An organisational crisis of producer organisations in the cotton sector, coinciding with effects of the financial and food crisis in 2008 exposed small farmers to extremely poor living conditions. Within this context, regional cotton producer unions partnered with SNV in developing a new model for agricultural services based on the ‘Farm Management Advice System’ (FMAS). This case highlights that implementing FMAS may help small family farms in Mali to better ensure food security for their households, and to fight against hunger and extreme poverty.
The outreach of the cotton sub-sector in West Africa is huge: in countries like Benin, Burkina and Mali it has encompassed over 750,000 households. In the past 20 years, as a result of cotton sub-sector reforms, multi-tier cotton farmers’ organisations have emerged, which today act as primary stakeholders in cotton supply chains and whose role goes beyond producing cotton. They played a vital role in the expansion of the chain in the 1980-90s and in achieving the establishment of a more balanced sub-sector in the 2000s. Faced with the challenge of taking on new roles, these farmers’ organisations have developed new capacities, often supported by SNV and others. They have represented and supported their members in various fields, of which two dimensions are highlighted in the case: price negotiations and farm management services. In 2010, producers through negotiations were able to increase the farm gate price by 15 FCFA/kg (9% increase) amounting to an extra 6 Million Euro revenues. Farm management services have been localized, helping farmers to improve efficiency and productivity of their farm enterprises; and to balance returns from cotton exports with food crops grown for the local and regional markets as well as for home consumption. The producer organisations thus became crucial in keeping the chain and farming systems economically viable as well as contributing substantially to food security in the region.