Mali's farmers benefit from improved agriculture along the Niger River


A landlocked country mostly desert and subject to drought, Mali must manage water resources in ways that provide the maximum benefit to its growing population. The Niger River and the rich green plains it flows through are critical to the entire nation's economy and to the population's supply of food. However, the agency mainly responsible for irrigation management-the Office du Niger-dates back to the colonial era, and functioned in ways that added to the farmer's costs and lowered production of rice and other basic food staples.


Restructure the Office du Niger and reform its irrigation policies. Modernize and rehabilitate irrigation canals. To improve farmers' incomes, liberalize markets in rice and push for land tenure reforms.


Expanded and more efficient irrigation led to higher yields and higher incomes for Malian farmers. Rice production more than doubled, and other food crops such as onions and tomatoes, increased substantially.


- In 2005, GDP growth reached 6.1 percent, resulting from an increase in cereal and rice production in 2005-06 (14 percent) and improved terms of trade.

- Increased income for182,000 farmers reached by the program.

- Rice production increased from 98,000 to 271,000 tons.

- 57 km of canals and drains were rehabilitated and modernized.

- Per-hectare yields increased by 205 percent, and the economic rate of return for farmers jumped to 30 percent, from 16 percent.

- Increased production of other food crops. Onions, rose from an insignificant base to a level of 71,000 tons [when?]. Production of tomatoes, potatoes and maize also increased.

- Increased water fee collection rates to 97 percent, from 60 percent. Water fees are retained in the areas where they are collected; at least 50 percent are used for maintenance while only 10-12 percent are transmitted to Head Office for general use.

- Improved financial standing of the Office du Niger - crucial to thousands of Malian farmers.

- The Mali government gained critical experience and confidence in pushing through key institutional reforms.

- Participation was strengthened through farmer membership on management committees and overseeing performance contracts.

- The project transferred credit responsibility from Office du Niger to the State Agricultural Bank and stimulated private investment in farm infrastructure. Credit was initially used for equipment, oxen and fertilizer, with repayment rates of over 95 percent.

- Greater transparency in land management increased farmers' sense of land security even in the absence of land titles.


- Total project cost was US$240 million - of which IDA provided US$48.8 million.

- The Bank played an active role in maintaining both close donor coordination and a strong partnership with government. IDA's convening role and strategic focus and support for policy and institutional reforms were critical in sustaining reforms that generated some near-term hardships, including staff layoff from the Office du Niger, which was withdrawing from commercial activities that the private sector could handle more efficiently.

- Technical support throughout the Office du Niger restructuring was crucial to returning this institution to a financially sustainable position.


- Germany, France and the Netherlands provided US$150 million while the government and beneficiaries contributed US$44.3 million.

- The success of the project led other donors to finance related work. Altogether, the Bank's investment leveraged 250 percent more investment from other donors.


To lock in the gains and ensure their sustainability, it will be necessary to work for: increased cost recovery to ensure the maintenance of all infrastructure; mechanisms to build up the availability of long-term financing for would-be private investors in the Office du Niger zone; continued investment in rural roads to facilitate input purchase and distribution; and programs to strengthen farmers' organizations, particularly their ability to obtain affordable inputs and to collaborate on marketing strategies.