An image of the country's flag.

Mali is a country rich in history and culture located at the heart of the Sahel in West Africa. Despite challenging demographic and socioeconomic conditions Mali is nevertheless one of the more food secure countries in the sub-region because of the production of rice, millet, sorghum, and other grains. Millet and sorghum are the staples for Mali. Rice has become the urban staple, and Mali imports on average about 20% of the demand. Between 70-75% of households are food- secure during both the post-harvest period and the “hungry season.”

Since 1992, Mali’s democratic constitution and policies of economic liberalization and political decentralization have expanded political participation and spurred economic growth. The annual rate of economic growth of 4-5% exceeds the median growth rate of Sub-Saharan African countries (2.5%), and agriculture and associated sectors, such as livestock and aquaculture, represent 37% of the GDP in Mali. The population is growing at an annual rate of 2.4%.

About 70% of the population is rural and while small scale irrigation is increasing, households rely heavily on rain fed agriculture and pastures for livelihoods. Disputes between farmers and pastoralists over access to land and other natural resources are common. Sedentary farmers and transhumant pastoralists clash over issues of resource access and damage to crops, inheritance rights, and rights of access to water and pasture. Decentralization of some of the authority over land and water rights, especially in regard to pastoral and irrigation resources, has in some cases strengthened local democratic decision-making, it has in other cases furthered confusion and conflict where decentralized national policies clash with traditional rights and restrictions.


Strengthening the land tenure rights of pastoralists and smallholder farmers would help Mali achieve more broadly based economic growth and reduce poverty by increasing agricultural productivity, adding value to agricultural goods and developing markets. With these objectives in mind, donors should consider providing support in the following areas:

  • Implementation of the Pastoral Charter. The Pastoral Charter of 2001 and its 2006 implementing decree are key to providing pastoralists with rights they have long been denied. For full implementation of the Charter, donors should provide financial and technical assistance to the Government of Mali for revising other legislation to be consistent with the Charter, training programs for local and regional officials, and public education programs for pastoral and farming communities so they understand their rights in relation to each other.
  • Support for Smallholder Farmers. Mali has undertaken a number of reforms to provide agribusinesses with special land-tenure options, tax breaks, water-fee waivers, etc. Smallholder farmers still have relatively limited options in land tenure, especially on irrigated farmland, where their tenure is particularly insecure. Donors should support research into the causes of tenure insecurity for smallholder farmers, as well as into understanding how smallholder farmers use lands held in common.
  • Smallholder Rights and Tenure Security in the Development of Modern Land Markets. Analysts of West Africa agree that a private land market has not developed spontaneously in rural areas, due in part to traditional social systems. However, urban and peri-urban areas have seen an increase in land titling and registration. In peri-urban areas, the market has been fueled by urban expansion and increasing demand for land. Mali’s investment climate would benefit from a more predictable land market for both domestic and foreign investors. However, the evidence thus far suggests that the way in which the land market currently operates is further marginalizing the already vulnerable. Donors could take a lead in helping Mali shape its land market institutions to protect the rights of smallholders and users of common lands while still responding to the requirements of private investors. Donors could also consider directly assisting groups in understanding how to secure their customary land rights when negotiating with potential investors.
  • Women’s Inheritance and Use Rights. The Government of Mali acknowledges its lack of progress in securing women’s rights to land, despite having fairly gender-equitable policies and laws. It appears that local and international NGOs are making headway in helping women use existing laws to secure their land rights. Donors could assist groups in scaling-up these activities.


Mali is a landlocked West African country with an economy based on cotton, gold and livestock. Mali ranks as one of the least developed countries in the world. In 1992, Mali adopted a democratic constitution and policies of economic liberalization and political decentralization. Mali recognizes private land ownership secured through land titling and registration, but the vast majority of titled land is in urban and peri- urban areas. Very few smallholder farmers or agro- pastoralists own the land they work. Untitled land is considered owned by the state; almost all rural land is technically under state ownership with customary use-rights exercised by sedentary farmers, agro-pastoralists and transhumant pastoralists.

Most urban residents do not have formal rights to their land and their tenure is highly insecure, which contributes to the lack of investment in housing and other improvements to the land. Over 90% of Mali’s urban population lives in slums, without formal legal rights to their land. Seventy-one percent of the urban population lacks household connection to improved drinking water, and 22% of the urban population lacks access to any form of improved drinking water. Forty-one percent of urban households lack improved sanitation coverage. The urban population is expected to grow 4–5% annually in the near future, increasing pressure on peri- urban lands and informal settlements.

Conflicts over access to land and natural resources are a problem throughout Mali. Sedentary farmers and transhumant pastoralists clash over resource access and damage to crops, generations of farmers dispute inheritance rights, and pastoralists vie for primary rights of access to water and pasture.

The Government of Mali (GOM) has decentralized some of its authority over land and water rights since independence in 1992, especially in regard to pastoral and irrigation resources. In some cases this has strengthened local democratic decision-making, but in many cases it has furthered confusion and conflict, especially where decentralized policies clashed with traditional rights and restrictions.

Ambiguous water rights have caused land users to dig wells in order to strengthen their claims over land and resources. As the government has implemented various public irrigation schemes, land values have increased, feeding competition and disputes that are often resolved at the expense of the most socioeconomically vulnerable.

Forests and wooded lands cover nearly a quarter of Mali’s land area, but are disappearing at the rate of 0.8% per year. The greatest threat to the forests has been demand for firewood, which is the primary source of cooking and heating fuel for the majority of Malians.

Although the mining sector occupies an increasingly large share of Mali’s economy, it has been widely criticized for corruption and for creating hazardous conditions for workers, local communities, and the environment.

Income from mining is often not equitably distributed. In addition to precious metals, semiprecious stones, rock and gravel, Mali’s assets include a vast reserve of undeveloped mineral resources.

Published / Updated: July 2010