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Last Updated: 12/08/2010
Bamako-Mali: A need for an improvement in urban food security
Awa Mangie Achu Samba

Awa Mangie Achu Samba outlines a policy for urban food security in Bamako, Mali, based on participatory governance, community gardens, and improved agricultural technology.


Food insecurity has been in the lamp light for decades. About 1.02 billion people suffer from food insecurity in the world with about 800 million living in Africa (FAO, 2009). According to the World Food Summit organized in Rome in 1996,

[…] food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (UN, 1996).

The urgency and importance of all humans having a right to food security was spelled out by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food..."

Inhabitants of Bamako, Mali do not yet benefit from these rights.  Mali is amongst the one of the poorest countries in the world. With a population estimated at about 1, 8 million people, Bamako the largest city and capital of Mali and it is currently believed to be the fastest growing city in Africa (Zijlma, 2010). Bamako is situated on the Niger River floodplain; the city is relatively flat with a hot and humid Sahelian climate which is very hot on average all year round (N'Djim & Doumbia, 1998). Average temperatures each month are estimated to be over 30 degrees Celsius, with the hottest month being May and the rainiest months between July and September (N'Djim & Doumbia, 1998). About sixty percent of its population lives in poverty; the main source of livelihood is agriculture with main agricultural products being cotton, millet, rice, corn, vegetables, groundnuts, cattle, sheep, and goats (Zalle, Meite, & Konate, 2005). According to the Food and Agricultural Organization,

[…] over eighty percent of dietary energy consumption is from cereals, twenty eight percent of Malians are undernourished. Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are common; in 1996 thirty three percent of children suffered from stunting and 25% from wasting. The UN has projected that the population of Mali could increase by forty nine percent between 1996 and 2015, which will further strain already deficient resources (USAID, 2008).

Food insecurity has been on the increase with several factors causing this. This paper then looks at the cause of urban food insecurity in Bamako, it also brings out some elements of what is being done and what needs to be done to curb this trend.

Causes of food insecurity

According to the United Nations World Food Program

[…] Mali has exhibited strong developmental potential in the educational, agricultural and health sectors. While many of its neighbouring countries have experienced political turmoil, the political stability allowed the Government to develop strong national policies and programmes such as the ALO (Agricultural Law of Orientation), the Rice Initiative, an upcoming national school feeding programme, and a national protocol on fighting malnutrition (UNWFP, 2009).

These initiatives are not adequate enough to end the wide spread of food insecurity in Mali on the whole and Bamako in particular. Several factors account for this.

Climate variation

Mali on the whole is located on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Urban agriculture is faced with extreme dry conditions and extensive climate variability - features impacting food security greatly. Butt et al, 2004 in their article “The economic and food security implications of climate change in Mali”, reported that

[…] climate change projections from the Hadley Center Coupled climate Model (HADCM) and Canadian Global Coupled Model (CGCM), suggest that by year 2030, Malian average temperatures may increase by 1 degree centigrade to 2.75 degrees centigrade, with precipitation declining slightly… this climate change would likely impact agricultural yields negatively as it would cause reduced soil moisture, faster depletion of soil organic matter, pre-mature drying of grain, and increased heat-stress. Changes in yields, all other things held constant, would lessen food production and consumption, worsening food security conditions.

It is believed that extreme meteorological events, such as spells of high temperature, heavy storms, or droughts, disrupt crop production. Temperature change, drought, floods, loss of land and desertification are all elements impacting agriculture.

Climate change will modify rainfall, evaporation, runoff, and soil moisture storage. Changes in total seasonal precipitation or in its pattern of variability are both important. The occurrence of moisture stress during flowering, pollination, and grain-filling is harmful to most crops and particularly so to corn, soybeans, and wheat. Increased evaporation from the soil and accelerated transpiration in the plants themselves will cause moisture stress (Rosenzweig, 1995).

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 

the Niger River also is an important source of fish, providing food for riverside communities; the surplus--smoked, salted, and dried--is exported. Due to drought and diversion of river water for agriculture, fish production has steadily declined since the early 1980s (USAID, 2010).

Population Increase

Urbanization rate in Mali was estimated in 2008 at 32% of the total population (FACTBOOK, 2010). Increase in population of Bamako is as a result of rural urban migration from drought stricken areas (NWE, 2009). This tripled the size of Bamako's population between 1960 and 1970. The city mayor’s statistic report ranked Bamako in 2006, as the sixth fastest growing urban area on a list of 100 cities, growing at a rate of 4.45 percent each year (City Mayors, 2007). Apart from migration, the constant increase in birth over deaths is a stepping point of the population growth. Birth rate is estimated at 46.44 births/1,000 populations as compared to 14.96 deaths/1,000 population with a growth rate of 2.594% (FACTBOOK, 2010). This increase is as a result of an improvement in medical facilities and expertise. According to Durand (1967) the increase in population growth is as a result of “an improvement in the conditions mortality which has enhanced the multiplication of these species.” 

This massive increase has put the Bamako District is under stress with a subsequent increase in the number of slums. Lack of space on the left bank has led to recent population growth on the right bank of the river exposing them to several natural disasters, poor sanitary, water and health hazards (WSUP, 2009).

Economic changes

Food prices have been on the raise in Bamako. Several factors account for this such as financial crises, low yields, and inadequate access to food by poor households in particular. The Food and Agricultural organization reports that “an increase in food prices is fuelling the food crisis, especially in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where millions of people are at risk of food shortages (afrolnews, 2008)”.  According to Food and agricultural report, 

The availability of food is determined by domestic production, import capacity, existence of stocks and food aid. Access to food depends on levels of poverty, purchasing power of households, prices and the existence of transport and market infrastructure and food distribution systems.  Stability of supply and access may be affected by weather, price fluctuations, human-induced disasters and a variety of political and economic factors (FAO, 2008).

Import capacity was hampered with the “2002-2003 closure of the main import/export route to the port of Abidjan (USAID, 2009).” The increase in the cost of living in Bamako has reduced the purchasing power of the city inhabitants. According to the journal of the international cost of living,

Bamako has an overall cost of living index which equates it with high cost of living locations. The overall cost of living index is comprised of the prices for defined quantities of the same goods and services across all 13 Basket Groups[1]. Bamako is currently ranked 37 overall, most expensive places in the world (International Cost of Living, 2010).

The high cost of living coupled with the an increase in food prices as a result of inadequate supplies contributes to Bamako insufficient food supply.


Landownership acts as a major threat to food security in Bamako.  The conflict between land for construction and farm land is constantly on the rise. According to Zalle, Meite & Konate, “insecure access to land is one of the threats to farming in the city, mainly due to the conflict between land for construction and land for farming. The former almost always gets the upper hand despite the fact that agriculture and market gardening are included in town planning” (Zalle, Meite, & Konate, 2003).


With specific regards to Mali, Zalle et al (2003) add that


In Mali, land without a (determined) owner belongs to the State, and the State determines land regulations, sharing out, and re-allocation of spaces (even agricultural ones). More than 75% of farmers in Bamako do not own the land they cultivate. Nowadays, it is very hard to find vacant lands in Bamako. Landowners find it more profitable to transform their farms for construction purposes, and rent the buildings, which is more profitable and less risky than agriculture. However, producers may have access to land through (mostly temporary) loans, renting (which is expensive), or customary estates (Zalle, Meite, & Konate, 2003).


High rents on agricultural lands because of high rents push prices of food products to rise as well as only those who can afford for lands to cultivate do purchase the lands. This has reduced the number of farmers and production thus limiting food supply.

Water insecurity

The most productive farm lands lye along the banks of the Niger River between Bamako and Mopti. This area is most important for the production of cotton, rice, millet, corn, vegetables, tobacco, and tree crops. It is also important source of fish which is sold as well as exported.  Unfortunately, water from the Niger is used for irrigating about 80,000 hectares of land for rice and sugarcane production; with one-third of Mali's paddy rice is produced at the Office du Niger.

 The Niger River is a key to

agriculture and irrigation in the region, further proving drinking water for people and livestock, rich fishing grounds and a traffic artery for  major cities, such as Bamako … the Niger River is facing a great danger of extinction due to heavy silting and pollution… Most of the sewage, household waste and industrial wastes produced in Mali's capital Bamako ends up in the river. Due to the irregular rainfalls in the region, large extractions of water for irrigation and households and submissions of polluting particles, the ex-majestic river is turning ever more shallow (afrolNews, 2009).

The effect of this will mean an increase in the pollution of the river with its consequences on the farming and fishing as well as health and water usage for any form of activity.

What is being done?

The food security issues in Mali on the whole and Bamako in particular has called the attention of several international organizations and the government of Mali.

International organizations: Several international organizations are working to improve food security in the cities. The United States Government has given substantial food aid to supplement food shortages. However, will this aid remain forever, will the country on the whole and Bamako in particular depend on aid which is constantly on the decrease as well as destroying local opportunities for food production. From the IRIN news report of April 20th 2010, it states that “the government and some NGOs say they are short of funding to adequately scale up an emergency response to the needs of 629,000 people who face food insecurity.”

This shows that much effort needs to be put in both by the government and the communities themselves.

Government of Mali: So far the government has “[ …] assured financing from the African Development Fund (ADF) to enhance its silt control programme in the Niger River basin… totaling US$ 20 million and today, the Fund has approved of a new grant of US$ 4.3 million for the programme” (afrolNews, 2009). Also, the government has developed good policies such as the Agricultural Law of Orientation (ALO), the Rice Initiative, an upcoming national school feeding program but to what extent can these policies be implemented and was the development of these policies carried out by all stakeholders that is with the inclusion of such as non-state actors.

In terms of how can this process be achieved, I will propose participatory democratic governance, the institution of community gardens and improvement in agricultural technology usage.

Community gardens: Though individual gardens exist in Bamako, a coordinated garden for a community on spaces not being occupied or abandoned. Government planning should integrate gardens in the town planning. Schukoske (2000) states that

[…] the development of community gardens has led to the beauti?cation and greening of many neighborhoods and has fostered a spirit of community cooperation.  Social policies such as the promotion of health and welfare, economic development, education, youth employment, and tourism are consistent with the operation of community gardens and logically require a degree of continuity of place and participants.

For this to be sustainable, the role of the government and the community is essential in making sure that the land is not used for personal or alternative purposes. Food grown here should be shared amongst inhabitants of the community and where surpluses exchanged with other communities no able to produce the same products.

Participatory democratic governance:  Participatory governance involves all persons be they poor, illiterate, literate, rich, marginalized or whatever category in the planning of the city. John Gaventa cited in Hordijk (2005) suggested in 2001 that 


[…] a key challenge for the twenty-first century is the construction of new relationships between ordinary people and the institutions – especially those of government – that affect their lives… rebuilding these relationships implies working on both sides of the equation: going beyond approaches that focus on either civil society or on the state, and instead focusing on their intersections… the need for a fundamental rethinking of the ways in which citizens’ voices are represented in the political process, and a reconceptualization of the meanings of participation and citizenship in relation to local governance. This, in turn, implies that we have to be willing ‘…to learn about the outcomes as we go along.’


It is then essential to redefine our thinking on who is to be on board decisions which concerns the wellbeing of all. Therefore,

[…] building new relationships between the governors and the governed is not only about rethinking the meaning of citizenship and creating new deliberative spaces, but also about a dynamic process of learning and about bridging the knowledge gap (Hordijk 2005).

The integration of all stakeholders will not only improve on the wellbeing of urban inhabitants but will go a long way to improving that of rural communities. That is to say the priorities of each socio-economic group will be redefined hence limiting the rate of rural-urban migration especially those who migrate for economic reasons. This will likewise address the issue of land ownership as there will be an increase awareness on the handicaps of land acquisition for agricultural practice.

Appropriate agricultural and water management technology: The use of technology will mean working in collaboration with research institutions to develop culturally acceptable, accessible and affordable farm products which are appropriate for the region for example drought resistant seeds. Appropriate mechanisms are needed to carry out an integrated management of the water resources likewise adapting to climate change variations. Also improvement in transportation networks to reduce the cost of transportation of food from the periphery or neighboring communities to the city.


Food security in urban areas has become an increasing worry of both the government and the international communities. This is as a result of the increase of poverty in Bamako as a result of increase population without a corresponding improvement in infrastructural facilities, climatic variation and low income generating activities.  It is therefore imperative to address these pressing issues not strictly from a state point of view but from an integrated or participatory approach irrespective of the conditions of the people involved improved technology and community garden so all my live in decency and dignity.


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[1] Basket groups include costs for alcoholic beverages, clothing, communication, education, furniture & appliance, grocery, healthcare, household, personal care, recreation and culture, restaurants, meals out and hotel, transport and miscellaneous

Awa Mangie Achu Samba hols a Master's degree in Environmental Security and Peace from the Univesity for Peace.