Introducing DEFIS, Mali: 2013 ONE Africa Award Finalist

The ONE Africa Award is an annual $100,000 USD prize which celebrates the innovations and progress being made by African civil society towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  We are excited to announce our six finalists for 2013, and this blog series looks at the remarkable work of each organisation.

Doper l’Entrepreneuriat par la Finance Innovante et Solidaire’s (DEFIS) is a Malian organisation which loosely translates as “Boosting the Entrepreneur through Innovative Finance and Solidarity.” DEFIS also plays on the French word “défis” to meet Mali’s challenges head on together in solidarity.

DEFIS focus on getting northern farmers’ produce into southern markets and also work to ensure that southern consumers know they are receiving quality, affordable produce from the north. DEFIS has a strong emphasis on overcoming conflict to renew and restore economic partnerships between Mali’s northern and southern regions.

DEFIS has shown it was possible to “save the farming season” during the recent conflict by supplying targeted inputs to farmers in the north so that they could provide for themselves and their families instead of receiving aid and handouts. DEFIS also aims to improve the nutrition of southern households by promoting the consumption of local foods.

During the political instability of 2012-13, the stories of real Malians living their lives were often lost in the international headlines about coups, jihadists and the threats to the archives in Timbuktu. One particular group—farmers in northern Mali—saw their livelihoods threatened as their traditional source of financing fled south to safety.

Banks and microfinance institutions shut down. Civil servants and teachers, another traditional source of finance, moved away. The farmers in northern Mali were left with no means to buy seed, petrol and other agricultural inputs. Instead, aid agencies and charities rushed into the vacuum created by the instability and start handing out parcels of food. How could able-bodied men and women, wanting to maintain their independence, accept the very food they could grow and sell for themselves if they only had what they needed to do so?

DEFIS grew out of a grassroots movement of different groups searching for a solution to this problem. Farmers co-operatives, social entrepreneurs and businesses developed a model where co-operatives would ‘pre-purchase’ harvests from farmers in the north, providing the investment they needed.

DEFIS is not only linking and sustaining livelihoods, but also creating new understanding between Mali’s citizens. Many southern Malians think of northern Mali as vast desert terrain with little ability to sustain robust agriculture. DEFIS challenges that notion and is now bringing together parts of the country that have had historical divisions.

The winner of the 2013 ONE Africa Award will be announced on 8th November in Addis Ababa. Be the first to know who takes the prize by following @ONEinAfrica on Twitter.

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