Promoting sustainability in a humanitarian crisis: IFAD in northern Mali

by Philippe Remy

The situation in northern Mali has deteriorated to the point of tragedy in recent months. Shortly after the coup in Bamako in March, the Tuareg and AQMI rebels took control of the main cities in the north, leaving northern Mali cut off from the rest of the country. Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes to seek safety in the south or in neighbouring countries. To make matters worse for those left behind, a recent locust attack has endangered crops and forage, increasing the already high level of food insecurity.

IFAD is one of the few development organizations to have worked consistently in the north of Mali since the 1990s. Over the years, IFAD-funded projects have supported the local communities, including the Tuareg minorities, through sound development programmes.

But today this task is more difficult.  While IFAD supported projects in the south are still operating normally, the staff for the two projects in the north -- the Northern Regions Investment and Rural Development Programme in Gao and Timbuktu, and the Kidal Integrated Development Programme in Kidal – have had to withdraw to Bamako, where they are now trying to address how to support IFAD-funded operations in the north. IFAD is not a humanitarian agency and the Mali country portfolio management team has been exploring ways to promote the sustainability of  IFAD-funded infrastructures, such as health centres and irrigated perimeters, so that they continue to  benefit women and men the projects have worked with over the last two decades.  

As a result, in recent weeks, project staff with our support have worked closely with government representatives and financial and technical partners to come up with a plan that will boost agricultural productivity for poor farmers in the region and contribute to better healthcare , knowing that there are reliable partners already working in the  Northern regions who can implement our programmes.

The plans include providing agricultural inputs -- such as fertilisers, seeds, fuel for pumps and tools --  to 19 irrigation perimeters realized by IFAD-funded projects, along the Niger River to secure a good rice harvest and above all the sustainability of the irrigation perimeters.  This will be managed by the NGO Agronomes et Vétérinaires sans Frontières (AVSF), in close coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture, using small boats known as pinasses to deliver inputs to farmers.

The pinasses, which are also being used by other bilateral and multilateral development agencies, ensure direct and prompt delivery of goods and services to around 1,400 farmers and their families for a total of approximately 7,000 beneficiaries.

Support will also be provided to ensure that existing health centres, constructed or rehabilitated by the two projects  with contributions from the Belgian Fund for Food Security, are adequately stocked with essential medicines and medical supplies, as well as nutrition packages for children. This is done in cooperation with the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is working with a team of volunteer medical staff, and in close coordination with the Government.  Working with local associations that are running the existing health centres, we hope to reach approximately 20,000 children, women and men in Timbuktu and Gao and a further 15,000 in the Kidal region.

Together with other development partners, we are committed to continue serving, the people of Maliin these difficult times, especially to help them maintain their infrastructure that will be so useful when the conflict ends. IFAD’s commitment to the local communities in Mali, its experience over the decades of working in the north are  now allowing the Fund to participate actively in this collective effort, and in a policy dialogue which is important for the future not only of Mali but of the whole Sahel region.