Located in the heart of West Africa, Mali is a country with a total area of over a million square kilometers, 18.3 million inhabitants and a population growth rate of 3.6 percent. Its economy is primarily based on agriculture and agro-pastoralism with most farming defined by small-scale, rain-fed subsistence systems with little reinvestment in mechanization. In 2016, the agriculture sector contributes about 42 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs more than 57 percent of the total labor force (World Bank). Cotton is grown as a cash crop (Mali is a net exporter of cotton). The country is a net importer of rice which, along with coarse grains such as millet, maize and sorghum, constitutes the main food crop. Cereals supply more than two-thirds of the country’s dietary energy supply. Most of the land lies within the Sahara Desert; Mali is one of the hottest countries in the world. It is characterized by two main regions, North and South, which each have different conditions for agricultural production; the northern region is most vulnerable to drought, desertification and population migration. The country’s adverse climatic conditions, along with its political and institutional instability, threaten the key sectors of agriculture and health.
Challenges for agriculture in Mali
Daily, farmers in Mali face a range of challenges which threaten food and income security. In an already demanding environment, changing climatic conditions are leading to higher temperatures and decreasing rainfall, thus increasing the threat of drought and creeping desertification, particularly in the northern part of the country. Poor water control and a lack of irrigation facilities intensifies problems for farmers who may already face concerns over land tenure.
Farmers may find it difficult to access credit and are vulnerable to market volatility and consequent fluctuations in the prices of agricultural inputs and outputs. Farmers are further constrained by inadequate training and education in agricultural concerns, thus reducing their knowledge of, and access to, innovative technologies; a lack of capacity-building for farmers’ organizations has an effect on farmer autonomy. Poor infrastructure and limited storage options contribute to low productivity and post-harvest crop losses.
For Mali to become food secure and benefit from more broad-based economic growth, there needs to be a greater stress on natural resource management; additionally, the challenges of low productivity, post-harvest crop losses, and under-developed markets must be addressed.
As well as subsidies allocated to producers of cotton, the Malian government dedicates 15 percent of its budget to the agricultural sector. While only 7 percent of 43.7 million hectares of arable land is currently cultivated, and 14 percent of 2.2 million of potentially irrigable hectares are currently irrigated, the potential for agricultural growth and expansion in Mali is high.
Work of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in Mali
Beginning in 1981, Mali was the first country with which the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) engaged in activities focused on improving the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. SFSA initiated the PRECAD (Projet de Renforcement des Capacités pour une Agriculture Durable) project in 2006, with the aim of helping farmers to become more professional and to achieve higher yields and income.
SFSA seeks to enable small producers in West Africa not only to increase the quantity and the quality of rice, but also benefit to a greater degree by selling quality products through direct channels and secure markets. In addition, a chain of support is established through farming organizations and agricultural equipment operating centers, giving greater access to inputs, agricultural credit, training, agricultural equipment and secure markets.
Since 2015, the SFSA has been providing access to mechanization for rice farmers through their Center for Mechanized Services (CEMA). One CEMA has been implemented in the Kouroumari region, Office du Niger.