This year Just Small Change will start supporting a microcredit project in South Mali, where many years of intensive cotton production have impoverished both the land and the people. Large amounts of pesticides and fertilisers are needed to grow cotton. People have become indebted to cotton companies for the chemicals they lend, which have to be repaid after the cotton harvest. Although this is a productive area of Mali, having more rainfall, it has become the poorest and most malnourished region as cotton prices have fallen and cotton companies make money out of loans. Families can earn as little as £130 a year which is not enough to survive. The fertilisers have made the land very poor and unproductive and the pesticides have poisoned the livestock and human population as they get into the water supply and pasture.
Many wish to return to food production instead of growing cotton. They are trying to improve their land through ecological methods such as compost-making and re-introducing old-fashioned seed varieties that are better able to withstand irregular weather patterns. But very few people have livestock; these are needed to help to fertilise the soil because their droppings accelerate compost production, and also because they create an income for very poor women.
To help meet this need, the microcredit project helps very poor women to raise goats. Goats provide milk for consumption and sale for a longer period than cows, improving livelihoods, and the young goats can be sold to raise money when times are tough. Each client is loaned funds for two years and uses this to buy two female goats. If a goat is well-kept and has good forage (project staff provide support and training for this) it can give birth to one or two kids every 6 months. By selling some of these, each client can repay her loan at the end of the 2 years and keep all the surplus goats. The repaid loans are then recycled to lend to another woman.
Just Small Change is starting work in two villages in South Mali, and is looking forward to extending this work in the coming years.