TIMBUKTU - Many farmers who abandoned the remote Lake Faguibine region a few years ago, despairing of ever being able to work the land again, have come back recently.
The lake, which three years ago was dry and surrounded by advancing desert, has again become an area of fertile land around a system of lakes offering water for pastoralists and a plentiful supply of fish.
WFP played a key role in this transformation by supplying local people with food as they worked on clearing the channels feeding the lake. Working with local government, it continues to supply food to people working on maintaining the channels.
Nothing without water
"The vegetation you see now is thanks to water because if we had not had water you couldn't do anything here - no farming nothing, it is thanks to the water," says Ibrahim Mohamed Ag Hasan, 70, one of the farmers benefited from the clearing of the channels feeding Lake Faguibine.
The Lake Faguibine System, four interlinked lakes 80 kilometres west of Timbuktu, was historically one of Mali's most fertile areas. But over seven years, droughts in the 1970s dried up the lakes.
Then sand filled the channels connecting the Niger River, with the result that when rain finally returned the water could no longer reach the lakes. The region's prosperity evaporated along with the water.
In 2006 the government began trying to reopen the channels using heavy machinery. But the machines got bogged down in the sand. The answer was to do it manually. So local authorities, working with WFP, set up a food-for-work project.
In just 3 years the work has made the desert bloom.
"The soil around the lake is very fertile and spongy; the water can spread for 5 kilometres. This means the farmers here don't need tractors or fertiliser, they can simply plant a seed like a tree and the plant will just grow - this is true for thousands and thousands of hectares," says Mohamed Touré, an engineer working on the project for the OMVF local authorities.