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General information 

  • GNI per capita at PPP$, 2011: 1,040
  • Internal renewable water resources, 2011: 60 km3/year
  • Incoming water flow, 2011: 40 km3/year
  • Main food consumed, 2009: milk, millet, vegetables, rice, sorghum, maize, sugar and sweeteners, meat
  • Rice consumption, 2009: 56.0 kg milled rice per person per year

Production seasons




Deepwater rice

Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):

Mali is a landlocked country located in West Africa and it has a total area of 1,240,192 km2, of which 5.2% (2009) is arable land, contained within a land boundary of 7,243 km. The climate varies from subtropical to arid, being hot and dry (February to June), rainy and humid (June to November), and cool and dry (November to February). Mali covers the southern Sudan savanna zone, the central, semiarid Sahelian zone, and the arid Saharan zone. Terrain varies from flat, sandy plains in the north to southern savanna and rugged hills in the northeast. About 4% of the land area is used for arable crops. 

The estimated population in 2011 is 15.8 million, with an estimated annual growth rate of 2.6%. Life expectancy at birth is 53 years. 

Mali is among the world’s 25 poorest countries, and economic activity is mostly confined to the area irrigated by the Niger River. About 10% of the population is nomadic and about 75% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture. Agriculture accounts for 40% of GDP and contributes close to 30% of export earnings. Rice contributes around 5% of the country’s GDP and is deemed having the advantage of enjoying a fast expanding national market.

Recent developments in the rice sector

Rice in Mali is grown in deepwater areas, under irrigation, and under rainfed conditions in both lowland and upland systems. The area under rice doubled in 2009 at 0.66 million ha from area harvested in 1995 at 0.31 million ha but decreased to 0.47 million ha 2010. Production increased from 0.48 million t in 1995 to about 2.31 million t of paddy in 2010. Rice yields across ecosystems have varied widely since 1995 (between 1.6 t/ha and 4.9 t/ha) without a clear increasing or declining trend. Enhanced production gradually reduced the need for rice imports. Caloric intake per day from rice increased from 15.0% in 1995 to 21.2% in 2009. Protein intake from rice over the same period increased from 11.1% to 16.4%.Almost all mineral fertilizer inputs are imported, representing close to 45% of the total value of agricultural imports. Fertilizer imports have been constantly increasing at an annual rate of 10% since 1971. Rice growing in the Office du Niger alone uses around 20,000 t of diammonium phosphate and urea per year.

Under the CARD (Coalition for African Rice Development) initiative, Mali endorsed a national rice development strategy (NRDS) in 2009 that is fully in line with national policies and international commitments. The vision is to transform Mali into an agricultural powerhouse, to be placed with other emerging countries as an exporter of processed and labeled rice-based products. The strategy aims to intensify high-yielding systems. Emphasis will be placed on

  1. Developing new areas with water control (10,000 ha per year).
  2. Developing rainfed rice growing with high-yielding varieties such as NERICA4.
  3. Intensifying other production systems, especially controlled swamp rice cultivation, and lowland and natural swamp rice cultivation.

Rice environments

The Office du Niger is the rice basket in the country with 90,000 ha of irrigated land, used almost entirely for rice, with  potential for 900,000 ha of irrigable land. There are large irrigation schemes in Selingue, Baguinéda, the San Ouest plains, and the small village holdings situated along the Niger and Senegal rivers. Total developed area is 125,000 ha and average yields have reached 5 to 6 t/ha, from an initial low of 2 t/ha in the 1980s through rehabilitation of irrigation schemes and the introduction of modern rice varieties, transplanting, and well-timed and appropriate mineral fertilizer use.

Upland rice cropping is mainly restricted to the southern part of the country. With the introduction of NERICA varieties, upland rice is now also grown near Sikasso, Kayes, and Koulikoro. Yield is about 1 to 2 t/ha, but can reach 3 to 4 t/ha. 

Controlled swamp rice farming depends on rainfall for crop establishment and on intake from rivers for flooding. Cultivated area is around 74,000 ha, and is mainly located in Ségou and Mopti. Yields vary between 1.0 and 2.5 t/ha.

For water control, lowland rice farming is characterized by a great diversity from full water control to complete dependence on rainfall. The potential land area for this system is 300,000 ha and around 140,000 ha of rice are grown per year in undeveloped lowlands, mostly by women in the Ségou, Sikasso, and Kayes regions, where yields vary between 0.8 and 2 t/ha.

Traditional floating rice cultivation is practiced in the interior delta of the Niger and along the loop of the river. Varieties used are Oryza glaberrima types, which are notable for rapid growth that allows them to keep pace with the rising water levels of the river, which can rise 5 cm per day. Planting takes place during the rainy season before the waters arrive to flood the rice paddies. Water can rise by several meters in some places, and rice grows so that only the panicles show above the water (giving the name floating rice). Harvesting is mostly done using canoes and yields rarely surpass 1 t/ha from a total area of about 300,000 ha.

Production constraints

Suboptimal timing of crop management interventions may still cause considerable yield losses in irrigated systems, for example, because of the late arrival of credit, fertilizer, etc. Insect and disease pressure such as rice yellow mottle virus may further reduce yields. In some years, locust attacks can wipe out production. Certain invasive species such as water hyacinth block irrigation networks, slowing down the water supply to rice fields. Upland systems may suffer from drought, poor soil fertility, competition from weeds (including Striga), and attacks by pests and diseases (blast). Flooding, drought, weeds, and disease attacks cause yield losses in rainfed lowland systems. 

In general, inadequate postharvest technologies decrease the quality of locally produced rice. Mainly in the rainfed systems, farm operations are still mostly done manually. Farmers and processors do not have easy access to credit or have to face high interest rates. Storage, processing, and marketing of local rice are not well organized, hampering trade between surplus- and deficit-producing areas and leading to high transaction costs. Land tenure issues may discourage investment in the development of land and water resources to be used for rice cropping.

Production opportunities

Mali has great potential for rice. The government provides strong support to the development of the agricultural sector and rice in particular, through a special Presidential Initiative. The area that could be grown under irrigated rice has been estimated at 2.2 million ha, with only 20% of this potential currently used. Within the framework of the NRDS, eight priority areas have been identified to double or even triple Mali’s production by 2018 vis-à-vis 2008:

  1. Improving farmers’ access to quality rice seed
  2. Enhancing the preservation and maintenance of rice genetic resources
  3. Enhancing the use of organic inputs to improve soil quality and enhance mineral fertilizer uptake
  4. Improving farmers’ access to mineral fertilizers
  5. Improving postharvest operations and marketing of locally produced rice
  6. Enhancing investments in water control techniques and irrigation
  7. Enhancing rice research and extension capacity
  8. Improving access to agricultural loans for rice value chain actors

The Millennium Challenge Corporation plans to develop 16,000 ha of irrigated land in the Alatona Irrigation Project. Within the framework of African integration, member states of the West African Economic and Monetary Union are planning to develop about 11,000 ha in the Office du Niger. A joint Malian-Libyan project is developing 100,000 ha in the Office du Niger area. Mali is building national rice stocks for food security. These stocks were expected to rise to 100,000 t by 2012.

Sources: * Mali Rice Statistics survey, 2009; **144,514 hectares from AQUASTAT
FAO’s FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of September 2012.

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If you want to learn more, please read the Rice Almanac. You can purchase it on Kindle or download for free as a PDF.

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