Anthropology Prof. Cultivates Women’s Onion Collective in Mali

Anthropology Prof. Cultivates Women’s Onion Collective in Mali

Women gardeners in the Kita region of the West African country Mali pose with their onion seed packets.

Women gardeners in the Kita region of the West African country Mali pose with their onion seed packets. (Photo credit: Amadou Traore)

Scott Lacy, PhD, associate professor of anthropology, and his non-profit African Sky, have established an onion-growing project in West Africa, aimed at improving food security and household income.

Dr. Scott Lacy of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University, and his non-profit organization African Sky, recently developed a program to increase household income and food security by facilitating an onion-grower cooperative with more than 200 women gardeners in the Kita region of the West African country Mali. 

“Onions are a crucial ingredient of most every sauce or dinner served across rural Mali,” said Dr. Lacy, who has been on faculty at Fairfield since 2009, and is the recipient of a Certificate of Congressional Recognition and Achievement from the U.S. House of Representatives, among several other honors. “Rural Malian women, who are typically responsible for procuring sauce ingredients, source these ingredients through a combination of growing them in household gardens with supplemental purchases in local markets.”

At the start of the Women’s Onion Collective last year, 232 Malian women organized into groups of four, and each team received supplies, technical support, and a large box of onion seeds in late July. 

With support from Dr. Lacy’s Malian project partner and African Sky Country Director Tamba Traore, the women’s collective tended and harvested their gardens, producing onions for household consumption along with an abundant surplus for the regional market.

The Women’s Onion Collective has continued its efforts this year and has goals to "expand exponentially" over the next few years. This summer, 239 members planted 24 kilos of onion seed, which translates to millions of individual seeds, and they are relishing another bumper crop. 

Dr. Lacy has long focused on community food systems and household food security in Africa, through cross-cultural fieldwork and collaborative plant breeding research.

In 1994, Dr. Lacy arrived in Mali as a Peace Corps volunteer to develop a high-protein maize project, and then returned to his host community a couple years later as a Fulbright Scholar to complete his dissertation in anthropology on the production strategies of family farmers in southern Mali.

While completing his degree, Dr. Lacy established the non-profit African Sky, which has facilitated hundreds of community-based projects supporting education, community health, and food security in dozens of villages throughout Mali. Since then, Dr. Lacy has worked with Engineers Without Borders and many other organizations and institutions across Mali, India, the Middle East, Cameroon, and the United States, in addition to his academic contributions to Fairfield.

In 2017, Dr. Lacy was selected to teach a course for The Great Courses, which selects only the top 1 percent of more than 500,000 college professors in the world — chosen for their strength as teachers — to be part of their series of audio and visual programs.

Learn more about the Sociology and Anthropology Department in the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University.

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