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Scarce land, diverse livelihoods - Tracking 35 years of change in central Mali

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Camilla’s work documents change over 35 years in a small mud village in central Mali. Like much of the Sahel, the village of Dlonguebougou and the wider area is usually seen by government and outsiders as poor and degraded. But her study shows remarkable growth and investment over the last 35 years. Today, for example the combined assets of Dlonguebougou households are worth more than $600,000, a sum which has multiplied by 5 since 1980 when she first went there. Shops, solar panels and motorbikes have become the “must have” assets, alongside oxen plough-teams, donkey carts and wells. Like many other communities in this dry zone, people are dealing with multiple and diverse risks. Rainfall, harvests, illness, political shocks and market shifts all make it difficult to plan and manage the family’s fortunes. For example, the recent arrival of a large Chinese sugar-cane plantation has had multiple damaging impacts on this region, with hundreds of farmers evicted from their land now seeking cultivation space around Dlonguebougou. But the powerful combination of cooperation and competition you find in this and neighbouring communities helps explain their ability to manage risks and accumulate capital. However, not everyone does well. She shows the vital role of large domestic groups in providing collective insurance to its members. This talk presents: History of the village, and the purpose of this study; Land, rainfall and farming system; People and households; Investments and wealth; changes in attitudes and values; migration patterns; and finally, important activities to follow up including what the new Land Law can offer to secure local land rights, and engagement strategies with the Chinese sugarcane plantation.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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