Having been gripped by famine and unrest in recent years, Mali may not seem an obvious choice of location for foreign investors. But in spite of the risks of operating in one of the world’s poorest countries, its authorities are hoping to entice much-needed investment into its agribusiness sector, promoting possibilities in areas such as rice, cotton, sugar, fruit and vegetables, and livestock.

And despite the economic and social challenges faced by Mali, World Bank statistics reveal that the country's macroeconomic outlook appears positive. After peaking at 5.8% in 2015, GDP growth should return to a steady 5.2% in 2017, according to the World Bank, with the agricultural and tertiary sectors the main drivers of domestic activity over the next three years.

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Mali derives an estimated 44% of its GDP from agriculture and about 80% of its working population is engaged in this area of activity. It is dominated by subsistence farming – particularly for cereal production – but also offers potential for international investors such as Nestlé, Unilever, Elephant Vert and Mahindra.

According to government figures, Mali has an estimated 2.2 million hectares of irrigable land, but only 300,000 hectares under irrigation today. Furthermore, the government says 37 million hectares of untapped arable land is available. 

Cereal

Government statistics reveal that most cereal growing regions in Mali have improved production since 2006. In 2013/14, the country produced 2,211,920 tonnes of rice, compared with 960,420 tonnes in 2006/07. Maize production increased from 676,838 tonnes in 2006/07 to 1,488,312 tonnes in 2013/14. Wheat output grew from 8,565 tonnes to 27,430 tonnes in this time period. Sorghum was one of the few cereal crops to witness a decline, with the yield decreasing from 1,128,773 tonnes in 2006/07 to 819,605 tonnes in 2013/14. Overall, cereal output went up from 3,693,240 tonnes to 5,736,092 tonnes in this time period, with the land dedicated to its production growing from 3,283,230 hectares in 2006/07 to 3,660,988 hectares in 2013/14. 

The government has identified opportunities for boosting rice production through improved irrigation and for increasing exports to neighbouring markets and beyond. Maize could also be an important addition to the production of cattle feed for Mali itself, as well as for export. 

Cotton

Cotton yields in Mali fell from 976 kilograms per hectare in 2005/06 to 929.37 kilograms per hectare in 2013/14. In spite of this decline, the government reports that there are opportunities for export to the US. Thanks to the US African Growth and Opportunity Act, since 2003 Mali has been able to export unlimited quantities of clothes and textile products, free of customs duties, to the US market. 

Sugar

Sugar production in Mali is based on sugar cane crops grown in the irrigated areas of the Niger Authority. However, national production does not meet demand, so the authorities are aiming to promote sugar cane farming as well as the construction of new sugar factories that would allow it to meet local demand and export the surplus to regional and European markets. 

Fruit and vegetables

The country’s fruit and vegetable sector is dominated by mangoes and citrus fruits, green beans, onions, potatoes and tomatoes. These are grown throughout Mali, but the main centre of production is the southern half of the country, where water is more readily available, with some regional specialisation in crops such as tomatoes and green beans in the Baguinéda irrigated area; potatoes in the Sikasso region; and green onions in the Niger Authority zone and the Dogon Plateau. 

Livestock

Mali's government is also promoting opportunities in the livestock sector, where activities such as meat processing and the development of the infrastructure required for local and international meat distribution are in demand. Additionally, it has a comparative advantage for hides and skins, which could be exploited.

This article was sponsored by API Mali but was independently written and edited by fDi Magazine.