Front Cover
 Setting up the cooperative
 Trial and error
 Steps forward
 Back Cover

Group Title: Seeds
Title: The Markala cooperative
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088777/00001
 Material Information
Title: The Markala cooperative a new approach to traditional economic roles
Series Title: SEEDS
Alternate Title: New approach to traditional economic roles
Physical Description: 20 p. : photos. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Caughman, Susan
Thiam, Mariam N'diaye
Publisher: SEEDS
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1982
Subject: Women in cooperative societies -- Mali   ( lcsh )
Cooperative societies -- Mali   ( lcsh )
Women -- Employment -- Mali   ( lcsh )
Trabajo y trabajadores -- Capacitación
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Mali
Statement of Responsibility: story by Susan Caughman and Mariam N'diaye Thiam.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088777
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 09882062

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Setting up the cooperative
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Trial and error
        Page 5
    Steps forward
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Pages 10-11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
    Back Cover
        Page 21
        Page 22
Full Text

SEEDS is a pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all over the
world for information about innovative and practical program ideas developed by
and for low income women. The pamphlets are designed as a means to share
information and spark new projects based on the positive experiences of women
who are working to help themselves and other women improve their economic
status. The projects described in this and other issues of SEEDS have been
selected because they provide women with a cash income, involve women in
decision-making as well as earning, are based on sound economic criteria, and are
working successfully to overcome obstacles commonly encountered. The reports
are not meant to be prescriptive, since every development effort will face somewhat
different problems and resources. Rather, they have been written to describe the
history of an idea and its implementation in the hope that the lessons learned can be
useful in a variety of settings. They are also being written to bring to the attention of
those in decision-making positions the fact that income-generating projects for and
by women are viable and have important roles to play in development.

Publication of SEEDS is made possible by the support of
the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation. Oxfam-Amerlca,
O the Population Council and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Statements made and views expressed in this publication are
solely the responsibility of the author and not of any organization
rNo 5 1982 providing support for SEEDS

The Markala Cooperative:

A New Approach to

Traditional Economic Roles

Story by Susan Caughman
and Mariam N'diaye Thiam

The Markala Cooperative resulted from the resolution of a group of poor women in
rural Mali to seek paid employment. When the twenty original members joined
together in 1975, their goals were to earn a regular salary and to learn marketable
skills. By 1981, these goals had been achieved. The women have established a
successful cooperative business based on the production and sale of dyed cloth
and laundry soap. In learning the necessary skills, they sought out job training
unavailable to most women in rural Mall. Although they were helped by capital
grants from several voluntary agencies, the members financed their own lengthy
training through earnings.The experience of the Markala women has already
inspired other cooperative businesses in rural Mall. It has also demonstrated that
creating off-farm employment opportunities for women is a vital element of rural
development projects.

The town of Markala, population 8,000,
is located on the Niger River, about 300
kilometers from the Malian capital, Bamako.
Mud houses arranged around central court-
yards make up the town's two residential
neighborhoods. Once a rural, agricultural
settlement like most throughout the country,
Markala underwent a significant change
when a dam and network of canals and
dikes were constructed around the town to
provide irrigation for large-scale agricultural
endeavors which would produce cash
crops such as rice, cotton and sugarcane.
The construction and maintenance of the
irrigation system brought thousands of
laborers, semi-skilled workers, tenant farm-
ers, and supervisory personnel to the area
from all over Mali and from neighboring
countries as well. Most of the men of
Markala now work as wage laborers and not
as farmers. Similarly, the traditional work of
women has undergone a significant
Malian society places a high value on
women's financial independence and

Malian women always have played an
important role in support of the family. There
is a clear division of responsibilities for men
and women. For example, men are ex-
pected to provide housing, wood and the
staple grain such as rice or millet. Women
provide their families with clothes and the
ingredients that make up "the sauce", the
stew of meat or fish, vegetables and spices
that is combined with rice or millet to make
up the traditional Malian meal. On the farm,
women wove cloth from cotton grown in their
husbands' fields and grew vegetables for
"the sauce" in their own garden plots.
Today, in towns like Markala, not only the
men, but the women too must earn money in
order to buy both clothing and food.
However, unlike the men, they have not
benefited from the training programs and
employment opportunities opened up by
the irrigation project.
To make matters worse, 1968 to 1973
was a period of severe drought in the Sahel
region of West Africa. Although it did not
bring starvation to Markala, it did cause

great hardship. Staple foods became diffi-
cult to obtain and rose dramatically in price.
The cost of millet, for example, escalated
800% between 1973 and 1975!
In order to earn money, Markala
women engage in a variety of income-
generating activities such as small-scale
trading and food processing. These ven-
tures, never very profitable, became totally
inadequate in the inflationary economy that
followed the drought. So in 1975, at the
suggestion of a local official of the Ministry of
Agriculture then residing in Markala, a
group of local women came together to'
discuss their problems and what might be
done. They were determined to do some-
thing to improve their economic situation
and eliminate the insecurity of their lives.
They decided to join together in a form of
economic organization-a cooperative.

Setting Up the Cooperative

For the Markala women, the decision to join
together in a cooperative was a daring step.
Though collective work groups are common
in Mali, joint ownership of resources is very
unusual, especially with non-relatives. How-
ever the pressure to earn needed funds had
become intense and the old ways no longer
were proving to be adequate. So, putting
any personal misgivings aside, the group
decided to move ahead with plans for a
A major incentive to undertake a co-
operative business was the desire to learn
new trades. Many economic activities in
West Africa are the province of certain
ethnic groups or families, the necessary
training passed down from one generation
to another. The women viewed the coopera-

tive as an opportunity to receive new skills
training just as the men had received train-
ing through the irrigation project.
In a series of meetings that took place
over three months in 1975, the women dis-
cussed their problems and what they might
do to earn money. Before beginning any
business activity, they agreed on some
ground rules:

The group would be open to any
woman in the town who wanted to
The membership fee would be low, so
no one would be excluded because
she had little money. (The initial fee of
1,000 Malian Francs (MF) or about U.S.
$2.50, was lowered to 100MF (250)
when it was discovered that many
women otherwise could not afford to
The main purpose of the cooperative
would be income-generation. From the
onset members rejected activities
such as literacy training and health
education as irrelevant in light of their
financial needs.
All important decisions would be made
by the group members. The women
would not call on local political or
government officials for leadership, as
similar groups in Mali often did.
Though they would be careful to dis-
cuss their project with local authorities,
the members would retain responsi-
bility for decision-making.

The women first considered the
problems they hoped to solve and then
decided what business activities might best
meet their needs. As traders and food
processors, their incomes were erratic;
each day brought a new anxiety about
feeding their families. Thus they needed not
only a larger cash income but a steady one.
Any seasonal activity, such as gardening or
fishing, would not be suitable. They needed
an activity with flexible hours, because child
care and household chores took time each
day. Members also wanted to increase their

-Y _2V

ability to find employment as individuals, not
just as a group. They needed to learn skills
that would permit them to earn a living
wherever they might be.
In the end, cloth-dying and
soapmaking seemed to best meet their
requirements. These skills, they felt, would
be valuable for each member whether or not
the group enterprise succeeded. Several
other considerations were important in their
choice: The necessary raw materials were
available locally and both cloth and soap
were always in demand. Even more
important, cloth-dyeing and soapmaking
are traditionally female occupations in Mali.
The women's unusual venture was already
the subject of controversy in town, so they
felt it was essential to choose activities
considered by their community to be
appropriate for women.
Approximately 200 women expressed
an interest in joining the cooperative and
most attended one or more of the planning
meetings. However community skepticism
and the prospect of a long training period

dissuaded most of them from continuing
with the cooperative. By the end of 1975,
twenty determined women began working
in borrowed rooms in the back of a local
school and the Markala cooperative was in

Trial and Error

To begin the cloth dying the cooperative,
with the assistance of a Ministry of Agri-
culture official, received a $600 grant from a
United Nations project in Bamako that pro-
vided the initial capital necessary to pur-
chase cloth, dyes and string, and to hire a
well-known cloth dyer to come to Markala
from the capital to train the members. The
cloth-dyeing process proved to be complex
and the women found it useful to divide
themselves into two groups. One group
concentrated on mastering the techniques
of dyeing with clay, a traditional art of the
Bombara, one of Mali's ethnic groups. A

sure eye and a steady hand are required to
paint accurate designs on hand-woven
cloth using a small stick. Many months of
practice were necessary before the women
were producing saleable cloth. The other
group chose to learn tie-dyeing. Patterns
are tied, wrapped and sewn on to white
cloth which is then dyed in a vegetable or
chemical bath. When the threads are
removed, a white pattern remains on the
colored cloth. This technique proved even
more difficult to master than the clay dyeing
The first two years of cloth production
were marked by heavy losses which
members chalked up to training costs. Still
they remained determined to perfect their
skills and in 1977 and 1979, members
participated in advanced training programs
held by the American Friend's Service
Committee (AFSC) in the Gambia and Mali.
By 1979 the women felt their products were
equal to those of Mali's better known
It took an equally long time for the
members to master the soapmaking
techniques. The women first hired local
soapmakers to teach them a process using
fish oil. But they encountered difficulties:
fish oil was not always available and, in any
case, its strong odor made the soap
saleable only when no other was available.
Then the group experimented with shea
butter, an oil made from the nut of a local
tree, but they were unable to produce a
soap that lathered well.
Then in 1979 the Ministry of Agri-
culture, with the collaboration of the Ameri-
can Friends Service Committee, began
offering technical, financial and marketing
assistance to women's producer groups in
Mali under a program called FEDEV (for
Women and Development in French).
FEDEV hired a Ghanian soapmaker, Peter
Donkor, to advise the group. He suggested
combining two different oils to produce an
odorless soap that lathered well. Donkor
also introduced a new soapmaking process
in which the oils, caustic soda, and water
are boiled over a wood fire. Up to that time
the group had made soap in what is called

"cold process" soapmaking by stirring the
ingredients together.
Boiling not only produced more soap
with the same amount of oil, but it also got rid
of the odor. The new boiling process was
somewhat more difficult than the stirring
technique because it required accurate
measurement of raw materials and quick
judgement about how much water to add.
But thanks to their years of experimentation
with oils and caustic soda, the women
learned Donkor's new techniques rapidly.
Within a week they were able to produce a
high-quality laundry soap. Donkor returned
in a few months to help the group install two
soap-boiling tanks which gave them the
capacity to produce several thousand bars
of soap a week.

Steps Forward

By 1978, cooperative membership had
grown to 50. Most of the members come
from the lower income strata of Markala. The
majority are married women over 30 years
old; 64% of the marriages are polygamous
with household duties shared between one
to three co-wives. Only eight of the mem-
bers have attended primary school and
none completed their studies; two members
speak some French, the national language.
Yet by 1979, despite low incomes and con-
tinued criticism of townspeople who, seeing
no financial gain accused the women of
wasting their time, cooperative members
had not only become technically proficient
in two major skill areas but were well on their
way to establishing their group as a viable
One important step was to register the
group as a producer cooperative under
Malian law. This procedure, which is
necessary for recognition as a legal entity
by the Government, was long and
complicated. It is unlikely that this group of
illiterate women would have been able to
complete the required bureaucratic
procedures without the assistance of
FEDEV staff.

Another problem was solved when the
group gained a permanent workshop, after
several years of temporary locations and
storage problems leading to a terrifying
incident where a child tried to swallow
caustic soda. With a grant from NOVIB, a
Dutch voluntary agency, a cement building
was completed in 1979; it consisted of a
large room with shaded porches on either
side so that workers could move outside
during the hot months.
Along with the other visible evidence of
the members newly acquired skills,-dyed
cloth and good-quality soap-the building
brought about a change in the
townspeople's attitude toward the group's
venture. Skepticism changed to admiration,
and over time the cooperative found itself
with many requests for membership. Local
officials, astounded that a group of illiterate
women owned a major building, began to
consider the cooperative as a genuine
business venture rather than writing it off as
a social club as they had in the past.


In addition to problems in acquiring tech-
nical skills, the members faced difficult
decisions about how to manage their busi-
ness. Since the women had no tradition of
sharing resources, managing the coopera-
tive's assets was a key area of potential
difficulty. Committees were set up and the
members elected officials and book-
keepers. The daily work schedule was set
up to permit a certain amount of flexibility,
according to members' duties at home.
Women in polygamous marriages, for ex-
ample, whose cooking duties were less
frequent, were required to be present more
often than members who had to cook each
Because one of the women's goals
had been to assure themselves a minimum
stable income, they decided to pay each
member a regular monthly salary from cloth
dyeing profits. This monthly salary began at
2000 Malian francs ($5) in 1976 and had

increased to 4000 MF ($10) by 1980.
Though small, it represented an important
source of security for members.
Meeting the payroll each month
remained the highest priority even when the
cooperative had little income. Members
often borrowed against expected profits or
paid themselves with funds that might more
profitably have been reinvested in raw
materials. But despite the strain, members
feel strongly today that without that regular
salary they would have found it difficult to
persist during the years of apprenticeship.
Facing another controversial issue, it
was decided that each member would be
paid the same monthly salary regardless of
how much each woman produced. In part
this decision reflected the difficulty of
measuring individual production levels. On
soapmaking days, for example, everyone
helps in measuring oils, weighing caustic
soda, boiling the mixture, filling the molds,
and later cutting the batch into small pieces.
Similiarly, a piece of cloth might have been
tied by one woman, dyed by two others

working together and rinsed by a fourth; the
threads might have been removed by a fifth.
For this reason, the members decided to
view profits as belonging to the entire group
and to divide them equally.
On philosophical grounds, too, a
majority of members felt that equal salaries
were necessary to promote group unity and
discourage jealousy and quarrels. Many of
the women feel today that the group's sur-
vival is due to the equal payment system.
But some cooperative members resented
the inequity of a system that rewarded all
members equally even those who were
less talented or hardworking.
In an attempt to respond to this criti-
cism, the members devised a quota system.
A small sum is subtracted from the monthly
salary of any woman who does not meet
minimum production and attendance
quotas. In practice, however, this system
has not resolved the tension between those
who prefer to sacrifice some profit in order to
keep the group alive and those who view the
equal payment system as exploitation.

Difficult decisions like these were often
made only after months of discussion. But
through solving problems together, the
group became loyal and cohesive. In the
beginning, the women had joined in the
hope of individual gain; but a commitment to
the cooperative venture began to be
important as well. When the cooperative
had 50 members the group decided that the
high cost of training new members required
them to close the cooperative until their
finances were more stable.


For the first few years, the cooperative's
revenues came almost entirely from the sale
of dyed cloth. As members became more
skilled, their production gradually increased
until it outstripped local demand. Although
the cooperative's cloth is much admired by
local women, few can afford to buy more
than one piece a year. Thus the cooperative
faced a marketing problem.
In 1976, a modest store, La Paysanne,
opened in Bamako. Operated by FEDEV, it
is designed to market the products of rural
cooperatives. As it grew, it marketed an
increasingly large percentage of the
Markala Cooperative's cloth. By 1980,
almost all the cloth produced by the
cooperative was sold on consignment in
The store provides the cooperative
with a reliable marketing outlet, access to a
wide clientele, and a regular gross revenue
averaging about 400,000 Malian francs
(U.S. $1000) a month. Participating in the
store also has other benefits: it has forced
cooperative members to improve the quality
of their work and provides them with a
source of raw materials at wholesale prices.
But marketing cloth through the
Bamako store also presents a number of

First, transportation between Bamako
and Markala is costly, making frequent
trips by members to pick up raw
materials and deliver finished cloth

Second, information from the store
about the colors and styles that appeal
to clients is slow to filter back to the
dyers. The cooperative therefore can-
not adapt production rapidly to
changes in demand.
Third, since all cloth is sold on consign-
ment, there is often a three-to-six
month delay between the purchase of
raw materials and the receipt of
payment for dyed cloth. Lack of capital
frequently forces the cooperative to
borrow against future sales in order to
buy more raw materials and continue
Fourth, the cooperative depends
almost entirely for its income on a retail
outlet 300 kilometers away where
management decisions are made with
little input from cooperative members.
Even though the Bamako store is a
non-profit organization that exists only
to market .cloth produced in rural
cooperatives, the Markala women
have hesitated to involve themselves in
its management. They regard it as an
urban affair.
Fifth, a high percentage of the store's
clients are expatriates, an unreliable
market on which to build a business.

For these reasons, as well as because
of the low profit margins on dyed cloth,
cooperative members are now attempting
to find ways to diversify their sources of
income. A millet-grinding mill seemed a
good possibility since Malian women often
pay to have their millet ground outside the
home. However the cooperative's
soapmaking business seems to hold the
most promise of increased revenues, since
its quality is appreciated in Mali and factory
made soap is often in short supply. But so
far, problems with inavailablity of raw
materials, packaging and marketing have
limited the group's income from this
Members sell soap directly to
individual buyers at the cooperative. They
are now seeking merchants to sell the soap

in other Malian towns, but transporting it in
large quantities will require packaging the
soap to prevent it from drying out, two
problems the cooperative is currently
addressing. In the future members hope the
greater success of their soapmaking
venture will permit them to rely less on a
single product, dyed cloth, for their income.
Record-keeping has been another
source of problems. The cooperative
women preferred to call on the services of
their own members rather than involve out-
siders in their finances. As a result, the two
literate cooperative members were chosen
as bookkeepers. The bookkeepers devised
their own record-keeping systems and kept
careful track of all expenditures as well as
attendance, production and soap inven-
tories. As the cooperative's business has
grown, adding new activities and involving
more complex transactions, these systems
have become less and less adequate. The
members need reliable and timely informa-
tion about the profitability of the coopera-
tive's ventures in order to make decisions

about purchasing raw materials or chang-
ing production schedules. Although the
group has sought bookkeeping assistance
from the local cooperatives agency, in the
end they devised a unique and unorthodox
system of their own. The group has
assigned the responsibility for the income
from different ventures (one batch of soap or
one month's sale of cloth for instance) to
different illiterate members. In their view,
this method balances the two literate
members' control over written records and
spreads responsibility for finances widely.
While their system complicates attempts to
gain an overview of the\cooperative's
finances, it is one that members value
highly. The cooperative's members need
innovative assistance to design a flexible
accounting system that incorporates their
own methods with traditional bookkeeping
techniques, and helps them prepare profit
and loss statements.
Lack of working capital has been an
ongoing source of difficulty. Members must
stretch the cooperative's resources each
month simply to meet the payroll and buy
raw materials for the next month's produc-
tion. Thus, they are unable to stock raw
materials when prices are low-an espe-
cially important consideration for soap-
making because shea butter, the staple oil,
is harvested and processed in August and
September each year and triples in price
later in the year. Members would like to
increase cloth production but they cannot
afford to invest in cloth and dyes and then
wait six months to receive the income from
sales. Recently, however, the group re-
ceived a working capital grant from Oxfam-
America to permit investment in raw mate-
rials and thus allow an increase in
The cooperative's decision to remain
as independent as possible has meant that
profits build slowly. The grants received by
the cooperative (totalling some $75,000
over seven years) cover only specific pro-
jects the cooperative's building, for ex-
ample or short term training programs.
The day to day costs of salaries, water bills,
transportation and a host of other operating

expenses which keep the cooperative
functioning are supported from profits gen-
erated by cloth sales. The members them-
selves subsidized their own, lengthy job
training process; an expensive effort that
kept salaries low for many years.
The fact that their income from five
years of work has been low has only
strengthened the women's resolve to in-
crease their earning power. As cooperative
production expands, the members hope
salaries can be increased.
Though the members are not yet satis-
fied with the financial return on their venture,
their commitment to the cooperative is un-
swerving. They are expansive about the
benefits gained. The Markala women see
their occupations before they joined the co-
operative as inconsequential: "I was doing
nothing, so I joined the cooperative." It is a
source of great pride to these women that
they are now skillful cloth-dyers and soap-
makers with a place of employment and a
monthly salary. Their daily anxiety of the

past has been replaced by a new security.
Many of the members, confident of their own
ability to earn money in the future, are teach-
ing their skills to their daughters so that they
too will be employable.
Because the cooperative salary meets
only a small proportion of the women's
monthly expenses, many earn additional
income at night using the skills learned
through the cooperative. "Before I had no
trade," said one of the women, "Now I am
able to meet my expenses. I can tie cloth or
make soap at home at night."
The women value the support of their
fellow cooperative members highly. "If I
need something, if I have difficulties, I am
helped by a cooperative member." They
feel that working in a group has been highly
beneficial. "Some people have better ideas
than others so when you work together you
The financial advantages of the group
extend beyond the monthly salary.
Cooperative members have formed a
rotating savings club to which each
contributes from her salary. Each month, in
turn, two members receive 25,000 Malian
francs (U.S., $50). For most members, who
are unable to save at all because of the cost
of feeding their families, this club represents
their only chance to assemble a significant
sum of money. Most use the money to pay
back loans or buy clothes for their children.
But several have invested their savings -
one in a cart that she hires out, and another
in a soft drink business. The cooperative
also has a special fund to help members in
emergencies, such as family illness.
These achievements have not gone
unnoticed. In addition to gaining their
neighbor's approval, the Markala women
have attracted official attention. The FEDEV
program, inspired largely by the example of
the women in Markala, now assists some 20
groups in Mali. Many of them have sent
members to Markala for training and women
from other countries have visited Markala to
learn about the cooperative's experiences.
(See Appendix)


The persistence and initiative of the Markala
Cooperative has demonstrated that poor
nonliterate women can collaborate suc-
cessfully on economic ventures. Perhaps
most importantly, through their action and
the organization of their cooperative busi-
ness they have made an important state-
ment about the role of women in rural Mali.
Rural women who are responsible for feed-
ing their families require job training and
employment opportunities that will provide
them with a steady income. Although
increased agricultural production is an
important goal of rural development
projects, the cash needs of women, on and
off the farm, must also be considered if
family living standards are to be raised.
Those who wish to increase incomes
among rural women can learn a number of
useful lessons from the experience of the
Markala cooperative:

1. The initial activity undertaken by a
cooperative should promise a clear and
immediate benefit to the participants.
Experts would probably not have advised
cloth-dyeing as a start-up activity for women
in rural Mali. Profit margins are small, train-
ing is long and marketing, difficult. But the
members believed cloth-dyeing would be
useful to them whether or not the coopera-
tive survived, and they were willing to com-
mit themselves to mastering the necessary
skills. Thus cloth-dyeing was ideal for the
early years when the cooperative was frag-
ile and group spirit was minimal. Now that
the cooperative is stronger and more cohes-
ive, members can move on to less conven-
tional, more profitable activities.
2. Women should choose the struc-
ture of their own organizations, even if
their decisions appear illogical to outsid-
ers. The Markala women organized their
cooperative in ways that defy commonly
accepted business practices. Regular sal-

aries were paid regardless of income; all
members received equal salaries despite
widely varying production records; un-
trained members were elected to keep the
cooperative's books. Yet these unorthodox
rules represent rational responses to mem-
bers' own evaluation of their overall social
and economic situation. Donors and gov-
ernment agencies should make sure mem-
bers understand the costs of such decisions
and should seek compromises that maintain
the women's own priorities while increasing
3. Appropriate technical assistance
is vital. Without outside advice the Markala
group would not have achieved its goal of
job training. One of the most improtant servi-
ces that can be provided is to identify useful
advisors and skills while allowing the coop-
erative to decide the direction of the project.
In this case, officials of the ministry of Agri-
culture provided technical advice but also
put the women in contact with donors that
could help them.
4. A delicate balance must be main-
tained between self-reliance and ade-
quate levels of outside financial and tech-
nical assistance. The members were
anxious to maintain their independence;
they therefore avoided relying on any single
donor or government service. Their inde-
pendence has been expensive, since the
members have borne heavy costs for train-
ing and project development-costs which
might have been covered if the project had
been sponsored by an agency or a volun-
tary organization. The resultant lack of
capital has limited the cooperative's growth
and kept members' salaries low. On the

other hand, highly subsidized projects often
fail once subsidies are withdrawn. The
Markala group's stability seems assured
since they have learned to function auto-
nomously in the face of a wide range of
problems and a sometimes adverse finan-
cial situation. Donors and beneficiaries
must work together to structure financial
assistance that encourages self-sufficiency
without forcing poor women alone to bear
the financial risks of experimental projects.
5. Bookkeeping and management
are as important as production skills if a
small business is to succeed. In their
enthusiasm for training that would benefit all
members, the women concentrated on
soapmaking and cloth-dyeing skills. They
neglected technical training for those
members chosen to keep the books yet
were unwilling to hire a trained outsider to
serve as manager or bookkeeper. As a
result, the lack of timely and good account-
ing information has limited the cooperative's
profitability. When planning projects, the
importance of such skills should be
6. A flexible, long-term perspective
is essential. It took several years for the
members to develop their job skills, and
even longer for the women to build confi-
dence in one another. By starting simply
and adding projects only as the members
felt ready, the group stabilized and
strengthened their project. Rigid project
designs and unrealistic time frames should
not be imposed; six years after the group
was formed, the members of the Markala
cooperative view their work as having just


Rural Extension Services in
Support of Women's
Income-Generating Activities

The Markala Cooperative's success has
been primarily a product of the hard work
and determination of the members. How-
ever it also has been helped to a great
extent by the existence of rural outreach
programs. As noted in the text, a local Mini-
stry of Agriculture official brought the group
to the attention of donor and government
agencies. Then in 1976, the American
Friends Service Committee (AFSC), in co-
operation with the Ministry of Rural Develop-

ment, established a women and develop-
ment program (Femmes et Developpement
or FEDEV in French) in Mali. This organiza-
tion has been able to provide training for the
women and an outlet for the sale of their
cloth. Until this time, effective, governmen-
tally supported, rural extension services to
assist the efforts of women's groups had
been rare.
The following description of FEDEV
and two similar projects shows how such
structures, established within government
ministries, can play a vital role in helping
rural women to develop skills and establish
viable businesses.

Femmes et Development
(FEDEV) Project
Bamako, Mali

The FEDEV project is quasi-governmental in
character, reporting directly to both the
Ministry of Rural Development and the
AFSC. It also reports to the government
office responsible for supervising the work
of private voluntary organizations in Mali.
The Director of the Division of Rural Anima-
tion and Training assists FEDEV by assign-
ing staff (rural extension workers), informing
local officials of FEDEV activities and in-
tegrating FEDEV programs with other gov-
ernment and private efforts.
Now active in five of Mali's seven
regions, FEDEV works primarily through dis-
trict level rural extension workers known as
monitrices. These women are connected
with rural multi-service centers where they
work with village women on health and
social needs. Currently there are ten
monitrices assigned to work with FEDEV.
FEDEV provides advice, training (e.g.,
training in tie-dyeing techniques,
soap-making, bookkeeping and general
cooperative management) and resources
that allow them to expand their role in the
community into the area of women's
income-generating activities. They receive
a bonus for their work with FEDEV which is in
addition to their regular activities. FEDEV
also has provided a number of small motor
bikes to facilitate the monitrices travel in
rural areas.
The FEDEV program operates as fol-
lows. When a monitrice has identified a
group of women desiring to start an income-
generating project, she assists them in find-
ing suitable space for their enterprise and
makes arrangements for them to receive
training in needed skills (e.g., soap making,
tie dyeing, gardening, rug making). FEDEV
provides the training and assists the women
in organizing themselves as a business
(electing officers, selecting a bookkeeper,
deciding on cost of shares, dividends,
salaries, etc.) in what is called a "pre-co-
operative" structure. Becoming a coopera-

tive in Mali is a complicated legal process
that generally is not undertaken until a group
has demonstrated its ability to work together
and its profitability.
Good accounting procedures are rec-
ognized as critical to the success of any
business and FEDEV not only provides
training in this area but occasionally pays a
small stipend to the bookkeeper during the
initial period of operation until the cost can
be assumed by the group. When necessary
FEDEV also provides start-up capital for
tools and equipment and purchases some
supplies in bulk which it distributes to the
groups at cost. Assistance with marketing
products produced by the groups also is
Each monitrice stays in close contact
with all pre-cooperatives in her area, some-
times visiting each one several times a
month. Through its training and support
services, FEDEV expects that over a period
of a few years each group will be able to:
achieve financial viability
develop a sound organizational
establish a marketing system for its

At this point the groups should be able to
qualify for legal recognition as cooperatives
within Mali which will allow them to receive
consultation and training from the Coopera-
tive Section of the Ministry of Rural
Government officials in Mali have
shown increasing interest in FEDEV activi-
ties. They are invited to visit the groups to
see for themselves what the women are
doing. One visitor to Markala was quite
surprised at the quality of soap being made
by the cooperative. Such exposure helps
planners appreciate the importance of
women's economic roles and the cost-
effectiveness of rural extension services,
thus justifying continuing governmental
Based on the success of the FEDEV
project, the AFSC recently has initiated a
similar project in Guinea-Bissau.

Women in Development Project IRDP Pilot Project in
Ntfonjeni, Swaziland Population Planning and
Rural Women's Cooperatives

This project, officially titled "Assistance in
Strengthening Income-Generating Capabil-
ities Among Rural Women and Their Fami-
lies," was begun in 1975 as a pilot scheme
to integrate women into the national devel-
opment effort by assisting them in acquiring
and improving income-generating skills in
small-scale, rural home industries. Head-
quartered in Ntfonjeni, in northern Swazi-
land, the project thus far has trained 406
women through two, four-month training
The Women and Development Project
functions within the Department of Com-
munity Development and Social Welfare of
the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-opera-
tives. It also is linked to the Northern Rural
Development Area Programme. It is fully
institutionalized within the government
Initial funding for the project came from
the U.N. Department of Technical Cooper-
ation for Development. The project now re-
ceives its principal funding from the Govern-
ment of Swaziland's various bilateral and
multilateral sources.
In addition to income-generating skills,
the project provides day care centers, a
village technology unit which demonstrates
labor saving devices, a revolving loan fund
to assist graduates of the training programs
to buy equipment and raw materials and
marketing assistance which includes an ad-
visory service that offers counsel on design,
equipment and production problems.
The project currently is expanding to
three other areas in Swaziland and discus-
sions are planned on the possibility of
establishing similar projects in other


The Integrated Rural Development Pro-
gramme (IRDP), a major institution under
the Ministry of Labour, Administration, Local
Government and Rural Development and
Cooperatives, was designed to organize
farmers into village level cooperatives. Not
surprisingly these cooperatives had only
male members. So in 1974, the IRDP set up
a women's program to organize women's
village level cooperatives.
All rural women are eligible to join a
cooperative in their village by purchasing a
share in the cooperative and by agreeing to
meet and deposit savings weekly. As of
1979 there were 656 women's cooperatives
operating. Members then are entitled to
receive credit for economic production in
areas they consider appropriate such as
raising livestock, processing rice, making
pottery, tailoring, etc. Credit is extended to
the cooperatives by banks and does not
come from the women's savings. The mem-
bers also are eligible to receive training,
supplies and services to upgrade their
projects. Elected cooperative officers re-
ceive special training in management and
have access to information on various
subjects, such as health and family plan-
ning, which they in turn share with the other
When the Programme began, there
were no women officers on the IRDP staff.
Female staff soon were recruited and now
occupy line positions within the institution.
All staff receive special training to prepare
them to work effectively to meet the needs of
rural women.

Design: Sarah Vure
Typography: Village Type and Graphics
Photos: Susan Caughman
Printing: Graphic Impressions, Inc.

Susan Caughman was Director of the American Friends Service Committee's
Women and Development Program in West Africa. Mariam N'diaye Thiam is
responsible for women's programs in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mali. Together they
founded the Mali Rural Women's Advisory Service, a program which now provides
technical assistance to some 500 women in producer cooperatives in rural Mali.

We invite your comments and your ideas for projects which might
be included in future editions of SEEDS. If you would like additional
copies of this issue or would like to be included on the SEEDS
mailing list, please write to:

Ann Leonard, Editor
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163 U.S.A.

P O Box 3923 Grand Central Station. New York, N Y 10163

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