Mali could substantially increase its food production, but low investments, climate change and political tensions are keeping the country from doing so.    




Official language

French and 13 other national languages, including Bambara


1,240,192 km²


About 17.6 Mio.

Population growth

3 % (about 528,000 each year)

Rural population

10.6 million (60% of the total population)

Gross domestic product

USD 13 billion

Per capita annual income

USD 902

Share of agriculture in GDP

41 %

Severity of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index

Serious (Value: 28.1 / Trend: -6.3)

Share of population suffering from malnutrition

4,1 %

Human Development Index

Index: 0.419 / Rank: 179 of 188

Share of the population living on less than USD 1.25 a day

50.6 %

Untapped potential

Mali is located in the heart of the Sahel and is one of the hottest countries in the world. Temperatures are rising further as a result of climate change. With an area of over one million square kilometers, the landlocked West African state is the eighth largest country in Africa. But with only 17.6 million inhabitants, Mali’s population density is smaller than in neighboring countries. 


Despite its position and agricultural potential, Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Mali ranks 179th of 188 in the United Nations Human Development Index, one of the worst showings. More than half of Mali's population lives on less than USD 1.25 a day. One quarter of households do not have a reliable food supply. 11.5 percent of children are malnourished, especially in the northern regions of Gao and Timbuktu, and one third of children under five are stunted in their development because of malnutrition. Although the situation has improved slightly since 1995, it is still critical. 


Half-dry farmland

Mali's economy is dominated by its agricultural sector, which employs about 90 percent of the rural population and accounts for 41 percent of the gross domestic product. The mining sector is gaining in importance, with gold as the most important export. In times when gold prices are high, this helps Mali compensate for fluctuations in food prices.  


In good years, the country can supply its own people with food and export the surplus. Nut if the rainy season goes badly, farmers have to contend with floods and droughts. Less than 6 percent of Mali's total area is used for farming, with another 25 percent used for grazing. Farming is largely practiced to meet the farmers' own needs with simple tools; productivity is very low.  


Progressive desertification and climate warming are intensifying competition between farmers and shepherds for fertile land.


The majority of the population lives in the water-rich south. Millet, sorghum, corn and rice grow there, as well as cotton and peanuts. Fishing is also a source of income and food in this region. Along the banks of the Niger and Senegal River, rice, sugar cane and vegetables are grown. The sparsely populated north extends far into the Sahara. This very dry region makes up about three quarters of the country and is particularly suitable for extensive grazing. Access to food is often limited in this area from June to October. In that part of the year, there are often not enough supplies to last until the next harvest. In addition to the unpredictable rainfalls, progressive desertification and climate warming pose a threat to agriculture and aggravate the competition between farmers and shepherds for fertile land.


Political crisis jeopardizes the food supply

For a long time, Mali was considered a model African democracy. But a revolt by the Tuareg in the north led to a military coup in March 2012. The country has been locking in an ongoing security crisis ever since. Nearly 37,000 people have fled northern Mali before advancing Islamist militias, making for other regions of the country; 136,000 Malians have fled to neighboring countries. The crisis is affecting the food supply: although Mali's grain production has increased, with the period from 2013 to 2016 characterized by good to very good harvests, it has been difficult to feed the people because of the armed conflicts and the risk of attacks in parts of the country. Furthermore, the closed border with Algeria is hindering trade between Mali and its neighbor. The government, which was re-elected in 2013, assumes that by the middle of 2017 nearly one-fifth of the population will be affected by food insecurity. The government is planning direct food aid for 495,000 particularly affected persons, especially in North and Central Mali.


LAND RIGHTS AND LAND THEFT All farmland in Mali belongs to the state: land titles are granted, but these can always be revoked if necessary. Every citizen has the right to till the soil, but this land cannot be sold or leased without permission. Nevertheless, land purchases by large agricultural investors are an issue in Mali, as well as the illegal expropriation of fertile farmland.

Mali's goal: food security

The Republic of Mali has already achieved successes in its fight against hunger and has met the Millennium Goal "Halving Hunger by 2015". But much remains to be done on the road towards a secure food supply. Since 2008, grain production has been stimulated by the state subsidy program "Initiative Riz". More subsidized artificial fertilizers are being used, particularly for the cultivation of rice, but also for cotton, corn and wheat. Development organizations offer farming and agricultural trainings and provide machinery, e.g. to refrigerate storage areas and for energy production. This should improve management and logistics in the agricultural sector. Agricultural policymakers plan to significantly expand irrigation, e.g. with the Taoussa dam project on the Niger River.



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