Notes to broadcasters
In the 1930s, French settlers created a farming area in the Office du Niger, in central Mali. This area was used to grow cotton and sugar cane just after Mali achieved independence in 1960. Thousands of farming families in this area have been growing rice for three decades. But now, most women think that growing onions and okra off-season after the rice harvest is one of the best ways to be self-sufficient and support their families.
Income from selling okra helps thousands of farming households to invest in livestock and poultry production, as well as property. That is why more and more people grow okra. Growing and marketing okra in Mali and abroad is relatively problem-free, which contributes to its popularity.
In this script, we meet Fanta Bouaré, who farms in the village of Bakay Wèrè, and grows okra off-season. She is a member of a women’s group which grows okra and sells it at a weekly local market, and also supplies wholesale traders who come from Bamako. These sales enable them to save money for their needs and support their families during difficult times of the year. Unlike other vegetables, farmers can store okra as long as they want, and wait for the desired price.
We also meet Ousmane Touré, a wholesale okra trader. He and his colleagues visit the farm to talk to farmers about selling okra. He sells the okra he buys from women farmers in Bakay Wèrè to vegetable retailers, who export it to African restaurants in Europe and the USA. Ousmane tells us about the benefits of selling okra and how it is stored before it is sent out of the country.
You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on growing okra or a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.
If you choose to use this script as inspiration for creating your own program, you could talk to farmers who grow okra in your area and the experts who advise them. You might ask them:
- Is there a market for growing okra in this area? Can farmers make a good living selling okra?
- What kinds of production and marketing difficulties should a prospective okra grower know about?
- How can okra farmers address these difficulties?
Estimated running time for the script: 20 minutes, with intro and outro music
Bakay Wèrè is a village in Niono cercle, in central Mali, 350 kilometres from Bamako, the capital city. Here, the main okra growers are women. By growing okra, which is cultivated by all families in the region, they manage to be self-reliant and not dependent on their husbands’ income. They can even help out their husbands and children.
We are in a large okra field that spreads over about sixhectares. I can hear small birds and insects all around. About a dozen women are here, each busy with their own work. Some have kids on their backs. We’re going to talk to a woman who doesn’t seem very busy.
We start by planting seeds right after the rice harvest because we use the same fields. Okra can germinate on any kind of soil, but it grows well on deep sandy and silty soils with a pH between 6 and 8, and rich in well-decayed organic matter like manure or compost.
The timing for harvesting okra depends on the variety. The period from the sowing till harvest varies between 45 and 70 days.
In that regard, different people have different tastes. Some choose varieties that can be harvested after only two months, and others choose varieties with cycles up to four months. Anyway, both choices will give good results, and everyone wins, whatever choice they make.
But our okra is not quite ripe; it needs a few more days. It’s rare to find ripe okra at this time of the season. So, today we’re harvesting just a few ripe vegetables to take to the market tomorrow. I think that other women are here to water their plants.
The rats who live in the rice fields bother us a lot. They eat the leaves from the small shoots, which totally destroys okra fields. So we use poison to fight the rats. We mix it with a certain amount of rice or maize grain, their favorite food, and then we spread small amounts here and there at the foot of the shoots. That’s what kills them.
As soon as we are free from rats, we apply fertilizer; some growers use animal manure. Add 50 kilograms of urea per hectare and 100 kilograms of NPK fertilizer per hectare three weeks after sowing, then bury 50 kilograms of urea 15 days following the first supply.
After that, all that is left to do is monitoring, which includes continuing to water regularly to keep the soil wet, weeding, and treating insect pests. Harvest starts 45 to 75 days after sowing and consists in picking young fruits which are still immature.) Harvest every two or three days to prevent fruits from becoming woody. The harvest can be drawn out to 55-110 days. Yields vary between 10 and 15 tonnes per hectare in the dry season.
That’s another advantage of growing okra: it’s a vegetable that is as good when it’s dried as when it’s fresh. Drying sliced or whole small fruits in the sun or on a solar stove ensures very good storage.
There’s no problem with processing or storage. We take our harvest to the market, and, if we can’t sell it all, we cut the leftovers into pieces and dry them in the sun. Once this is done, we can store okra for as long as we want.
Some women even prefer dry okra to fresh okra. Every day after picking, they dry okra slowly in the sun, throughout the harvesting period. They store them for a few months, until the rainy season starts. That’s when the price goes up and we can make a lot of money from selling just a little. One kilogram of okra sells for 500 CFA francs during the harvest period, but 750 during the lean season.
But okra doesn’t need all that. When it’s fresh, you can keep it for a few days. Otherwise, you can cut it into small pieces, dry it, and store it for over a year if you so wish.
As regards selling, whenever you think that the price per kilogram is right, you make your sale. With other products, it’s absolutely impossible to have this kind of control on production and marketing.
Coming back to concrete benefits, many women in our group have accomplished great things thanks to okra. Some have increased the number of livestock they own; some helped their husbands pay off debts; some even bought plots in Niono. Thanks to okra, they managed to finance their daughters’ marriage. We could go on and on about everything you can imagine as expenses: we can cover them, thanks to okra.
For those who are hesitating, I think it is time to stop hesitating and invest in okra farming. We have suffered a lot growing other fruits and vegetables that cannot be stored for long in our climate.
Dear listeners, two traders, a man and a woman, just walked into the field. We’ll chat with them to learn more about how the okra market works. Ma’am, Sir, hello!
Off-season harvesting will start soon, in 15 days at the most, so from now on we’ll be here every Friday with a van that will be parked next to Molodo market.
In order to make more profit, we come to the farmers’ fields and buy what we want. Then we carry the produce to the van, using carts that we rent here in Bakay Wèrè. We have appointments every Sunday morning with our buyers in different parts of Bamako. Overall, the okra market presents no problem for now.
We also have buyers in several other countries in the world, and they provide the larger market. They own Malian restaurants in Europe and in the USA. I personally own twoMalian restaurants in Paris, two in the city of Montreuil, in France, and I also send products to two Senegalese restaurants in New York. I also know a woman in Milan, Italy who only buys dried okra or okra powder. I know other wholesalers who have buyers in Italy and in Germany.
Once the order is placed, it’s up to me to fight to get the amount requested and have it delivered to the airport at least a day before the buyer leaves. For such orders, we don’t use plastic sacks, but jars that the villagers make with palm leaves. I buy fifty or more of those, fill them up, and close them with pieces of cardboard.
Then I store them in the refrigerated truck that I bring here to the field. In Bamako, we have fridges that we rent to store products for a few days. One day or half a day before the buyer’s departure, I bring the fridges to the airport. That’s it for me; the buyer takes care of the rest. It’s a lot of expense, but the buyers finance the whole thing, and we earn more in such transactions than in the markets in Bamako.
Fanta, the woman you just interviewed, is part of our farmers’ group. Supplying our merchants group has become a priority for these farmers. When the harvest starts, as long as we need okra, no other merchant has a right to buy any from them. We have had this agreement for five years now with the farmers, and it applies to all okra harvests, in-season and off-season.
Dear listeners, this is the end of our show. Today, with our two guests, we have learnt that okra farmers in Bakay Wèrè village get good harvests and sell their production with no worries.
We also learned that okra has many advantages over other vegetables. It is resistant to heat and can be stored for a long time after drying in the sun. This helps women farmers choose a good time to market their okra, when they can take advantage of higher prices in the market. We have also learned that the okra grown in Mali is consumed in other continents, which shows how important this vegetable is in Malian eating habits.
Thank you for listening to our show. We invite you to tune in for our next show during which we will discuss another important theme.
Thank you for your kind attention and see you very soon!
Contributed by: Boubacar Gakou, film maker and producer, Bamako, Mali
Reviewed by: Mamadou Togola, Agronomist in charge of monitoring and evaluation, Office of the Irrigated Perimeter of Baguinéda, Ministry of Agriculture, Mali
Fanta Bouaré, April 17, 2017
Ousmane Touré, April 17, 2017
This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from Save the Children and with financial support from USAID Technical and Operational Perfromance Support (TOPS).