BAMAKO, December 20, 2010 – Research must be the bedrock of Mali’s agriculture if the country is to boost productivity, enhance food security, create jobs and increase farmers’ incomes, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said Sunday.
“It starts with research to increase production, to learn about different plants, to help producers so they can preserve as much of their production as possible,” Zoellick told reporters.
He spoke during a visit to SOTUBA, a 250 hectare state-owned campus devoted to agricultural research about 10 km from the center of the Malian capital, Bamako. SOTUBA focuses its research exclusively on products for which Mali has a comparative advantage.
In addition to meeting with researchers, Zoellick who was accompanied by the World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, Obiageli Ezekwesili, interacted with farmers. Several of them confirmed the significant increases in banana, tomato, potato, shallot/onion, papaya and mango yields from their farms.
Higher productivity has resulted in a near quadrupling of Mali’s exports of mangoes, which have risen from about 3,000 tons to 11,000 tons over the past five years. New mango varieties, which produce 400 trees per hectare, means there is a fourfold increase from 100 trees per hectare when dealing with the old variety. The yield for banana has expanded from six-to-eight tons per hectare to 13-to-15 tons per hectare.
The research station also provides new breeds of chicken which have increased egg production from between 60-to-80 eggs per month to between 160-to-170 per month. Meat production has risen from 800g to 1600g per chicken.
“One lady told me about the increase in her production of chicken and eggs, while another told me of her business selling dried onions,” Zoellick later told reporters.
He added: “We support efforts that help women to establish businesses”.
Zoellick praised Mali for devoting significant amounts of its spending to agriculture, but also urged Mali’s finance minister, who along with the minister of agriculture joined him for the field visit, to do even more for agriculture.
The Malian agricultural sector, said Zoellick, “has enormous potential to create income-generating activities and to improve the lives of Malians”. Early findings from research bear this out.
Biotechnologies (in-vitro techniques) are being introduced to develop a domestic production of 1,500 tons of potatoes seed plants which could help Mali cut imports from Europe by half. New varieties of Niébé (cowpea) have been developed and adapted to different agro-ecological conditions in Mali, leading to yield increases from 250kg/ha to 750 and up to 1,200t/ha plus fodder. A reliable supply chain of seeds for fodder production is being developed to introduce new fodder crops—resistant to both floods and droughts—in the traditional smallholder farming system; boosting dairy farming and cattle rearing.
With 46 million hectares of unused arable land, Mali currently devotes more than 10 percent of its budget to agricultural development with a large part going to agronomic research and technology dissemination to farmers through extension services.
For its part, the World Bank has provided technical and financial assistance to SOTUBA for at least two decades. It contributed to renewed research, funding for extension workers and efforts to empower producers.
An IDA-financed credit worth US$45 million (approved by the World Bank Board of Executive Directors in 2005) disseminates innovative irrigation technologies, with a particular focus on drip irrigation, which saves 75 percent of water; but also micro spray and sprinkler irrigation techniques; all very important contributions for a semi-arid country like Mali.
An IDA/GEF and EU/IFAD co-financing worth a total US$135 million, approved in June 2010, will disseminate technologies to smallholders to increase productivity of targeted crop and livestock, paying special attention to rain-fed cereal production, grown in so-called mixed cultivation with cotton and leguminous, while allowing for fodder production, dairy farming and poultry production.
SOTUBA targets not only a boosting of crop and livestock production but also pays special attention to rain-fed cereals, mixed with cotton and leguminous, to fodder production and to dairy and poultry production.