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Contributor: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Contact: Jean Bonnal

Republic of Mali

The terms and data used in this publication are in no way an indication of the authors' position regarding the legal status of countries, territories cities or zones mentioned, or of their authorities or borders.

A. General Country Data

Surface Area1,240,192 sq. km
Population (millions)9.7
Population Growth3.2 %
Urban Population27%
Density (1995)8 inh/ sq. km
GDP (1994) Billions US $ 1.94
GDP per Capita US $ 200
Currency CFA Franc
National Budget27% of GDP
Human Development Indicator0.229
HDI Ranking (out of 174 countries)171

Borders, Topography and Climate

Situated on the north-west of Africa, Mali is a locked between Algeria on the north-east, Niger on the south-east, Burkina Fasso, Ivory Coast and Guinea on the south, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Most of the country is made up of low altitude plains interrupted here and there by rocky hills. The Sahara covers the northern third of the country. There are three climate zones from north to south : the north is within the semi-arid Sahalian zone, the interior delta of the Niger stretches out in this zone where the desert ends and the wooded savanna begins; and finally the south is characterized by a Sudan-like climate.

Beyond the sahalian region the climate is hot and dry, with average temperatures ranging from 24 degrees C to 32 degrees C in the south and rise as you move towards the north. Annual rainfall of about 1, 400 mm in the south is only 1,120 at Bamako, and 127 mm in the north.

Characteristics, and Recent Developments of the Political System

From 1968 to 1991, Mali was governed by a government resulting from a military coup. Elected twice unopposed, the president governed as a dictator, supported by the only legal political party, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM), founded in 1979. After his overthrow in March 1991, a democratic régime was established and free elections (municipal, legislative and presidential) were held during the first few months of 1992. These elections were won by ADEMA, the Alliance for Democracy in Mali, which obtained 75 parliamentary seats out of a total of 129 and whose presidential candidate also won.

Mali today is a multi-party republic with a presidential régime based on the new constitution adopted by referendum on January 1992. In accordance with the terms of this constitution, the president, elected for five years, appoints the prime minister who selects the members of his cabinet. The National Assembly comprises 129 members also elected for five years.

Mali is divided into seven administrative regions plus Bamako, the capital district.

Agriculture in Mali

The Malian economy is basically agricultural. Harvest levels depend almost entirely on changes in climate and on floods of the Niger and its tributaries. In 1995 73% of the working population was employed in agriculture and contributed 44% of the GDP. Most of the production is by small farmers engaged in subsistence farming. The main food crops are millet, rice, sorghum, and corn. Peanuts, cotton and sugar cane are produced for export. Livestock rearing is also very important.

Droughts make vegetation rare in Mali. With rapid population growth, the increasing need for fire wood has led to large scale deforestation.

Current Economic Situation

Mali remains one the poorest countries in the world and continued to slide in poverty between 1985 and 1993 with an average annual negative growth of 1% and a gross external debt equal to or greater than its GDP. In addition to the discontent caused by the economic crisis and the unpopularity of the structural adjustment plans carried out at the start of 1981, there has been strong desire for democracy. In 1992 the new president took over a disintegrating national economy. He got IMF aid and in September parliament voted a law in favor of the privatization of public enterprises and increasing financial control of the state over them. In September 1993, after consultations with political parties and trade unions, the government announced a series of measures aimed at reducing the deficit. The devaluation of the CFA Franc in January 1994 and the adoption of an austerity policy increased hardship on the population even though they helped reduce the government deficit. In 1993 and 1994 the country was shaken by student demonstrations. Regional consultations made it possible to reopen schools and the university and to reestablish social peace necessary for an economic upturn. The new government has shown its willingness to settle each conflict by negotiation. Its efforts to strengthen democracy are however threatened by the persistence of economic problems. In 1995 IMF approved a third annual loan aimed at supporting its economic stabilization policy as well as structural reforms. Since then reform of the public sector has been pursued, inflation is moderate and the economy has continued to grow. The weak industrial and agricultural sectors are nonetheless a source of worry.

B. On-going Decentralization Process

Background, Objectives, and Legal Framework

As it has been practized in Mali since 1993, decentralization involves the creation of new subnational entities (regions, districts, townships) freely governed by elected councils, and the transfer of certain decision-making powers to the regional level. Privatization and trade liberalization accompany this process especially since 1992. The townships created by the decentralization law need to regroup themselves into entities that remain to be defined.

The origins of the recent decentralization policy have been linked both to social pressure connected with the democratization process and the recommendations of international organizations, especially the World Bank, in pursuance of structural adjustment programs. Thus the objectives of decentralization are democracy and the search for the best conditions for local development and revenue collection through taxation. In order to implement this policy a decentralization task force was created which was to prepare a decentralization bill for parliament to vote on.

Functions, Resources, and Autonomy of Decentralized Entities

C. Decentralization and Rural Development

Forms of Decentralization, Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Formulation

The process of decentralization has given the regions, districts and townships consultation, decision-making, implementation, control and financing powers. The financing of the subnational entities is made possible through sharing of tax revenue. It would seem however, that these resources are hardly sufficient for the operating budgets of these entities. Besides, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Security has certain oversight powers over the three levels of government (regions, districts and townships) regarding the use of these resources.

Decentralization and Agricultural Support Services

With regard to the major agricultural support services, the Malian model is uncommon to the extent that the country depends largely on foreign aid. Thus the determination of policies relating to agricultural support services is the exclusive responsibility of the national level. Financing of these services is however, shared with external partners. External partners share the financing of training programs, extension services, research and credit with the national level, and share with the three levels of government, the financing of irrigation programs. It is only in the area of financing and the determination of policies relating to inputs that the national level has exclusive responsibility.

If one analyses agricultural services from the point of view of supply, the consequences of privatization policies are remarkable since the public sector's preponderant role is in extension services and research, and shares this role with the private sector and NGOs for training. Even more striking, the public sector plays no role in credit, input or irrigation services. Credit is provided by the private sector, NGOs and producer organizations; inputs by the private sector and producer organizations; and irrigation by the private sector, NGOs and producer organizations and villages.

Support Policies, Constraints and Evaluation of the Decentralization Process

Mali adopted a whole package of support policies for decentralization which comprised dissemination of information on decentralization, training services for technical services, subnational entities and citizens as well as support for producer organizations. The major constraint now on the decentralization process is the low capacity of local government. Local capacity building will pose its own set of problems because of the want of consultation and coordination between different levels of government.


Most likely, Mali will have to strengthen the institutional component of its decentralization program in order to solve all the problems identified above.