Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
Rice farming — a practice often left to the women in the lowland plains of the Sikasso region of Mali — has been in Diahara Traoré's family for generations. Like so many other farmers in her area, she has relied on the seeds her father passed down to produce her harvest. As a result, her crop yields were decreasing steadily each year. She was not alone. In fact, studies show that farmers must purchase new base seeds every four years to maximize yields or the yield starts to drop by 30 percent and continues to decline year after year.
Recognizing the challenges aging and less productive seeds were presenting to these small farmers, Abt Associates is provided training to 650 women through its USAID-funded Integrated Initiatives for Economic Growth in Mali (IICEM) in the production of a high-producing seed variety known as NERICA 4. Working through the women's association, FOKABEN, USAID helped the women to diversify their income through this new activity while also providing them access to improved base seeds. FOKABEN farmed NERICA 4 rice on 1 hectare of land, yielding 2.2 tons — a 200 percent increase from traditional yields for local rice varieties. While local rice varieties are farmed for consumption and sales to satisfy household needs, NERICA seeds are farmed in the off-season, providing the women nearly $11,000 in new income.
Abt Associates facilitated access to financing for inputs and provided training in business negotiation. FOKABEN signed a contract with the Malian government, which will purchase 18 tons of their NERICA seeds in 2009. The Government of Mali is redistributing these seeds through its Rice Initiative program, which is providing seeds to new farmers at a subsidized price. As improved varieties are adopted for farming, production volumes will rise, thus increasing food security. The government hopes its program will make Mali self-sufficient in rice production and provide 100,000 tons of supplemental rice for export.
In previous years Diahara would often have to finance schooling for her children on credit. "Because of the profits from this activity, I have been able to secure materials and labor for the upcoming rice farming season while putting my four children through school this year," she said.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.