An example of the networking between humanitarian aid and development in Mali

Jean-Bernard Veron, the author of this text, is a long-time development specialist within FAD and now in several NGOs. He has played an important role in bringing humanitarian and development closer together to better meet the needs of populations in crisis zones that he also knows as a man in the field. The case study presented here, which dates back a few years, is a good example of the diversity of possible modes of intervention and their complementarity. 


This networking, in a crisis context, between humanitarian aid for displaced populations and host communities and the revival of economic activities, took place in Mali in the Mopti region, more precisely in Konna and Barygodonga, as well as in Gao and Timbuktu.

Funded by the Foundation of France, these projects were implemented on the ground by the APFO [1]

Animals around the troughs of a water tower in rural Mali ©Solidarites International 2019

1. Purpose and objectives

The selection of projects was based on a twofold observation.

On the one hand, the security crisis has jeopardized the coverage of the needs of IDPs and has led to an overload in host communities, particularly in the area of food.

On the other hand, IDPs have had to interrupt the activities that enabled them to be economically self-sufficient. Moreover, their return, once security was restored, would be hampered by the deterioration of their means of production: looted seed stocks, bunds on irrigated perimeters and degraded contour lines due to lack of maintenance, slaughtered or stolen livestock.

These projects therefore aim to help populations affected by the crisis by targeting rural activities, agriculture and livestock breeding, and by combining humanitarian aid and the revival of the beneficiaries’ economic activities.

They are therefore multi-objective projects, in line with this dual purpose.

The first of these objectives is to cover the basic needs of IDPs. To this end, food supplies, impregnated mosquito nets against malaria and, where necessary, the care of malnourished children have been financed.

The second is to relaunch activities that will enable beneficiaries to do without humanitarian aid and regain their autonomy when the security of their region of origin allows them to return.

To this end, the projects have financed :

  • for agricultural activities: seeds and inputs, shovels and wheelbarrows to rehabilitate the dikes of irrigation perimeters, donkeys and carts to transport crops and manure;
  • for livestock: sheep and ewes for the benefit of the women who were engaged in this activity, in addition to market gardening, as well as cotton cake for animal feed.

The third objective, and this is one of the specific features of these projects, is to strengthen the resilience of the beneficiaries in the face of risks, particularly climatic risks. Thus :

  • the seeds provided are selected seeds, particularly wasa rice, combining good yields, adaptation to sometimes erratic rainfall, favouring short-cycle varieties that are resistant to parasitic weeds such as striga ;
  • the women who are to take care of the animals receive training in fattening and care.

The fourth objective, and this is another specificity, is appropriation, according to a bottom-up approach that favours the use of local structures. This is how projects are proposed and implemented by FOs (grassroots farmers’ organisations) without recourse to foreign actors, such as humanitarian or development NGOs. The content of the projects and the choice of beneficiaries is made through discussions between the members of each of the FOs concerned.

As regards the relationship between the beneficiaries of irrigated rice projects and their FOs, the latter provide seeds, inputs and diesel for irrigation pumps and collect a fee at harvest time to cover these costs. FOs can also buy the crops from farmers and sell them on wholesale markets.

Regional APFOs provide technical support [2] and make available to FOs the financing delegated to them by the national APFO [3]. As for the latter, it centralises the requests coming from the grassroots, which it compares with the available resources. It is also responsible for the capitalisation and dissemination functions among member organisations, in particular by resorting to exchange visits between FOs.

Farm in Mali, ©MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

2. The projects and their results

A point to be underlined is that these projects, with few exceptions, include components implemented by men, in this case rice growing, and others devolved to women in the form of market gardening and/or livestock farming.

As a result, they are in line with a principle of diversification of activities that enables families to better cope with possible hazards, particularly climatic ones.

It should also be noted that in this respect they are based on precautionary practices that predate the current political and security crisis.

There are two projects in the Mopti region.

The Konna FO project targets rice cultivation. It is an irrigated perimeter comprising 300 plots of land of between a quarter and a hectare each. The first harvest shows quite respectable yields, varying between 40 and 50 quintals of paddy per hectare.

The Barygondonga FO combines a market gardening component, carried by the women of this village and focused on the production of onions and potatoes, and a fish farming component implemented by young men (production of fry and a grow-out basin). It should be noted that the women of the FO borrowed from a microfinance institution to build two storage sheds and they repaid this loan without difficulty.

There are also two projects in the north of the country.

The one in Gao has an agricultural component, centred on rice cultivation with the provision of seeds and inputs, as well as wheelbarrows and shovels to repair the dikes, and a livestock component with the provision of two sheep/sheep per woman, cotton cake as animal feed and basic training in veterinary care and fattening.

The rice farmers benefiting from this project have recorded a satisfactory harvest, while farmers in the surrounding area, who grow rainfed or bank crops, have suffered from the lack of rainfall during the last winter.

The project in Timbuktu has the same irrigated rice and livestock components, to which is added a market gardening component for women.

The results obtained by these projects are interesting :

  • yield of 50 to 60 quintals of paddy per hectare;
  • increase from 2 to 8 beds for each of the women beneficiaries of the market gardening component;
  • earlier calving of the ewes;
  • revival of the seed dynamic [4], it being specified that the seeds used are of good quality, adapted to the climatic context and supplied by specialised FOs supported by a project financed by IFAD;
  • securing part of the income from the sale of market garden produce, by selling on credit to civil servants who are more reliable consumers because they receive a salary to guarantee payment of their purchases.

As for the choice of beneficiaries by the FOs concerned, it targeted either the most vulnerable, especially widows, or some particularly efficient actors, in order to serve as examples for the other members of the FO.

3. Conclusion

Each of these projects can be considered technically successful in view of the yields obtained or the fact that the ewes have already had a first calving. They are also in line with the target number of families affected.

Moreover, where there have been cost overruns as mentioned in the call for projects, these overruns have been borne by the PDOPA without reducing either the volume of supplies or the number of beneficiaries.

Market gardening project in the Mopti region of Mali ©AFD

However, this does not mean that they do not face various difficulties. These are of two kinds.

Difficulties due to the vagaries of the weather and, more specifically, the mediocrity of the last wintering, resulting in reduced water availability and the impossibility of linking two crop cycles together. Irrigation pumps have been able to partially overcome these problems, but at the limit of their capacity. And some of them look dangerously old.

More worrying is the question of crop marketing. Indeed, their marketing may have locally and temporarily unbalanced the supply-demand ratio and thus had a depressing impact on sales prices.

To cope with this, storage and conservation capacities for perishable foodstuffs, such as onions or milk, need to be set up. These will make it possible to spread out the flow of products over time. In order to meet this challenge, contacts have been established with a system of collective granaries financed by Swiss Cooperation under the Pana Go project.

Jean-Bernard Véron

Who is Jean-Bernard Véron?

Jean-Bernard Véron - BabelioJean-Bernard Véron is currently a member of the editorial team of the magazine Afrique Contemporaine, after having been its editor-in-chief for 12 years. He is also a member of the Nepal and Emergency/Post-Emergency Committees of the Fondation de France, after having been the director of the International Solidarity Committee. Finally, he is a member of the bureau and the board of directors of the Franco-Laotian NGO CCL (Committee for Cooperation with Laos) and a member of the board of directors of the Franco-Afghan NGO AFRANE.

He has spent most of his professional career at the French Development Agency, where he held the positions of :

  • project manager at the Brazzaville agency
  • project Manager in the Economic Studies Division
  • geographical desk officer Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea
  • geographical desk officer Madagascar, Somalia, Djibouti
  • project manager in the Macroeconomic Studies Division
  • head of the Macroeconomic Studies Division
  • head of the Agricultural and Rural Development Division for Central, Eastern and Southern Africa
  • director of the Asia, Caribbean, Pacific Department
  • adviser to the Director of Strategy
  • head of the Crisis Prevention and Post-Conflict Unit

Jean-Bernard Véron is a graduate of the Institut of Political Science of Paris (International Relations section), holds a DEA in Economics and a DEA in Political Science and B.A. degrees in History, Geography, Anthropology and American Literature.

[1] The APFO (Association of Professional Farmers’ Organisations) brings together some 200 organisations, which may take the form of associations, cooperatives or farmers’ unions.

[2] With the exception of projects implemented in Gao and Timbuktu, where, given the insufficient capacities of the two regional AOPPs. Support was indeed provided by the National AOPP.

[3] The National AOPP also carries out advocacy work vis-à-vis the public authorities, in particular to operationalise the agricultural orientation law passed by parliament or to denounce land expropriations. In addition, it has set itself the complementary objective of strengthening grassroots organisations and empowering them financially.

[4] Several POs have therefore embarked on the production of improved seeds, adapted to the different ecosystems of Mali and duly certified.

The Triple Nexus put to the test in the field: humanitarian-development-peace.

In this article, Sonia Rahal, Deputy Director for the Sahel and Lake Chad based in Dakar for the humanitarian NGO Solidarités International, explains the position she presented during the National Humanitarian Conference of December 17 in Paris during the roundtable entitled “Humanitarian Nexus – Development – Peace”.  This round table brought together representatives of the OECD, AFD, UNHCR, the European Commission (EPLO), the NGO ENDA in Mali and Solidarités International.

Let us recall here that if the double nexus was put forward during the 1st World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 in Geneva, the triple nexus adds the specific question of peace and therefore security and the military and provokes many debates as this article shows.

A concept in vogue but which hides longstanding debates, the nexus is above all a response to an observation. The observation that people in crisis situations do not experience compartmentalized realities but have both conjunctural needs for humanitarian assistance and structural needs for development.

Protracted crises have become the norm

This observation is all the more relevant in fragile or protracted crisis contexts characterized by episodic violence, multiple displacements and climatic or health disasters. Today, protracted crises are the norm: two-thirds of humanitarian aid is thus intended for long-term crises with an average duration of 7 years (Hechenberg, Sadanand, 2017)1. One of the main challenges faced by humanitarian aid actors in protracted crises is that humanitarian action alone cannot meet all the needs of populations. In the absence of sufficient development efforts in these fragile contexts, humanitarians have often had to stretch their mandates and sometimes go beyond their initial expertise to fill gaps.

The Nexus and Reform

The Nexus is also part of a broader debate on UN reform. The World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 thus urges to transcend the gap between humanitarian and development and to integrate peace actors. This New Way Of Working advocates a vision where humanitarian, development and peace actors work together towards collective results, based on their comparative advantages and according to the specificity of the context.

Goundam, Tombouctou, Mali. The NGO Solidarités International is present in Mali since 2012 and work as closely as possible to the population. / ©Solidarités International

The divisive issue of the “Peace” pillar

For many NGOs, particularly multi-mandate NGOs, development integration is necessary, and the question is not whether to link humanitarian and development efforts, but rather when and how. On the other hand, the humanitarian community has great reservations when it comes to integrating the third pillar of peace in view of the triple nexus, the definition and operationalization of which are subject to debate. This third pillar is thus approached very differently depending on the actors: while for states and the military, the peace pillar is perceived under the security prism as involving politico-military measures, communities and civil society see it as an absence of violence and a form of social peace. It is difficult to envisage synergies between humanitarian, development and peace actors when the definition remains unclear.

The risk of compromising humanitarian principles

Although many NGOs have incorporated the “do no harm” principle, conflict-sensitive approaches, or social cohesion projects, few consider themselves to have a peacebuilding mandate. The fear that humanitarian principles will dissolve into the triple nexus in favor of a political agenda of security and stabilization is not unfounded.

For instance, in Mali, where the debate over the triple nexus has been heated, NGOs point to constant pressure from the military and politicians to abandon all forms of independence. We have thus seen donors asking for needs assessments to be conducted by military forces or demanding more information in project reports, or a diplomatic representation calling on NGOs to support a military contingent in order to promote its acceptance by the populations. This mixing of genres is extremely detrimental to humanitarian action and the security of humanitarian workers and civilian populations. Let us recall that in Mali, there were 55 kidnappings of humanitarian workers in 2020 by non-state armed groups. This is indicative of a climate of suspicion towards humanitarian workers.

Goundam, région de Tombouctou, Mali / ©Solidarités International

The humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality are not only a theoretical and ideological framework. They guide our policies and procedures; they also reflect commitments made by States such as the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid adopted by the European Union. Above all, respect for humanitarian principles guarantees our humanitarian access by allowing us to be perceived as a neutral, independent and impartial actor and to negotiate access to populations in often highly volatile contexts.


Ensuring a distinction between the mandates of the different actors:

It is crucial to distinguish between military operations and humanitarian and civil operations in order to guarantee humanitarian space and humanitarian principles. Humanitarian assistance should not be used to further a political or security agenda and should be deployed solely on the basis of the needs of the population.

This does not preclude dialogue between humanitarian and military actors: civil-military coordination must be strengthened when there is significant absenteeism or an inadequate level of representation. These interactions between civil and military actors are fundamental in humanitarian emergencies, each in its own role and responsibilities. It is also necessary to strengthen training to ensure that military actors are aware of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and humanitarian principles.

We must also be very careful about civil-military activities of the armed forces that aim to gain acceptance from the population, such as the Quick Impact Project (QIP), which can be confused with the actions of humanitarians. NGOs advocate for these activities to be infrastructure projects rather than food or medicine distributions, to avoid duplication of aid and confusion of roles. Finally, military forces must always communicate upstream about these activities, which is not always the case.

Barkhane military operation, Mali.

Adapting financing mechanisms and instruments:

Protracted crises have exacerbated humanitarian needs and sometimes negatively impacted development gains. We face large-scale needs in contexts where infrastructure and public services are weak or absent. In the Sahel, where 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, humanitarian response plans are less than 50% funded. Therefore, funding instruments and mechanisms need to be adapted to operate in fragile contexts and we need multi-year and flexible funding. Donors also need to be able to translate the ambition of the double nexus into practice. Although there have been initiatives in this direction (European Commission with ECHO, DEVCO and the framework contracts, crisis modification for USAID’s US funding), there is a need for strengthened and concerted dialogue between humanitarian and development donors who still very often work in silos and for more flexible funding instruments and mechanisms. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that development and humanitarian aid budgets remain separate and independent to avoid politicization of humanitarian assistance.

Ensure the participation of civil society:

Local civil societies play a key role in responding to humanitarian and development needs by working towards the goal of “Leaving no one behind”. The risk of centralizing decision making through the approach suggested by the United Nations in the New Way Of Working (NWOW) through joint objectives is that it may not reflect the voice of the people in a top-down approach. Any nexus approach must therefore include the participation of civil society and local actors in all phases of the project cycle from project design to implementation and monitoring. Working with local actors who are present before, during, and after the crisis increases the likelihood that short and long-term objectives will be achieved.

The Nexus debate has the merit of bringing humanitarian, development and military actors together to reflect on the challenges of aid and peace in protracted crises. It also reaffirms the need for development actors to engage in these fragile contexts and for funding mechanisms and instruments to adapt to the realities on the ground. Finally, in a growing context of politicization of aid, it is fundamental to recall that respect for humanitarian principles is a precondition for all humanitarian action, and to work towards this end.

Sonial Rahal

Deputy Director of Operations for the Sahel and Lake Chad for Solidarités International

  1. Namitha Sadanand and Estefanie Hechenberg, Sphere Standards in Protracted Crises, A case study of DRC and Haiti, 2017

Who is Sonia Rahal?

Sonia Rahal joined the NGO Solidarités International in January 2020 as Director of the regional office in Dakar. From 2015 to 2020, she carried out numerous humanitarian missions with the NGO Save the Children in various contexts such as the Sahel, the Syrian crisis in Lebanon and the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Before joining the humanitarian sector, she worked for several years in development in West Africa, in the microfinance sector. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Paris V in Development Law and Politics and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Politics from the University of Montreal.