The organisations in Mali wanted to give the World Forum for Food Sovereignty a name which would have meaning to the farmers of their country. They chose Nyéléni 2007.
“In Mali there is a powerful symbol which could serve as the symbol of food sovereignty. It’s a woman who left her mark in the history of Mali, as a woman and as a great farmer. When you mention her name everyone knows what this name represents. She is the mother who brings food, the mother who farms, who fought for her recognition as a woman in an environment which wasn’t favourable to her. This woman was called Nyéléni. If we use this symbol everyone in Mali will know that it’s a struggle for food, a struggle for food sovereignty.”
“Nyéléni was an only child, which in Africa was considered a curse.
Nyéléni, as a girl and only child of her parents, suffered in her youth from all the mocking her parents were subjected to. She secretly resolved to remove this slur that men had cast on her by defeating them on their own ground, that is to say agriculture and working of the land.
To every suitor she repeated endlessly that marriage could wait, that first she had a mission to accomplish as a homage to her family, to women, to all women. This was her priority. Nyéléni took part in farming competitions and defeated all the champions with the best reputation in her village and in the surrounding region. Her reputation grew. The more arrogant men would challenge her, day after day, and to their disgrace they were all defeated.
Nyéléni’s reputation grew beyond the limits of her region, she became a living legend. This is the time when her renown was established and she earned respect. And so the legend says that it was at the beginning of winter, which is the rainy season here, that she domesticated fonio/angry rice, that cereal you ate today. It’s also thanks to Nyéléni that we have a variety of millet called samio, that is ‘small millet’.
Nyéléni’s father was called Nianso, her mother was called Saucra, she came from Siracoro. Unfortunately history does not tell us whether one of her suitors ever married her, and therefore whether she ever had children.
This is the story of Nyéléni.”