In 2006 15 percent of under-five children were too thin or did not weigh enough for their height group, signs of malnourishment, and two out of five children in the same age group were too short for their age, a sign of chronic malnutrition, according to the Ministry of Health.
Poultry is still seen as a luxury, a source of money rather than protein, nutritionist Rouky Bah Tall told IRIN in Bamako. "Instead of consuming chicken and eggs, families prefer to sell them without knowing how much natural protein they lose out on or how it could improve their family's nutrition."
The Poultry Development Project in Mali (PDAM) estimates more than 90 percent of poultry farming in Mali is unregulated traditional backyard poultry. "Our backyard is a savings account," one farmer in the Bamako neighbourhood of Moribabougou told IRIN.
While more than 70 million eggs and 21,000 tons of poultry meat are produced annually, residents consume at most only 16 eggs per year and 1.7 grams of poultry every day, according to the director of the Poultry Development Project in Mali (PDAM), Ibrahim Ayouba Maïga.
The regional avian flu in 2006 halved the sale of eggs in Mali. Since then, the price and quantity have stabilized, according to a December 2008 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) analysis of Mali's poultry sector.
Adama Tangara, president of the poultry farmers' cooperative in Barouéli, 200km southwest of Bamako, told IRIN most of the cooperative's sales are in the capital.
Even though modern poultry farming contributes only 5 percent of all poultry in Mali, "it plays an important role in urban and peri-urban food security," noted the FAO evaluation.
Poultry brings in 7.5 percent of the country's agriculture income and reaps more profits than either beans, potatoes or corn, Livestock Minister Madeleine Diallo Ba told IRIN. "It is wrongly perceived as a side trade in rural farming when it actually represents a large pool of animal protein. Poultry plays a significant role in social life, with special symbolic importance in cultural festivities and ceremonies," said Ba.
Nevertheless, nutritionist Tall told IRIN that prejudices against eggs persist, such as the belief that children and expectant mothers will have bad luck if they eat too many eggs.
While more egg consumption could decrease childhood malnutrition, it is only one of many local solutions, the national director of nutrition, Raki Ba Samake, told IRIN. "We have a lot of biodiversity and nutrient-rich plants here in Mali. More eggs can help improve nutrition, but we also have other products here that we have not explored."