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A tree grows in Mali

By Chris Hufstader
Hawa Coulibaly, a member a Saving for Change group in Barama village, spreads Gliricidia leaves in her garden. She says since she planted the Gliricidia trees in 2012, she has increased her production of ocra and green onions. Photo: Jane Hahn/Oxfam America

Women farmers use special trees to improve soil, increase food production.

They call it the “fertilizer tree.” Gliricidia sepium is a special tree originally from South and Central America that flourishes in southern Mali. The tree’s leaves are particularly useful: They fertilize the soil naturally, helping farmers who might otherwise struggle to buy chemical fertilizer.

Oxfam is working with local organizations to encourage women farmers to plant the Gliricidia tree in their fields. In addition to the fertilizing quality of the leaves, the trees provide shade for fragile plants like maize, cow peas, and other vegetables.

Farmers in Mali cannot always afford to own or rent enough land to rotate their crops year to year, leaving areas fallow to regenerate nutrients. Repeated application of chemical fertilizer can make the soil quite hard, increasing run off when it rains instead of holding moisture in the land. The soil in their fields can become quite poor, reducing yields.

Oxfam is encouraging women farmers to grow Gliricidia seedlings and transplant them along their fields, where the leaves can fall and add nitrogen to the soil. We work directly with organizations in Mali supporting our Saving for Change program, which helps women to form saving groups so they can borrow small sums to start businesses and finance their farms. Women in Saving for Change groups asked for help in finding low-cost, natural ways of improving soil. The groups gather weekly to make deposits, borrow, and pay interest. Afterwards. an agriculture specialist can teach the group members agro-forestry techniques using the Gliricidia trees.

Oxfam started this special agro-forestry initiative with Saving for Change groups in 2011. Today there are 120 villages with 473 Saving for Change groups that have 11,580 members working with Gliricidia trees. These groups have planted 15,000 trees.

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