A smart agriculture program that saves time and makes money for women in Mali

Yesterday I got an email from a woman at the State Department’s new Bureau for Food Security. She wanted to tell me about a really cool, low-tech agriculture project that is part of Feed the Future.

It involves a simple technology that has yielded big results for 1,500 female Dogon shallot farmers in Mali -– a mechanized grinder. The grinder shrinks the amount of time women spend processing their shallots while improving the shallot’s quality and saving them from rotting.

Before, each farmer used to dry and grind 50 kilograms of shallots by hand per day. A lot of the shallots ended up spoiled or rotten. Now, with the grinder, they can process up to one ton of shallots per hour. Yes, per hour. I was pretty amazed, too.

Because fewer shallots rot, the women make a lot more money from their shallot harvests. Money for women means more power within the household and within the community. It also means more productive lives for their children –- there is a great deal of evidence that when women control assets, child nutrition, welfare and education all improve substantially.

Another huge win for the women is the time that they save. Since rural women are often responsible for taking care of kids, gathering water, gathering firewood, preparing food, growing food and many other activities, any time that they can save is incredibly valuable. One benchmark report that I looked at the other day put a woman’s time burdens in Kenya at 13 hours per day versus only 8 hours per day for men.

At ONE, we are excited that the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative is addressing the needs of rural women in Africa and around the world. This is one of the main reasons we consider the initiative “smart agriculture.”

Sign our petition to ask Congress for $1.3 billion in smart agriculture programs in 2011 to help hardworking men and women like the Dogon shallot farmers grow food and earn a living.

Photo credit: Maimounatou Touré