posted at 21:00
Author Name: Sébastien Rieussec
An organic garden of plenty in Malis arid soil
Oumar Diabate has established a reputation for raising chemical-free vegetables, fruit and medicinal plants at his small farm about 30 kilometres from the capital Bamako. In a vast country where two-thirds of the terrain is desert, Diabate, 47, lovingly tends his two hectares, nudging tomatoes, courgettes, lettuce and beetroot from the ochre soil. Diabate acquired the small farm in the village of Satinebougou in 2005 after years away from home doing his veterinary training in Moscow. A big man with a boxer's build, Diabate was inspired by French environmentalist and farmer Pierre Rabhi, the pioneer of techniques known as "Agro-ecology". By mixing Rahbi's methods with lessons from his studies in Russia, Diabate was soon bucking the trend in a country where agriculture usually means traditional subsistence farming with low yields. Diabate rejects using chemical fertilisers and pesticides on his farm - a widespread practice in Mali - instead he sticks to compost and manure, while rotating his crops to maintain the nutrients in the soil. Diabate now collects about 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables a week for direct sale to consumers, just as other organic farmer increasingly do in Europe and the United States. Diabate's methods have aroused some interest, but organic production is still marginal in Mali, where subsistence farming accounts for nearly 40 percent of GDP. Authorities have slowly introduced reforms over the past few decades and last year announced they want to make the country a regional agricultural force by 2017, in a document that resonated with some of Diabate's principles.

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