Mali MapMali is rich with historical reconnaissance. Mali is rich with historical reconnaissance. The legendary city of Timbuktu, a spiritual centre is today recognised as a UNESCO heritage site.

Mali is largely an agrarian economy, with an overwhelmingly small-scale traditional farming dominating the agricultural sector, with subsistence farming (of cereals, primarily sorghum, pearl millet, and maize) on about 90% of total area under cultivation.

Mali is West Africa’s leading cotton producer and Africa’s second largest producer after Egypt, contributing 25% to the country’s total exports, 8% to the GDP, 6% to government’s tax revenues, and provides livelihoods to over 4 million people. On an average farmers average land holdings are of two to five hectares and have annual income of about CFA 150,000 (US$ 400) per year.

Cotton is grown in southern Mali, near the banks and tributaries of the Niger River, and within Mali’s most productive agricultural region Kayes, Koulikoro, Segoti and Sikasso, in areas located between Bamako and Mopti. The main varieties that are currently grown in Mali are STAM 59A (70%) and NTA 90-5 (15%).

Cotton is grown as a rain-fed crop. Bollworms, leaf-eating caterpillars, and sucking insects are the three major insect groups that cause economic damage. The main insect pests are the American bollworm Helicoverpa armigera and the whiteflies Bemisia tabaci. Cotton production systems typically revolve around small family farms with limited equipment and no mechanisation.

The area under cotton cultivation gradually increased from 73 thousand hectare in 1960 to 565 thousand hectare in 2004 (with proportionate increase in seed cotton yield from 120 kg/ha to 425 kg/ha) but declined to 200,000 ha during 2009. Cotton production has increased from 100,000 metric tonnes in 1990 to record 260,000 tons in 2003-2004. However, subsequent to 2006, cotton production declined to less than 175,000 metric tonnes to reach 80,000 metric tonnes during 2009.

In recent years the sector has been facing serious difficulties like mounting fertilizer prices, poorly maintained equipment, inefficient management of the national cotton company, farmers’ insufficient access to inputs and credit and declining yields. In addition, poor maintenance of gins, related to uneven cash flow and profitability in recent seasons, has also affected lint quality.

Farmers in Mali have been growing fair trade organic cotton since 2002, giving a much needed boost to community revenues. Cotton producers get a minimum guaranteed price and no longer have to get into debt to buy expensive fertilizers and pesticides. The number of cotton farmers opting for organic farming has increased from 174 to almost 4200 in 2007. Thus far GM cotton has not been introduced in Mail.

Mali's cotton processing sector beyond raw cotton ginning is quite limited. Two processing facilities, Itema and Comatex, exist, producing low-quality cotton thread and fabric for local consumption. Both were previously government-run. Bankruptcy shut down Itema several years ago, although a buy-out is being negotiated. Comatex, now mostly operated by Chinese commercial interests, produces African prints for the rural domestic market.

A joint venture spinning operation with Bresilo-Japanese interests has been under negotiation. One small, formal CMT operator exists in Bamako, producing garments in large orders for public and private institutional clients. The apparel operations in Mali are currently limited to small ateliers and tailor shops with just two or three employees who import cotton and polyester cloth through local distributors. Malian apparel firms primarily sell clothing in the local market.

With assured supply of good quality cotton and availability of trainable labor, the lack of downstream processing appears a missed opportunity. Private sector is now recognised by the Malian government to be a critical motor of economic development.

^ Back to Top