In addition to working in their respective duw for domestic consumption, individuals of all ages in Niamakoroni can engage in independent commodity production activities that will earn them a personal income. These are typically referred to as ka wari nyini (for cash/money) activities.
While a variety of income-generating activities occur in the community, everyone perceives market-gardening to be for income generation and potential accumulation. Men and women alike commonly identified market-gardening as the preferred strategy for earning an income. They also noted that urban consumers in Bamako, the capital city, provide the main market for the garden produce (see also Konate, 1994).
Bamako has grown dramatically since the French set up their administrative headquarters in the city at the end of the 19th century. Today there is a well-established regional market for cereals, and most urban consumers depend on rural producers to supply their basic staples, such as sorghum and millet. Moreover, there is an increasing demand for specialized horticultural produce. Since French colonial forces began to consume fresh fruits and vegetables produced in the colonies, Bamako's residents have increasingly become interested in acquiring and consuming exotic fruits and vegetables (République du Mali, 1992; Villien-Rossi, 1966). A number of factors contributed to this shift in consumption. They include the expansion of governmental nutritional campaigns that highlighted the nutritional value of fresh fruits and vegetables, the emergence of a middle class that considers Western dietary patterns to be a sign of culture and wealth, and the growth in the number of foreign aid workers who wish to consume fruits and vegetables native to their home countries. Together, these created a strong demand for specialized, non-traditional, horticultural items in the capital. Communities, such as Niamakoroni, are well placed in this overall context as they are within market distance of the capital (see also Becker, 1996; Konate, 1994).
Market gardening is now a central component of the local livelihood system in Niamakoroni. In the mid- 1990s, there were 22 market-gardening operations in the community, each with its own garden leader (nakotigi). Married men managed most garden operations (19 out of 22, or 86 percent). Each of the three women nakotigiw had the position of first wife within a polygynous unit. As such, they had all retired from direct engagement in the food production realm, and their activities were no longer managed by their respective dutigiw. Compared to other nakotigiw, these women operated relatively minor enterprises, working on small plots in peripheral locations. Most nakotigiw are helped by younger brothers or sons and daughters and, in some cases, wives. The nakotigiw establish cropping patterns, organize labour, make decisions about harvest and marketing, and sell the produce and distribute the proceeds as they see fit.
In the mid-1990s, Niamakoroni's 22 nakotigiw operated a total of 34 different garden plots ranging in size from 378 to 9 720 m2 with an average of 3 212 m2. Mainly these plots were in low-lying areas immediately surrounding the community. Most were well delineated and fenced to protect them from livestock damage. The plots controlled by the three women gardeners were unfenced, and were the smallest (378-650 m2). Moreover, their plots were located deep in the bush along relatively minor streams.
Market gardens produce a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, most of which are non-traditional exotics. The most common types of vegetables grown in Niamakoroni were tomatoes, bitter eggplant, common beans, hot pepper, and cabbage. At one point or another, all 22 nakotigiw cultivated these crops. Other vegetable crops included onion, European eggplant, green pepper, squash, and okra. Fruit crops also played a major role in these gardens. Often these fruit plantings occupied a large part of an enclosed garden area, mainly as pure orchards or, less frequently, integrated into a diversely planted garden. Except for the plots belonging to the three women nakotigiw, all garden plots contained at least some mature (productive) fruit plantings including banana, papaya, mango, and various citrus species. In all cases, banana was the most abundant fruit crop. Papaya was the next most common and was cultivated by all 19 male nakotigiw, who also had mango trees. Most gardeners had citrus stock including lemons, oranges, mandarins, tangelos, and grapefruits, where lemons were the most common. With the exception of bitter eggplant, hot pepper, and mango, these crops are non-traditional garden plantings. All of the garden crops, traditional and non-traditional alike, are in high demand in the capital city.
Gardeners frequently use a range of commercial inputs and all 22 nakotigiw purchase commercial vegetable seed for their market gardens. In addition to purchasing vegetable seed and seedlings, Niamakoroni's nakotigiw regularly purchase orchard stock. All 19 male nakotigiw purchase orchard stock, banana plantings, citrus seedlings or citrus-grafting stock and the Badala market, along the Niger river was their main source. Some of the male nakotigiw said they also obtained such items from nakotigiw in neighbouring communities where longer-established orchards exist. The three women nakotigiw had not planted any citrus trees in their plots and the bananas they cultivated were obtained locally.
All 19 male nakotigiw said that they purchase chemical fertilizer for their plots. Fourteen also stated that they purchase animal manure (mainly chicken). A few male nakotigiw also purchase chemical pesticides from time to time. The gardeners are usually unaware of the health risks of these materials and thus fail to protect themselves.
Gardeners were unanimous when asked about their production goals. All 22 nakotigiw viewed their horticultural activities as a way to earn income and that all produce from their gardens was destined for sale. Indeed, garden produce only very rarely appeared in the local diet and, when it did, was damaged or deteriorating. The bulk of the produce from Niamakoroni's gardens was directed to Bamako's markets. Produce was taken to a suburban site where urban market traders, mostly young women, purchased it from gardeners or their helpers. On some occasions, these buyers traveled directly to the gardens to secure produce indicating the high demand in the capital city.
To give some idea of potential income from market gardening, a series of crop value estimates were made. This analysis showed that the total value of the banana crop alone, across all gardens during 1993-1994 was approximately US$ 35 000. The projected value of the total papaya crop for the year was approximately US$ 9 500. The individual with the largest number of banana plantings (736) could have taken in approximately US$ 4 400 from this crop alone. The individual with the fewest banana plantings (36) could have earned US$ 216. The projected value of the total papaya crop for the year was approximately US$ 9 500. The individual with the most mature plantings (76) could have taken in about US$ 1 600 from this crop, whereas the individual with the fewest mature plantings (4) could have earned US$ 85. These examples indicate that potential incomes from market gardening are relatively high for Mali, which has a very low per capita income, US$ 260 in the early 1990s (Imperato, 1996).
Based on proceeds from these two crops alone, if shared equally among all 184 Niamakoroni residents, the gross per capita income would be approximately US$ 242, or nearly the national average. However, figures are based on gross value and not net income. Furthermore, income generated through gardening is not distributed uniformly. The vast majority of garden leaders are men; therefore they are the primary benefactors of this relatively lucrative livelihood diversification strategy (Wooten, 1997).