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Testimonies around an old baobab tree

23 December 2018

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  • folkeadmcenter
  • 2018

Testimonies around an old baobab tree

A Community in southwestern Mali reports on how to cope with climate change and a vulnerable economy

“Our mentality has changed. Now we discuss technical matters that can help us develop. Mali Folkecenter has shown us that knowledge is important”.

The head of Filamana village Mr. Toumani Sangaré (photo?) is not in doubt that the training centre MFC launched on the outskirts of the village some ten years ago has improved the economy of the community and at the same time mitigated the environmental problems that haunt the region.

Like elsewhere in Africa, southwestern Mali used to enjoy biodiversity in abundance. Dense forests, shrubs, rivers and creeks with lots of water and fertile soil were the characteristic not so long ago.

A left-over and a proud reminder of such times is the massive baobab tree in the middle of Filamana, that is said to be centuries older than the village itself.

Here in the MFC training centre less than a kilometer from the imposing baobab Mr. Sangaré explains some of the effects that MFC intervention has had.

He is chairman of the bee-keepers association, and as such in charge of a honey production project, that has brought considerable income to the community.

“Before MFC there was no such a thing like organized production of honey here. Now we have learnt how to do it, and the earnings help us a lot”.

The demand for honey in the region is high. One liter of honey fetches 1,750 CFA, and one bee-hive produces about 10 litres of honey every year. That adds up.

The project currently has 185 bee-hives, and they earn 3.3 million CFA a year (or 6,000 US dollars) for the community.

“On top of it, we are so much more aware of how to fight bush fires”, says Mr. Sangaré and explains that the bee-keepers are constantly alert, because the 185 bee-hives were set up along the rim of the forest. In case of a fire bee-keepers will inevitably run to the hives to extinguish it and rescue the bees.

Crucial rules

The mayor of Filamana, Mr. Daouda Sangaré (photo) says that today wild-life is seldom seen. Sometimes a lonely elephant can be spotted and every now and then buffalos and antelopes, but these are rare sightings.

The mayor has also observed that the rainy seasons have become more erratic with longer and longer periods of drought and realized that the forest itself is under serious threat. Therefore, a core activity of the training centre is a project aimed at protecting the trees.

Mr. Sangaré explains that the forestry project has strengthened the people’s understanding of certain basic rules. For instance, it is only allowed to collect dry, dead wood. Cutting of wood can only be done in specific designated areas of the forest.

Unfortunately there are other threats than the climate, says Mr. Sangaré: “Many people come from outside the region and steal our wood. We do our best to keep them out, but the vastness of the forest makes it very difficult to protect it 100 %”.

Mr. Sekou Sangaré, the Secretary General of the 70-member strong Hunters’ Association, that is in charge of the forestry project, relays his experiences with the environment in his life time:

“There is less water these days. Some of the smaller rivers only contain water for two months a year. Before, it was the whole year. Wells have dried out”, says he, and praises Mali Folkecenter for its efforts to help the community to adapt and to mitigate the problems.

The forest protection project currently rolls out a wood management plan. One initiative is to isolate 2000 hectares of forest that will only be used for experiments with new growing technics and wood preservation methods.

Yes to shea butter, no to gold digging

Shea-butter is another new source of income for the community that did not exist before MFC launched the training.

Washing and preparing shea nuts

This income-generating project is steered by a cooperative of women that handles the entire process from picking the shea nuts to cooking and boiling them until they are ready to extract the “meat” from the shell. The “meat” is used to produce soap pieces (or shea butter) that are sold in markets in the region.

The project is very popular among women in the community. When it started 30 women participated, but when the news about the earnings started spreading more women joined. Today 145 women from 16 villages take part in the production and sale.

Mrs. Fatoumata Sidibé

Mrs. Fatoumata Sidibé (photo) from the cooperative describes the project as a sort of eternal benign circle of self-preservation.

Moreover, “the project takes the focus away from gold digging” which is prevalent in the region.

Gold digging carries an inherent dream of getting rich says Mrs. Sidibé, but warns:

“Yes, income can be gained, if you are lucky. But very few are lucky. And then there is the problem with the mercury. It gives health problems”, says Mrs. Sidibé and adds that, as a woman, there is also a danger of getting forced into prostitution. Gold-digging is predominantly a male business.

Mrs. Sidibé instead advocates for the safety and the sustainability of the soap production: “We save our families with shea butter”.

Looming conflict

The training centre also houses a radio station run by youngsters who broadcast every day.

The programmes are designed to sensitize the population on sustainable ways to handle the environment, not the least the vast Filamana forest.

The radio station recently ran into political problems when it broadcast a message from farmers against cattle herders in the region. These two groups are at odds with each other over access to land


This story, about the looming farmer- herder conflict, will follow in the next – and last – article in this mini-series from the MFC intervention zone around Filamana.

Read the previous two articles,

about a fishing project for the Bozo community here

and about gold digging and pollution here

Top picture is the old Baobab tree in the centre of Filamana village

Honey from Filamana


The MFC Filamana training centre was originally financed by the Finnish Siemenpuu Foundation. Today the centre is supported by the Norwegian government through a 3 ½ year project, expiring in December 2018. The total budget is 2.4 million Euros.

The forest protection project covers 57,000 hectares (or 570 km2) out of a total formally protected forest area around Filamana of 200,000 hectares (or 2000 km2)