we've achieved so far, alhamdulillah."
Read more about our livelihoods projects here: Livelihoods: Giving a Hand Up, Not a Hand Down.