How Trees are Helping Women in Mali

I’m really lucky in my job that I work with some amazing organisations. One of these is Tree Aid. This is the story of one special woman in Mali who Tree Aid has helped…..

“I was told a girl is her husband, her children and the household”

Meet Delila, a woman reversing deforestation, against all odds

Delila is 35 years old and lives in Mankoina village in Mali. After the death of her husband, Delila found herself at the head of the family, solely responsible for her four children.

Living in one of the poorest countries in the world where gender inequality means 50% of girls are married before they reach their 18th birthday, women like Delila have very few choices in life. With decision-making power in the home and at community level lying almost entirely with men, Delila was faced with limited means of earning an income and the difficult task of providing for her family as a single mother.

The majority of women in villages like Mankoina depend on the land for survival but deforestation, frequent droughts and climate shocks are making this even harder. With little food to feed her children and the environment declining fast around her, Delila is one of many women facing a struggle for survival every single day.

“A female head of the family is frowned upon here”

“All my children were raised here. There was sickness every day, it was not easy for me. I am the one responsible for taking care of my family. A female head of the family is frowned upon here. I farm my husband’s land. Nobody helps me to look after my children. My husband supported me a lot when he was alive. After his death, I found myself having to deal with these tasks on my own.”

Education is limited in Mali for women like Delila, and so she did not go to school.

“I lost my father at a young age and was raised by my grandfather. He never accepted that a girl could go to school. For him, school was not a good thing for a girl. I was told “a girl is her husband, her children and the household”.”

Determined to give her children the opportunities she never had, Delila works hard to keep her children in education.

“All of my children have been to school, only one stopped going. He was sick and, due to my lack of means to buy medicine at the time, he was forced to drop out. I do not want all my children to be like me when it comes to education.”

To send her children to school and be able to feed them all year round, Delila has been working with TREE AID as a member of its Strengthening Malian Forest Management project. Through the project, Delila is also tackling deforestation and soil degradation in her community, and re-planting trees that have been lost.

“Here, the woman is the tree”

In Delila’s eyes “without trees, women would be nothing in our community. Here, the woman is the tree. Most of what women earn comes from trees.”

Deforestation is a serious issue in Mali with an estimated 100,000 hectares of forest being cleared per year. Mali is now two-thirds desert and women commonly bear the brunt of the environmental degradation and extreme poverty. Trees are a lifeline here, surviving drought, improving the soil and providing fruits, nuts and seeds for food and income.

TREE AID plants one tree every 30 seconds on average and works in partnership with local communities to help them find the balance between protecting the environment and finding sustainable ways to grow food on land devastated by deforestation and drought.

Delila explained: “Before, there were more trees but we didn’t make a lot of money. Now, there are fewer trees but we now plant them, protect them and make the maximum profit thanks to the support of the project. If we continue to make a profit from trees, the trend of deforestation will be reversed.”

“We want food security”

When a woman learns how to grow trees to protect her fragile environment and keep the soil fertile, it is possible break the cycle of poverty and environmental decline. The effects of this will be felt for generations to come.

Delila has been trained in soil and water conservation, how to look after existing trees and how to produce and plant seedlings.

“We have been trained in planting, assisted natural regeneration, composting and erosion control techniques. I have used these techniques and it is starting to have a positive effect. Before, there were fewer trees in the fields. We don’t cut the shea trees anymore, we want food security. Now shea and other fruits from trees in the bush have become valuable sources of income.”

With support from the TREE AID project, Delila and other women in her village have been given access to the education they were previously denied. Encouraged to form cooperatives, they have received equipment and training from TREE AID to turn shea nuts into shea butter and soap.

“Before, we would have four months of the lean, “hungry” season. Since I joined the project, I have united with other women from the village and from other villages. We give each other ideas, and we sell shea butter, nuts and other forest products together.”

Delila has seen a boost in her income from shea butter from access to processing equipment. This has given her more food security by making better quality butter more efficiently by working in the cooperative, even when the shea crop is small.

“With the shea processing equipment, we have dramatically reduced the time we spent processing shea butter, and we produce better quality. The price we get for the butter went from 400 to 600 CFA a kilo, and often more. This has allowed me to make up for a lot of the shortfalls I have experienced because I did not go to school. It really makes it easier for me to take care of my children and my family, I find it easier to pay for certain things and I can make better decisions in the way I make money.”

With the right tools and training from TREE AID Delila and the women in her community are empowered in their communities.

“We share our experiences and problems between us. Women are listened to more and more during community meetings. We also meet other women from other areas. All this improves how we do things.”

“There will be more trees now”

“I hope that with this project we can save and have a better future. I have a lot of hope. I am able to make sure my children go to school thanks to this project. I hope that it continues. There will be more trees now.”

TREE AID, set up by foresters in 1987, has planted more than 16 million trees and supported more than 1.2 million people, and is increasingly gaining recognition for its long-term solution to help alleviate poverty and halt deforestation in the poorest and most arid parts of Africa.

With the support the UK public, TREE AID’s She Grows appeal will help 1,000 women in Mali reverse the effects of deforestation, climate change and poverty in the drylands of Africa. The UK government will match pound for pound any public donations before 30th June through the UK Aid Match scheme. Visit www.treeaid.org.uk/shegrows.

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