Caritas Switzerland has been active in Mali for more than forty years. It is one of the world’s poorest countries. Approximately 17 million people live in a land area of 1.2 m km². Mali is ranked 179th out of 188 countries in the UN Development Index. Yet for a long time, the country was considered a model for decentralisation and socio-economic development. However, after two decades of successful development, a military coup in the spring of 2012 brought political instability, with huge consequences for the security situation. The interventions of French and Malian troops, as well as the United Nations, have led to an improvement in the security situation. Despite the signing of the peace agreement in May 2015, the situation remains tense.
An estimated 60 per cent of Mali’s population live on less than one US dollar a day, and are therefore experiencing extreme poverty. The majority of the population earn their living from agriculture, livestock farming and fishing. Production is still characterised by small family enterprises which are predominantly engaged in subsistence agriculture. Agricultural production in Mali is difficult: The rainy season is limited to the months from July to October. Due to changes in the climate, such as increasing drought periods and floods, as well as pest infestations, crop failures are becoming ever more frequent. The poor households are hardest hit. Because of the loss of income, as well as the rise in food prices, they are unable to either invest in production inputs or put money aside for future crises. Networking between producers, the processing industry, transport companies, traders and consumers remains weak. The general infrastructure, including transport routes, is inadequate. The rural areas also have a high rate of population growth (3%) without a matching increase in productivity. This leads to the overexploitation of natural resources. Above all, the increasing scarcity of land and water is the cause of growing conflicts between hoe-farmers and cattle breeders, and leads young people to migrate to the towns and cities.
The present project is located in the Mopti Region, in Bandiagara and Douentza Districts. More than 700,000 people live in 669 villages in this area. It covers a total of 7,700 km2 and stretches mostly across the Dogon Plateau, which consists of very hard sandstone ground. Only 10 per cent of the land is suitable for agriculture. Because of the steep gradient of the Plateau, there is considerable soil erosion caused by the wind and water, which further degrades the already poor soil. Vegetation is sparse and is being continually reduced because the local people use it as fuel. This increases the pressure on natural resources. In common with the large majority of the Malian population, the people in Mopti live from agriculture. The staple foods are corn and millet. The demand for basic foodstuffs in the Bandiagara district amounts to 82,260 tons, but only 20,524 tons are produced. A similar deficit exists in the Douentza district, where 67,603 tons are needed and 51,027 tons are produced. This adds up to a total deficit in basic foodstuffs of 76,312 tons. The traditional livestock breeders keep mostly cattle, sheep and goats and produce goods such as leather, meat, milk and dung. However, there is insufficient feed and water, which exacerbates the conflicts over resources with the vegetable and cereal farmers. Moreover, there are regular outbreaks of animal diseases, while too few animals are vaccinated. A better organisation of animal husbandry could be an important engine for local economic development. The market system in Bandiagara and Douentza is not very developed. There are few central markets which, because of the lack of infrastructure, are not easy to reach.