5. Women in Rural Development: The case of the Office du Niger in Mali, 1960 to 2006

The Office du Niger has been created by the French colonial authorities in 1932 in order to grow cotton in Africa because they had to provide the textile industry and to produce rice for the French West African people. In the aftermath of independence, the Office came under the authority of Malian state and the attention put on agricultural policy led to nationalize it. Since then, the new Malian authorities made the Office du Niger into the heart of the Malian development process with the main priority of achieving food self-sufficiency and increase cotton exportation. In this atmosphere, begin a development history which involve all human ressources, men as well as women. Indeed, it seems that, women are very active in the economy of their local communities at the Office du Niger. Women engaged in agriculture, with the assistance of male relatives had prepared the land and planted millet and vegetables in their own and the communal family fields, they also are involved in fetching and carrying water and firewood, gathering and processing wild plants, grinding grain and preparing meals, feeding guinea hens or small ruminants, keeping the home environment in order and the family clothes clean and caring for their children.

Historians, archaeologists, and others are still exploring, reconstructing and debating the postcolonial history of the Office du Niger. However, these scholars have neglected the study of women in this irrigated scheme. This present study takes a different approach. I will analyze women's situation and role in economic activities and the public sphere at the Office du Niger. In so doing, I believe my work will contribute to current scholarly efforts to understand the statut and the situation of women at the Office du Niger as actors of development in their local communities. Because analysing women’s distinctive relationship to production and development would illuminate not only their social conditions, but also the perception of their value in the whole society.

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