Women Farmers Find Strength in Numbers “Before we formed cooperatives, everyone worked separately - we bought our inputs and weed killers separately ... when we could not afford something, we did without, but working together we are sure to get all the necessary inputs. Working together has helped to increase the quantity and the quality of our production,” says Rekiatou Diallo. Diallo is the President of the Cooperative des Femmes Riziculture de Niena (COFRN), formed in 2006 by a group of women rice farmers in the Niena area of Mali. That first year, COFRN members warehoused nearly six tons of rice and immediately received agro-inputs proportional to the value of their stockpile. The subsequent harvest quadrupled their rice stockpile to 24 tons. More recently, when the members calculated their agro-input needs for the coming year, they were pleased to learn that they needed only half the amount they previously borrowed. Two consecutive years of agro-inputs use had reduced the quantities necessary for healthy crops. Agricultural Traditionally, Niena women have always been involved in the production of agricultural crops and gardens to help provide for their families. Rice farming was an attractive crop for these women farmers due to the potential cash income from a good crop. However, due to a chronic lack of resources, production had become increasingly meager and caused major financial losses instead. coops provide double benefits for members through crop warehousing for loan collateral “At this moment, the women do not owe anything to our bank,” says Joya Thaore, an official of the micro-finance institution, Kafo Jigine in Niena. By working together, COFRN members are able to afford the inputs they need, repay their loans, and better meet their families’ needs. and better prices. In response, some women farmers applied individually for bank loans to purchase fertilizers and other inputs to improve their rice production. The lenders, however, would decline their applications on the basis that none of them possessed the necessary collateral to secure a loan. To turn this no-win situation around, the Niena women joined forces. On the advice of several NGOs they formed COFRN. By creating a women’s rice cooperative, they became eligible for a micro-finance loan using the inventory credit system, or warrantage. Under this system, farmers warehouse their harvests collectively and use their stockpile as collateral for loans. Profits rose as well. “Instead of selling their rice at harvest time when the prices are at their lowest, warehousing allows them to sell their rice when market prices are high - sometimes for more than double, “says Pierre Coulibably of Groupe de Recherche d’Etude et de Formation en Agriculture et Arboriculture (GREFA).