© FAO/ Alessandra Benedetti



Mali was selected as a country case study not only for its food security concerns but also because of the diversity if presents on millet and sorghum and because previous work had been conducted in the area, upon which the study could be built. Previous project conducted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Bioversity International, in collaboration with the Institut D’ Economie Rurale of Mali, focused on enhancing local knowledge and use of crop genetic resources, particularly sorghum and millet varieties. In diversity fairs, project participants were invited to display, explain, and promote the diversity of local varieties and landraces among farmers drawn from surrounding villages. The notion of diversity field fora was built on the concept of farmer field schools. Experiments related to enhancing knowledge of crop genetic resources were designed and conducted by villagers, with technical support from the project staff, on land distributed for that purpose by villagers. Farmers studied both modern varieties and landraces in their diversity field fora.

Despite an ongoing process of seed sector reform, liberalization of seed markets for sorghum and millet has not advanced as rapidly as liberalization of grain markets (Diakité et al. 2008; Vitale and Bessler 2006). The formal seed sectors for sorghum and millet continue to be largely state-run, with some participation by registered farmer cooperatives in multiplying seed. Low adoption rates for sorghum and millet are thus blamed on poor performance of the formal seed system.

Crop Selected

Malian farmers have accumulated knowledge of millet and sorghum management that spans millennia. Pearl millet and sorghum are known to have been domesticated in multiple locations scattered across the Sahel—then savannah and now the border of the Sahara (Harlan, 1992). Archaeological evidence suggests that economies based on cattle, goats, sorghum, and pearl millet were established in this region between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago (Smith, 1998). Pearl millet is one of the most drought-resistant of the savannah crops and dominates along the desert fringe.

Sorghum and millet are still the major crops of Mali, grown by subsistence-oriented producers in an agricultural sector that is almost entirely rainfed. National average yields for both crops are less than 1 ton per hectare (Touré et al. 2006). Low yields are often attributed to low adoption rates for improved seed. The most recent draft Agricultural Census reports that the proportion of cereals area under improved seed does not exceed 10 percent. By contrast, 89 percent of the area in industrial crops is planted to improved seed (Bureau de Recensement Agricole, 2006). Improved varieties of sorghum have been more widely adopted than improved varieties of millet.

Project site

Study sites were selected in a preceding project implemented by the Institut d’Economie Rurale, with the support of Bioversity International and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The earlier project aimed to promote the sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources through diversity fairs and diversity field fora. Selection criteria for sites included agro-ecological characteristics, such as rainfall levels and crops grown, evidence of genetic erosion, and market infrastructure.

The specific study sites selected are San and Douentza.

The San site is in a semiarid, tropical climate with annual rainfall levels of 450–600 mm, which places it in the Sahelo-Sudanian zone. Variation in vegetative cover is linked to variation in soils, and the landscape is a mosaic of cultivated woodland savanna heavily populated by shea nut trees (karité).

The Douentza site is located in the Sahelian agroclimatic zone, which places it within the 200- and 400-mm isohyets (Matlon 1990). The zone is composed of a series of rocky plateaus and outcroppings, interspersed with sandy plains, forest cover, cultivated areas, and pasture. Villages are located on both the rocky plateaus and the plains.


Roughly 150 farmers were randomly sampled and surveyed in the two sites identified for the study. Based on survey responses, six of the most frequently cited markets were selected in each site, and 100 vendors were interviewed. The sample structure for the farm survey provided the basis of the sampling for the market survey. The 150 farmers sampled at each site, were allocated evenly between control and test villages. Test villages were defined as those affected directly or indirectly by project interventions. In each site, both control and test villages were located within the areas affected by the former project and the same nongovernmental organizations.

Data collected in the farm-level survey were used to identify 12 weekly markets (fairs) per site. Of those, six markets were identified by site, with three frequented by farmers in control villages and three frequented by farmers in test villages. Data were collected through interviews with key informants, a market infrastructure survey, and a vendor survey. The surveys were conducted in April, the month when the rainy season typically begins. The market infrastructure survey was conducted through interviews with key informants at the market and local government officials, supported by direct observations. Overall characteristics of the markets, including product scope, size, and physical infrastructure, were identified. The vendor survey elicited characteristics of vendors, vendor lots, and transactions.

Key informant interviews and direct observations revealed several market features that determined the protocol used to sample vendors and vendor lots. Given these features, the team conducted rapid visual censuses of sorghum and millet types on sale by petty vendors and sampled vendors.