For a long time, irrigation in Mali was generally equated with the publicly run Office du Niger that serves nearly 100,000 hectares of irrigated rice production in the central part of the country. However, in recent years, a small scale irrigation sector has been rapidly developing, and now is the time to ensure that small irrigators also get to grow big.
Overall, irrigators in Mali consume more nutrient-rich food groups than farmers relying on rain to water their crops, but how much more depends on various factors such as the type of irrigation technology used, the level of non-farm income, farmers’ literacy level and participation in farmer groups.
Moreover, although small scale irrigation is linked with higher production and income generation, small scale irrigators do not consume as much or as good food as farmers participating in larger irrigation schemes. This is likely due to small scale irrigators’ poorer market access, which means that even though their earnings increase, they have only limited opportunities to sell their own produce and buy what is needed for a more diversified diet.
As small scale irrigation expands in Mali, and across much of sub-Saharan Africa, identifying how more farmers can enjoy more benefits from irrigation is becoming increasingly important. On March 3 and March 10, 2021, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI), with support from the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs, therefore held a national and a regional workshop in Bamako and Sikasso, respectively, to identify the best ways to accelerate expansion of small scale irrigation.
Adoption of small scale irrigation, by its nature, is disjointed and involves many different actors: Farmers, the private sector, and the government, who do not all have access to the same information at the same time. This results, for example, in higher costs for farmers wanting access to technology, but also lower equipment sales for the private sector; this asymmetry of information slows down expansion.
Improving information flow and strengthening relationships can help remove some of these barriers. For example, supporting strong but poorly connected actors, such as the private sector, to gain insights into what producer groups and their farmer members are looking for in small scale irrigation technology—as well as what linkages these groups already have with research and suppliers—could help the private sector strengthen its sales of irrigation equipment.
As Abdoul Karim Diamoutene, workshop facilitator, noted summarizing his impressions, “A few participants in the recent national workshop suggested that they knew all possible actors that affect small scale irrigation diffusion in Mali, but at the end of the event they conceded that they were surprised about the diversity of influencers that can make a difference for the diffusion of technology.”
To identify actors that influence the diffusion of technologies and how these stakeholders interact with each other, the workshops used the Net-Map method, a facilitation or interview technique that helps people understand, visualize, discuss, and improve situations in which many different actors influence outcomes. Representatives from government, research, non-governmental organizations, donors, and the private sector participated in the deliberations.
Through the process, the national workshop identified 73 different actors who are linked to the diffusion of small scale irrigation, including a large number of government agencies, credit institutions, farmer associations, research institutions, non-governmental organizations, and donors. These results will be fed into software to create a map of who is driving expansion of small scale irrigation to support analysis of linkages and influence levels. A working paper will also be prepared building on this analysis and will be shared with stakeholders to support their decision-making.
With more knowledge in hand, farmer groups, cooperatives, private sector companies, and other influential actors will be able to identify entry points to intervene, remove blockages, and support important relationships, ultimately enabling the diffusion of affordable, good-quality technologies to farmers.