Global Water Initiative: Mali

Our work in Mali focused on supporting smallholders who are farming, transforming and trading rice in the irrigated area around the Sélingué dam. We also looked at the overall economic impact of the dam itself, both in terms of return on investment of the dam as a whole, and in terms of the role it plays in improving the livelihoods of the communities it affects.

2008 – 2017

Jamie Skinner (, principal researcher, IIED's Natural Resources research group

IUCN Mali office:

National coordinator : Bamadou Cessouma (

Global Water Initiative – West Africa
The Global Water Initiative sought to improve global food security by enabling farmers to better access, manage and use water resources for sustainable agricultural production
GWI influence - access and rights to irrigated land - planting rice - Selingue dam - Mali

Planting rice near Selingue dam, Mali


  • 75% of the active population is dependent on agriculture and it represents 40% of GDP; irrigated agriculture makes up 34% of the country's agricultural production.
  • Rice represents 5% of national GDP but some imports are still needed to cover national consumption with rapidly increasing demand in urban areas
  • Approximately 2,200,000 hectares are deemed to be suitable for the development of irrigated agriculture in Mali, only 20% of this land is currently developed
  • Government investment in irrigated agriculture is currently around 28.3 billion CFA per year (US$5.5 million) i.e. 15% of the country's agricultural budget
  • GWI focus dam: Sélingué (completed 1981)

Water for agriculture (2013-17)

Selingué dam

Sélingué dam serves a variety of purposes, including: production of electricity, agricultural development, better navigation on the Niger river, and the development of fishing and fish farming. In terms of agriculture, 10% of the potential 20,000 hectares available has been developed for irrigated agriculture.

The irrigation scheme at Sélingué, initially destined to compensate displaced communities, covers 1,200 hectares with 1,943 plot holders, of whom 231 are women. The neighbouring Maninkoura irrigation scheme, which also draws water from the river downstream Sélingué dam, developed more recently, measures 1,094 ha for 1,168 plot holders of whom 69 are women.

The dam and associated irrigated perimeters are managed by the Office for Rural Development in Sélingué (ODRS); we worked closely with both staff at the ODRS and with representatives from the unions of local producer groups in Sélingué.

The irrigation schemes fed by the Sélingué dam are currently being rehabilitated which provides an opportunity for reviewing how they are managed.

Assessment of rice-producing smallholders

To help empower local smallholders and producers to increase production levels and improve their livelihoods, we carried out research to find out more about the issues that they face in large-scale irrigation schemes. This included analysing the different types of local rice-producing smallholders in Sélingué and how their methods and needs differ.

We carried out similar research in Burkina Faso and Mali and in 2014 published a synthesis of the regional findings which provides a comparative analysis across all three countries.

Agricultural advisory services

Our research on the issues faced by rice-producing smallholders has indicated two important areas that need to be addressed to support productivity and livelihoods of smallholders in Mali:

  • Strong farmer organisations, and
  • Improved agricultural advisory services.

We are working with all the stakeholders concerned in the Sélingué irrigation scheme to identify the key challenges to establishing improved and appropriate agricultural advisory services.

An economic assessment of Sélingué

In parallel to our work with smallholder rice producers, we also carried out an economic analysis of the Sélingué dam to evaluate the impact that it has had both as a national investment, and in terms of local livelihoods. We undertook similar analyses in Burkina Faso and Senegal which will help us to draw out some comparisons and conclusions at a regional level. This formed part of our wider work on developing awareness and debate about the livelihood impacts and economic viability of intensive, large scale irrigation schemes.

Land rights

A new land tenure law was discussed in Mali, which presented an opportunity to address some of the gaps in how land is allocated and registered – both for the state and for local communities. In the case of Sélingué, a land registration process has formalised the state ownership of the land that the irrigation schemes cover. The new land tenure law is expected to pave the way for farmers to be granted more secure contracts to the land that they work on within the scheme.

GWI West Africa also worked with the National Platform of Rice Producers to bring discussions on land tenure activities into the rice farmer forum in Mali.


Integrated Water Resource Management and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (2008-12)


  • Project area: 564 villages in 26 municipalities covered by the sub-basin.
  • Basin: Sourou sub-basin, Volta Basin.
  • Implementation: CARE, CRS and IUCN, in partnership with Sahel Eco and Caritas.

Starting point

Our 2010 baseline study gave us insight into the various challenges faced by inhabitants and municipal councils within our project area. These can be grouped as follows:

  • Sustainable drinking-water supply

Water points – including boreholes and modern wells – were among the deepest in the Mopti region, with many reaching depths of 80 metres. Drawing water therefore required a lot of effort. In the dry season, many traditional wells, and some large-diameter wells, dried up. Fetching water was also highly time-consuming, as inhabitants would sometimes have to travel between three and six kilometres to find a source.

Our study showed that only 47% of households were spending less than 30 minutes fetching drinking water, only 8% were consuming clean water and only 14% were consuming water from a safe source. Due to a shortage of specialists, the cost of hiring local technicians to fix manual pumps ranged from 150,000 and 200,000 CFA francs over a period of one to three months.

  • Hygiene and sanitation

There was generally a low level of hygiene and sanitation among inhabitants. Our study showed that 99% of households were following poor hygiene practices and only 13% were correctly disposing of the faeces of infants below 3 years of age.

  • Technical and financial partners taking over management of municipal services

Despite the adoption of decree 02-315/PRM, transferring to regional authorities the responsibility and resources for managing rural and urban water services, several development partners were building facilities directly at the community level. Given the lack of qualified personnel at the regional level, infrastructure-building under municipal project management was hampered by non-compliance with time-frames and poor quality construction work.

Another GWI study, carried out in 2008, explored the hydrological characteristics of the Sourou sub-basin. It showed that the area held significant natural resources, including: a reservoir on the Burkina Faso side, containing an estimated 250 million cubic metres of water; approximately 15,000 hectares of flood plains on the Malian side; great fishery potential (the economic importance of which was evident from the high number of fishing settlements along the Sourou River); and the vast Samory plain (a large stretch of timber reserves and bourgou pastures).

Given its wealth of resources, the sub-basin – and especially the Sourou valley – was an area of great socio-economic value, environmental balance, trade and cross-border development. Unfortunately, the resources were all being managed sectorally (by farmers, stockbreeders, fishermen), with no operational framework in place for local and cross-border management, and no effective mechanism for financing water-resource development.

Project achievements

  • We worked in partnership with four municipal councils to pilot Municipal Water Days. These annual events provide a forum for dialogue between elected representatives and citizens about water supply, hygiene and sanitation in the municipality, in the context of World Water Day.

  • We set up a focus group to consider the sustainability of water facilities in the Sourou sub-basin. It was composed of elected representatives, members of the national water board, technical and financial partners, water users, local repairmen and spare-part suppliers. On the recommendations of the group, local repairmen were provided with equipment and further training; a repairmen association was founded; the cost of repairing broken pumps was lowered and fixed at 15,000 to 20,000 CFA francs; and the length of time that equipment and facilities would remain in a state of disrepair was reduced.

  • We established an effective system for supporting municipal councils in project-managing the building of infrastructure. With an emphasis on the importance of quality at each stage of the project, we saw a marked improvement in the overall quality of facilities and compliance with construction time frames.

  • We fostered a change in hygiene behaviour among a significant proportion of inhabitants in the project area, with regard to washing hands with soap at critical moments and disposing of waste in latrines or pits. Our end-of-project evaluation in 2012 showed that 49% of households had adopted good hygiene practices as a result of community-led total sanitation in 46 sites. A total of 1,513 new latrines had been built, 97% of which were used regularly.

  • We brought together stakeholders in the Malian part of the Sourou sub-basin to set up seven local water committees, which then joined forces to create a unified sub-basin committee. We mobilised local and national stakeholders to develop and approve an organizational outline for water-resource development and management (SDAGE) in the Malian part of the sub-basin. In addition, we facilitated the implementation of a cross-border coordination framework, between Burkina Faso and Mali, for the integrated management of resources in the Sourou sub-basin.

Project contacts

Sahada Traore (, National Coordinator

Bamadou Cessouma (, IWRM

Kalifa Diakite (, Infrastructure-building under municipal project management

Dieudonné Somboro (, Water supply

Bianivo Mounkoro (, Learning

Isack DOLO (, Monitoring and Evaluation