This profile was prepared when Ladji Niangane was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Ladji's approach has been to involve local farmers and those from the surrounding regions in his efforts to pilot new approaches to economic livelihood. He began in the late 1970's by introducing the first cooperative to Mali and negotiating the price of products in the local markets. At the time the farming system was based on government fixed prices for all agricultural produce. In 1978 he pioneered the effort in Mali to allow cultivators to diversify from cultivation to into raising animals like cows and goats. At the time the farming system was organized around the strict separation of these farming practices. Ladji's innovations in irrigation made it possible for farmers along the banks of the Senegal River to plant banana and papaya on a large scale, an idea which had been deemed impractical to that point because of the drought conditions in the region. Ladji also pioneered the planting and sale of a much wider range of vegetables than had hitherto been the case. This innovation has changed the diet of local farming communities which has had a documented effect on the health of the local farming population in the area. Previously the local diet relied heavily on cereals, meat and milk, with few if any vegetables. Ladji also introduced the systematic cultivation of seed varieties in this region of the Sahel. His first successful effort involved Galmi violet onions that had previously been grown exclusively in Niger. Producing this seed required long-term, focused attention to irrigation and waiting for the second generation crop to flower and set seed, in addition to careful harvesting and storing. His current efforts to stabilize the banks of the Senegal River are focused on a mix of netting, tree planting and crop cultivation to prevent erosion. He is also a leader of a pan-African organization that monitors and resists efforts by multinationals to obtain trademarks on available local seed varieties.