The old trade holding back the Sahara desert
In Mali, the route of the Great Green Wall stretches for nearly 890 km (550 miles), passing through the regions of Kayes and Koulikoro. The project is structured around 29 blocks, each comprising a farm of approximately eight hectares of land developed for agriculture, tree planting and ranching. In total, there are expected to be 29 blocks in Mali that will involve 12,500 families. In 2015, the Malian state also began investing 4 billion CFA francs ($ 7.2 million / £ 5.6 million) in planting acacia trees, training farmers in harvesting techniques and management of rural cooperatives in villages where gum arabic is cultivated.
The cultivation of gum arabic still brings its challenges. Young plants are regularly destroyed by stray domestic animals, especially when nomadic herders move between Mali and Mauritania. Additionally, due to the geology of the area, the traditional shallow wells used by most villages in the area produce salt water that is unsuitable for acacia irrigation or any other type of agriculture. , explains Sitafa Traoré, a forestry engineer working in the gum arabic trade in the Kayes region in western Mali. “We therefore had to do deep boreholes with machines to find fresh water in order to maintain the young plants,” explains Traoré.
But despite this, the gum arabic sector has already started to change the face of some Malian villages. National exports of gum arabic have grown rapidly, reaching nearly 2,500 tonnes in 2015 and 6,000 tonnes in 2016. Trade players like Traoré remain optimistic. In a region experiencing both climatic and political instability, trade proven over the centuries could help bring security in more ways than one.
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