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Jennifer Petersona, Mulonda Kalendeb
a Helen Keller International, Conakry, Guinea
b FAO Regional Office for Africa, Accra, Ghana

Peterson, J. & Kalende, M. 2006. The potential for integrated irrigation-aquaculture in Mali. In M. Halwart & A.A. van Dam, eds. Integrated irrigation and aquaculture in West Africa: concepts, practices and potential, pp. 79–94. Rome, FAO. 181 pp.


The paper provides an analysis of the potential for integrated irrigation-aquaculture in Mali. It is based on general information available from workshops and meetings facilitated by FAO in 1999 and 2000 as well as field reports from several missions to Mali by experts in agronomy, aquaculture and socio-economics between December 2000 and March 2002. There are environmental, institutional, technical and socio-economic constraints, and recommendations are presented for the Direction Nationale d'Aménagement et Equipement Rural (DNAER) of the Ministry of Rural Development of Mali on how to alleviate these. It is concluded that Mali has all of the essential resources necessary to produce large quantities of fish in irrigation systems. At the same time, the opportunity costs associated with the use of these resources need to be weighed carefully. The development of fish production in short cycle systems, using locally available, low cost techniques is considered the most feasible way forward.


Located in the heart of West Africa, the northern half of Mali is situated in the Sahara desert, in an arid, sparsely populated zone unsuited to many economic endeavours. Fortunately, Mali is blessed with two large rivers, the Niger and tributaries of the Senegal, which travel over 1 000 kilometers within the country. Mali’s fisheries production is the largest in the Sahel, and represents 40 percent of West Africa’s freshwater fish production. Annual fisheries production varies from an estimated 70000 to 150000 tonnes annually, depending on rainfall and flooding. An estimated 10 to 20% of freshwater fish production is exported regionally. These important water resources also provide irrigation for the production of cotton (which makes up almost 40% of Mali’s exports), millet, rice, maize, groundnuts, vegetables, cattle, sheep and goats. Per capita fish consumption is estimated at 10.5 kg/year (compared to meat consumption of 7.8 kg/year), although fish consumption among fishing families is probably much higher.

As a result of the importance of water resources to the country and the unpredictable availability of fish, representatives from the Government of Mali have been working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on a number of different fisheries initiatives, including efforts to develop pilot integrated irrigation and aquaculture (IIA) activities. This included two separate missions of an aquaculture expert who visited Mali to assess aquaculture opportunities in the region (Miller, 2000) , and a team of irrigation and rice production specialists who evaluated the potential to develop aquaculture in rice production systems (Sanni and Juanich, 2001). Mali has also expressed interest in participating in a regional IIA network during regional workshops and meetings of international irrigation and fisheries staff (Moehl et al., 2001).

This report presents the results of a third mission by a socio-economist and an aquaculture specialist who visited Mali in December 2001 to evaluate additional opportunities for the development of IIA activities in the country. In Mali, the team spent several days working with a representative from the Direction Nationale de l'Aménagement et de l'Equipement Rural (DNAER), evaluating potential opportunities for and constraints to the development of IIA activities in the country. This was done on the basis of (i) review of available documents; (ii) meetings with the FAO Programme Officer, the FAO Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) Coordinator, and DNAER staff; and (iii) field visits to Baguimenda, Niono/Ségou and Sélingué.

History and context of IIA

The integration of irrigation and aquaculture (IIA) is as old as aquaculture itself. In most countries, water used to produce fish is also used to irrigate gardens, bathe children, wash clothes and nourish animals. Integrated systems can be more or less complex, depending on the general layout of the irrigated plots and the fishpond. Fishponds can be located above irrigated plots (in this case, the plot is fertilized with water from the fish pond, and the pond functions as a water storage device as well as a fish production system), on the same plot (either at the same time or in a relay cropping system), or below the irrigated plot (where fishponds benefit from and capture drainage water from irrigated plots). Integration can be both temporal (with production occurring at the same time, in the same season) and spatial (with production occurring on the same plot of land). Integration generally implies an intensification of water use, but not necessarily increased water use. In some cases, water is simply used more efficiently in integrated systems. By stocking holding ponds, dams and seasonal ponds with fish, no additional water is used but additional production is generated.

It is the development of these types of efficiently integrated systems which FAO has been encouraging for the past 10 years, through various workshops, missions and pilot projects (Coche, 1998; Moehl et al., 2001; PSSA, 2000; SPFS, 2000; Van der Mheen, 1996; 1997; 1999).

Past, present and planned IIA activities

The main difference this IIA team noted from previous visits was the organization of fisheries activities within the Ministry of Rural Development and Environment (MDRE). While fisheries activities previously were under the direction of the National Direction for Support to Rural Populations (DNAMR), the team found fisheries activities housed in the Direction National d'Aménagement et Equipement Rural (DNAER). Many of the same opportunities and constraints to the development of IIA activities exist as those elicited by Miller (2000) and Sanni and Juanich (2001). Mali continues to have significant potential for the development of IIA activities, especially in irrigated rice systems, seasonal ponds, and recessional flood plains. However, the benefits of such integration have yet to be tested or proven at the field level in Mali, and remain hypothetical at the national level.

Government activities

In the late 1980s, the government in collaboration with international donors funded two aquaculture projects - Projet de Développement de la Pisciculture et de Rationalisation de la Pêche (Fish Culture and Fishing Development Project - FAO/PNUD Projet MLI/86/001) and Projet Mali (funded by the African Union). Although neither project explicitly promoted the integration of irrigation and aquaculture activities, both projects promoted the development of aquaculture in existing irrigation schemes and seasonal ponds. In addition, the former project conducted rice-fish farming trials which produced between 6 to 7 tonnes of rice along with 125 kg of fish per ha. According to Miller (2001), even unstocked and unmanaged rice fields produced 73 kg of fish, implying that some form of rice-fish farming is already practiced on a traditional level.

The only aquaculture activities reportedly supported by government are the activities undertaken by the staff at the Molodo fish station, which at one time assisted 66 villages and 525 fish farmers. However, during the time of this visit, the station was in a complete state of disrepair, and only two of the 12 ponds were functional. No future IIA activities are being planned by the government, however, it was mentioned that IIA activities would fit quite well into the Sustainable Livelihoods Programme being implemented by DFID and FAO in 25 countries in the sub-region.

The Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS)

The Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) was launched by FAO in May 1994. The goal of the programme is to increase food production through dissemination of existing and proven agricultural technologies. The programme has four components: water management; intensification of agricultural production; diversification of production; and analysis of constraints. The programme targets low income food deficit countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

In Mali, SPFS activities officially began in 1998 and have been implemented in three regions - Mopti in the east, Koulikoro in the central region and Kayes in the west. Activities included the development of low-cost water management systems, the intensification of rice and maize production systems, the development of animal fattening activities, gardening activities, and beekeeping. Fish culture activities have been implemented in the Mopti area, in association with local NGOs. At the time of this mission there were five Chinese specialists including one aquaculture expert implementing SPFS activities on the development of post harvest technologies, rice culture, beekeeping and animal husbandry.

Donor and non-governmental organization (NGO) activities

In the early 1980s Africare and Peace Corps implemented aquaculture activities in San, which included the construction of an experimental fish station. The station was later abandoned due to technical difficulties associated with water access. These activities were funded by USAID.

In the late 1980s the French Association of Volunteers for Progress (AFVP) promoted the integration of fish ponds and gardening in large irrigated perimeters in the Niono area. This project resulted in the construction of 200 village fish ponds using heavy equipment. Ponds were integrated with vegetable gardens, rice and cereal production. Unfortunately, some ponds could not be drained, ponds were poorly managed, and fish production was low.

No other current or planned IIA activities funded or implemented by NGOs were uncovered by the team during this mission. However, few NGOs were contacted due to the timing (during Ramadan) and duration of the mission. Past, present and planned IIA activities are further detailed in Table 1.

IIA potential and fit into local farming systems

Agro-ecological zones

The main agro-ecological zones found in Mali, their farming systems, and potential for IIA development are summarized in Table 2. The most important farming activities in the country are rice and maize production, vegetable gardening, beekeeping, chicken rearing, fishing and animal husbandry. Generally speaking, a household will practice as many different agricultural activities as possible in order to maximize production and income, and decrease risk (Kone and Sangono, 2000).

Irrigation systems in Mali

The main types of irrigation systems found in Mali include:

Of the 242298 ha of irrigated farmland in Mali, 144605 (equivalent to 60%) are irrigated by one of three irrigation schemes: dams in Segou (35 415 ha), the Office of Niger (60 000 ha) and Mopti (49 190 ha). Mali has the largest area of controlled irrigation in the West African Sahel, and most of it is controlled by gravity rather than the pumps used in Senegal (Miller, 2000). The benefits and constraints to the integration of aquaculture activities with existing irrigation systems in Mali are summarized in Table 3.

Aquaculture and inland fisheries systems

There are three principal fish production zones in Mali: the Central Delta of the Niger River, and two artificial lakes - Lake Sélingué and Lake Manantali. The central delta is a vast floodplain between Markala and Timbuktu. Floodwaters from both the Niger and Bani rivers feed this floodplain. In Mopti, which marks the confluence of the Niger and the Bani, the high water period is generally in October. During this time, the floodplains can cover over 20000 km2. The low water mark generally occurs in May (DNAER, 2001). The Central Delta floodplain produces an estimated 70000 to 150000 tonnes of fish per year. In addition, the Senegal River produces an estimated 2000 tonnes per year from 45000 ha of floodplains (Miller, 2000).

Lake Sélingué is located 140 km south of Bamako, and was built in 1980. The dam provides both hydroelectric power and irrigation and is managed by the Office for the Exploitation of Hydraulic Resources of the Upper Niger (OERHN). The dam is 348 m long, and the lake covers 409 km2 and holds 2.2 billion m3 of water. However, the maximum depth does not exceed 20 m (DNAER, 2001). Lake Sélingué produces an estimated 4000 tonnes of fish per year (Miller, 2000).

Lake Manantali was constructed in the valley of the Bafing River. It was built in 1987 and provides both hydroelectric power and irrigation. The dam is 208 m long, and holds 11 billion m3 of water, with a surface area of up to 500 km2. The average depth is 20 m, with a maximum depth of 50 m at the dam (DNAER, 2001). The lake produces an estimated 1 500 tonnes of fish per year (Miller, 2000).

In addition to these large water bodies, fish are also produced in the Office of Niger Irrigation Scheme, which includes the Markala dam with its 60000 ha of irrigated fields; seasonal ponds (mares), borrow pits (land where soil has been removed for infrastructure development projects) and bancotières (land where soil has been removed for making bricks). Farmers have been stocking these small natural water bodies for more than 20 years, and in some cases fish are fed rice bran and kitchen waste. Production from these seasonal ponds has been estimated at 542 to 650 kg/ha/year (Kienta, 2001).

Most capture fishing occurs from November to March. Fishermen use nets, buckets, canoes and local tools to capture fish, day and night. The money generated from fisheries production is often used by families to pay for supplies required to migrate to other countries in the region. A tax of CFAF7.50/kg is imposed on local fish producers for certifying fish quality. This money is used to finance fisheries activities in the country (Seydou Coulibaly, pers. comm.). See Table 4 for a summary of fishing activities and seasons.

Over 130 species of fish have been identified in the middle Niger, which have been divided into two main groups: migrating species and opportunistic species. Some of the most important commercial species include Lates niloticus, Heterotis niloticus, Bagrus bajad, Alestes dentes, Brycinus leuciscus, Clarias anguillaris, Hydracymus brevis, Sarotherodon galilaeus and Oreochromis niloticus (DNAER, 2001).

The mission was told that DNAER would like to develop the culture of catfish (silure), Lates spp. and Hydrocynus spp. in the country. Currently, most production consists of tilapias, Clarias spp. and Heterotis spp. Lates spp. sell for CFAF2 000/kg, Hydrocynus spp. for CFAF1 500/kg, tilapias for CFAF1 000/kg and Clarias and Heterotis spp. for CFAF600/kg. However, dried Lates and Hydrocynus spp. are worth CFAF3 000–4 000/kg (Seydou Coulibaly, pers. comm.).


Mali has over 70000 active fishermen and fishing families, including full-time professional fishermen (generally from Bozo or Somono ethnic groups), part-time fishermen/farmers (Rimaïbé, Bambara, Marka and Songhaï), and migrant fishermen (also Bozo) (Miller, 2000). Some of these fishermen have formed associations, such as the Association of Fish Farmers of the Office du Niger. This association includes 150 fish farmers in 25 villages in the zone of N'débougou. They use small (less than 500 m2) fish ponds built by the World Bank in irrigated perimeters, and borrow pits created by brick makers. The role of the association is to defend the interest of its members, participate at harvests, and source funding.

Women are often active in fish processing, as well as the stocking and production of seasonal ponds. This team found that women also were interested in aquaculture, specifically in Niono, Sikasso and Kadiolo. A women’s association which practices gardening activities built a 500 m2 fish pond. They are interested in pursuing aquaculture as a secondary activity, after vegetable gardening (which takes up approximately 80% of their time).

Local government agents reported that almost 90% of all fishing activities in the country are managed by women. They are involved in all aspects of harvesting, processing, transport and marketing of fish. Although men know how to trap fish, women know what fish characteristics and qualities other women want for cooking and home consumption. Women are the head of the family in fishing communities. Men hand their fish catch to women, who decide what to do with it. In polygamous marriages, men compare the capacity of women to manage and profit from their fish harvest. In the past, this has made credit programmes for fishermen difficult to manage, because credit was given to men, but women managed the profits of fish harvests (Seydou Coulibaly, pers. comm.).

Table 1. Past, current and planned IIA activities in Mali.

InstitutionYearsTarget zoneType of IIA systemObjectivesConstraints/lessons learned
USAID/ Africare/ US Peace Corps/ Cie. malienne de développement des textiles1979–1982San/ SégouAquaculture in irrigated cotton-producing systems, pumped waterConstruct experimental fish station in San; produce and distribute fingerlings; do applied research using local fish species; extend and disseminate aquaculture practicesActivities ceased and station abandoned in 1982 due to lack of water and cost of pumping water
French Association of Volunteers for Progress (AFVP)1987Niono/ SégouIntegration of fish ponds and gardening in large irrigated perimeters, gravity fedConstruct 200 village fish ponds using heavy equipment; establish credit for aquaculturists for feed purchase; improve organization of extension servicesPonds were integrated with vegetable gardens, rice and cereal production. Some ponds could not be drained. Ponds were poorly managed and fish production was low
Projet Mali/ Organisation de l'unité africaine (OUA)1986–1990Ségou, Kayes, Timbuktu, SikassoIntegration of aquaculture with seasonal pondsDevelop extensive aquaculture by improving seasonal ponds and valleys (bas fonds); provide equipment and supplies for construction of individual and collective ponds; provide water pumping materials (solar power) 
Projet de développement de la pisciculture et de rationalisation de la pêche (FAO/PNUD Projet MLI/86/001)1987–1992Niono/ Office du Niger et SélingueIntegration of fish ponds with large irrigated perimetersPromote family fish farming; improve fishing in lakes, irrigation canals and seasonal ponds; distribute fingerlings, train farmers, disseminate techniques. Create three fingerling stations and one national training center.Biggest problem was the complete dependence of fish farmers on the project for all inputs and supplies. Additional problems: predation and theft, incomplete pond drainage, the lack of participation of farmers in maintenance of irrigation infrastructure.
FAO/Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS)1996–2002MoptiIntegration of aquaculture with seasonal ponds and borrow pits; production of fish and animal fodder (Echinochloa stagnina)Disseminate proven technologies; engage farmers in dialogue; demonstrate technologies and practices to stabilize production and promote diversification; provide a platform for policy dialogue and institutional support.Potential exists for integrated irrigation and aquaculture in the Mopti region through NGOs and farmer groups, and in rice-fish culture systems in the Office du Niger.
PUFS (Swiss NGO)unknownSikasso and KadioloIntegration of aquaculture with small dams and seasonal ponds; animal husbandry-gardening-fish culturePromote community management of seasonal ponds and damsDifficulty in managing and controlling fishing access at night

Table 2. Agroecological zones in Mali (source: SPFS, 1999).

CharacteristicsZONE I: Saharan ZoneZone II: Sahelian ZoneZone III: Sudanian ZoneZone IV: Sudano - Guinean ZoneZone V: Central Niger River Delta
LocationIncludes the northern part of the country (53%). The desert occupies the region of Kidal, ¾ of Timbuktu, and a large part of the region of Gao.Includes the middle and lower northern portions of the country (low rainfall zones), including Mopti, Ségou and the remaining portion of Timbuktu.Includes the regions of Kayes, Koulikoro and parts of Sikasso and BamakoIncludes the region of Bamako, and portions of Koulikoro, Kayes and SikassoIncludes certain parts of Ségou, Mopti, and Timbuktu. It is further subdivided into the actual delta, the middle Bani-Niger, the old delta and the lake zone.
Size (km2)632 000281 000215 00075 00029 000
Rainfall (mm per year)150200–350 in the North 360–600 in the South600–800 (5 month rainy season)Average of 1000250 in the North, 300 in the South
Temperature (°C)12 (January) 45 (May – June) 26 – 28  
VegetationDesert (sand) and artificial classified forestsSavannah and forested steppe dominated by species including Acacia sénégalensis,Acacia seyal, and Crénia bicolor.Dominated by forest and forested savannah, and species including Isobernia doka, and Damiella olivier.Hardy herbaceous plants, forested savannah, and forestDominated by Acacia sieberiana and Vetiveria nigritania (species are determined by the length of submersion under water during floods). Includes the most important fish and bird populations in the country.
SoilSand dunes very susceptible to wind erosionTropical iron rich soils, fertile and moderately vulnerable to erosion.Many diverse soil types, including rocky soils and tropical iron-aluminum plinthite (hard pan)Tropical red soils with slight iron content, which are relatively fertile. Also transitional hydromorphic soils (gray soils) which are appropriate for rice culture and vegetable gardening.Hydromorphic alluvial soils
Agricultural Production SystemsAgro-pastoral (animal husbandry, gardening, rainy season culture)Animal husbandry, agriculture, harvesting natural forest productsRainy season cereal production, cotton production, beginning to develop agro-pastoral production around urban zonesAgro-pastoral production. Crops include vegetable gardening, tobacco, maize and sorghum.Rice, sugar cane, vegetable production in the delta, and agro-pastoral production in the floodplains.
Main cropsVegetables, forage, animal productsAnimal productsSorghum, maize, cotton, animal husbandrySorghum, maize, tobacco, rice, treesRice (predominant crop), sorghum, maize
Water resourcesNo surface waterLakes situated near the Niger river, permanent and temporary ponds (mares); significant underground water resourcesRivers, streams and seasonal ponds provide year-round surface waterAbundant surface waterDams at the Office du Niger and Selingué; Niger river; significant underground water resources; high water flow July-September in Segou, October-December in Mopti, and December-February in Gao
Opportunities for IIA developmentAvailable support servicesMarket availabilityImportant surface water resourcesAvailable landHigh irrigation potential
Existence of farmers’organizationsExistence of farmers’organizationsImportant and diversified animal husbandry resourcesImportant surface water resourcesImportant flood zone
Available land and pasture resourcesAvailable land and pasture resourcesPresence of markets and processing plantsImportant and diversified animal husbandry resourcesAvailable forage and pasture resources (Echinochilon stagnina)
Existence of farmers’organizationsMarket availabilitySignificant biological diversity
Important socio-economic infrastructureHigh density of available support servicesHigh population density
Constraints to IIA developmentLow population densityDecreasing water availabilityHigh land use pressuresLow accessSoil degradation
Very limited water resourcesDesertification of natural resources and environmentDecreasing soil fertilityParasitic diseases (Sleeping sickness)Conflicts between agriculturalists and herders
Arid climate, violent windsLack of socio-economic infrastructureSoil acidificationInsufficient socio-economic infrastructureDecreasing biodiversity
Poverty of the populationLack of pasture resources
Lack of socio-economic infrastructure.

Table 3. Irrigation systems, agroecological zones in which they are found, their potential for integration with aquaculture, and constraints to integration.

Site or agroecological zoneSystemPotential IIA systemAdvantagesProblems to resolve
Site No 1: Sudano-Guinean and Guinean Agro-ecological zone (Selingué/Sikasso and Manatali/Kayes)Large irrigated perimetersFish ponds built along irrigation canalsPermanent water availabilityLack of available land/sites
Office du développement rural de Sélingué, and Projet de développement de l'agriculture dans la vallée du fleuve Sénégal (Sélingué and Manatali dams)Stocking irrigation canalsGravity water systemsLack of resources to exploit the land available
Stocking borrow pitsPresence of an administrative structure responsible for water resource management and extensionLack of economic benefits of integrated production products
Improvement of traditional rice-fish cultureGood rice paddy constructionDependence on organizations responsible for water management; resistance to integration with aquaculture
Availability of fingerlings in canalsInappropriate topographic configuration
Cost of leasing and rents
Short rice cycles
Lack of technical knowledge
Site No 2: Sudano-Guinean zone and a part of the Niger River Delta Office du Niger/Ségou and Office du développement Baguimenda (Koulikoro)Large hydro-agricultural irrigated perimetersFish ponds built along irrigation canalsPermanent water availability by gravityPayment of leases and land rental
(Office du Niger and Office de développement rural Baguiménda/Koulikoro)Improvement of traditional rice-fish cultureFingerlings available in irrigation canalsLack of available land
Stocking of irrigation and drainage canalsGood rice paddy constructionDependence on organization responsible for management of the perimeter
Producer organizationsShort rice production cycles
Lack of technical knowledge
Need to alter paddy construction to accommodate fish culture
Site No. 3: Interior Niger River Delta (Mopti, Dagawomina) and parts of the Sudano-Guinean zone in Sikasso and KayesSeasonal ponds (mares) and small dams and borrow pits (used for brick making)Improved stocking, feeding and management practices in traditional rice-fish-garden-animal production systemsFree water (no cash costs involved)Siltation of some sites
Land available (numerous sites)Community management and potential for conflict (competition between fishermen, herders, farmers and gardeners)
Presence of fishVariable volume and duration of water
Difficult access to some sites
Costs associated with construction to improve sites are high in some cases (economics)
Lack of technical knowledge

Table 4. Fishing Calendar in the Niger River Delta (Source: Unité de Coordination Nationale du PMEDP/Direction nationale de l'aménagement et de l'équipement rural/Ministère du développement rural, July 2001).

MonthHydrologyFish activityFishing activityTools used1
July–AugustFloodingLateral migration, reproductionNot very activeCast Nets, drag nets, dams (nasses, palangres?)
September – October – NovemberMaximum water levelMigration into floodplains, fish growth (maximum food)Not very activeHarpoons, drag nets, cast nets (palangres, nasses)
November–FebruaryRecessional flood zonesMigration, return to riverBeginning of fishing activitiesDams, cast nets, seine nets
March–JuneLow water levelsFish stuck in river bedsIntensive fishing activities, collective fishingSeine nets, cast nets, drag nets, nasses, palangres, collective fishing

1 Most of the nets used in Mali are imported from Korea, Japan and India, through the port of Lomé. Some of these nets are also exported from Mali to neighboring countries.

Aquaculture inputs

Agricultural by-products are widely available in Mali. Fish stations use combinations of rice bran (70%), cotton waste (25%), and fish meal (5%) as feed materials. Some of the constraints identified by farmers associated with the SPFS include insufficient availability of fertilizer and other inputs in local markets, lack of credit to purchase the necessary means of production, and the high costs of agricultural inputs (SPFS, 2000).


All of the fingerlings currently stocked in the aquaculture stations came from natural water bodies. However, Miller (2000) reported that the Molodo National Aquaculture Training Center produced up to 100000 O.niloticus and Clarias gariepinus fingerlings per year. Because wild fingerlings are widely available in the country, Miller recommended to orient training efforts towards fish identification and sorting techniques for restocking ponds with fingerlings produced in the wild.

Public sector aquaculture services

The DNAER is staffed by a Chef de Section, two trained technicians and one forestry engineer. All staff are located in the field, one in Sélingué and two in Niono. Obviously, there is not enough DNAER staff to manage applied research or extension activities. A national development plan for aquaculture and fisheries was created in 1997, but has not yet been transformed into concrete strategies and development activities.

Apparently fisheries activities used to be managed by the Direction national des eaux et forêts (DNFF), as in Senegal. However, the main role of DNFF agents was to enforce national fisheries and forestry management policies. In 1992, government reformulated fisheries legislation and decentralized the management of natural resources, empowering local communities. It is not clear if these policy changes have resulted in benefits for local farmers.

The mission visited two aquaculture stations: Molondo/Niono in the region of Sikasso; and the fish station in Sélingué. The station in Molondo includes 12 ponds covering approximately 4 800 m2, although only two ponds have been partially renovated for production. None of the ponds can be completely drained without pumping water. The purpose of the station is to provide fingerlings and to train farmers and extension technicians. Due to lack of funds, the station is in a state of disrepair. In the past, the station manager experimented with rice-fish culture, but experienced problems with theft, predation and adapting the technology to the field.

The station in Sélingué includes 13 ponds covering 0.4 ha. The principal objectives of the station are to produce fingerlings and marketable fish. Although the station receives some funding from the Office de Développement Rural de Sélingué, activities have been reduced and the station operates at approximately one quarter of its production potential.

Extension activities in Mali are managed by the Direction d'Appui au Monde Rural in the Ministry of Rural Development. Unlike in Senegal, aquaculture activities and agricultural extension activities are housed within the same ministry. In addition, a number of government agencies and projects support extension activities in irrigation schemes. The Institut d'Economie Rurale (IER) is responsible for aquaculture research, and occasionally intervenes in extension activities as well. In addition, the Institute for Training and Applied Research (IFRA) located near Koulikoro has also been involved in aquaculture research, and is one of the oldest agricultural training centers in Africa.

In reality, the aquaculture training center in Molondo is responsible for most of the aquaculture extension that occurs in the country. They have organized many training sessions, both for farmers and technicians. However, most of these training sessions have dealt with fisheries techniques and technologies not always suited to Malian conditions.

Mali has also developed Chambers of Agriculture (CAM), which represent various producer groups including those involved in agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry and fisheries. They are represented from the village level to the national level in the Permanent Assembly of the Chambers of Agriculture of Mali (APCAM). In addition, each large-scale irrigated perimeter has extension staff (Coulibaly, pers. comm.).

In addition to government ministries, each commune in the country has an action plan and a community development plan, and a budget. Mayors and their advisors are responsible for the implementation of these plans, and government appointed staff (sous prefets and prefets) are only responsible for checking the legality of planned activities. Many of these communes have already identified seasonal ponds (mares) and lowland areas (bas fonds) for improvement (Coulibaly, pers. comm.).

IIA systems in Mali

The IIA systems currently found in Mali (and their geographic locations) include:

  1. Rice-fish-gardening in large irrigated perimeters (Niono/Office du Niger, Sélingué/Office de développement rural de Sélingué, Baguiménda/Office de développement de Baguiménda, Mopti/Office du riz de Mopti)

  2. Extensive aquaculture in seasonal ponds and lowlands, associated with gardening and/or animal husbandry (Kayes, Sikasso, Dagawomina, Gnimitoongo and Koubi/Mopti)

  3. Extensive aquaculture and animal fodder production in seasonal ponds and borrow pits (Mopti, Niono, Sélingué)

  4. Semi-intensive aquaculture with vegetable, fruit tree and rice production by private farmers (Baguiménda/Koulikoro)

Table 5 summarizes the general availability of resources required for IIA activities in Mali. The IIA systems with the most potential for successful development include:

1. Intensive rice-fish culture in large irrigated perimeters. Rice-fish farming has considerable potential in Mali. However, this mission also noted that farmers were hesitant to practice integrated rice-fish culture. Members of the Fish Farmers’Association of the Office du Niger stated that they are not interested in pursuing intensive rice-fish culture because of limited access to irrigated land suitable for rice production, the type of irrigation engineering used to create their rice paddies (which may not be conducive to fish production), and fear of losing the fertility of their rice paddies. Water availability, the short production cycle of rice, and the market requirements for large fish were also mentioned as constraints to rice-fish integration.

Rice is the principal source of income for many farmers, even before onions. However, farmers already capture wild fish in their rice paddies and in seasonal flood plains (approximately 25 kg/ha). FAO staff in the country were skeptical of the economic viability of rice-fish culture, and the staff of the Office du Niger do not encourage the integration of aquaculture with rice in their irrigation schemes. However, given the large area in which irrigated rice culture is practiced and the fact that capture of fish in rice fields is a traditional practice (albeit on a limited scale), this system could have a lot of potential if constraints are addressed.

2. Traditional aquaculture in seasonal ponds, associated with gardening and animal husbandry. Miller (2000) suggested that the demonstration of artisanal marsh aquaculture should be promoted with improved stocking techniques, specifically in Dagawomina and Gnimitongo. The IIA team supports this recommendation, with the additional potential to develop and improve water storage and management in seasonal ponds and borrow pits. According to reports from the SPFS, fish culture activities in Mopti are centered on improvements to seasonal ponds (mares) and borrow pits. More than 10 villages in Mopti are involved in improvements to dikes in seasonal ponds. The benefits of these seasonal ponds include not only water storage and fish, but also the production of forage grasses (Echinochloa stagnina) and vegetables. These villages have organized co-management committees, as well as women’s gardening and fish marketing groups (Bamba and Kienta, 2000).

3. Aquaculture in recessional flood plains (closing off water evacuation routes and trapping fish and water). Although the team did not visit systems where recessional flood plains were being exploited, the use of recessional flood plains for fish, vegetable and cereal production as well as animal husbandry production is a common farming system practiced in Mali, especially in the Niger River Delta. If low cost techniques could be developed to improve these traditional systems, both the degree of integration and the benefits of production could be increased.

IIA opportunities

There are quite a number of successful but unpublicized aquaculture activities that have been launched in the country which should be publicized widely. Aquaculture in irrigation systems could become an important component in the second phase of the SPFS.

Sanni and Juanich (2001) also reported several opportunities for the development of IIA activities, including:

The current team identified the following additional opportunities and factors which favor the development of IIA activities:

1. Interest
People in Mali eat a lot of fish, natural fish production has decreased and is erratic, and important numbers of professional fishermen exist. The diversification of agricultural and economic production and increased irrigation capacity is a priority both for the government and the local population.

2. Water
The Niger and Senegal Rivers and floodplains, the Sankanri, and the dams at Manantali and Selingué provide significant water resources and immense irrigation potential. Moreover, unlike Senegal, most of these water resources can be exploited using gravity-flow irrigation systems. Water is a priority for the government, and the government has attached particular importance to the irrigated perimeters created by parastatals.

Table 5. Availability of essential resources required for IIA activities.

ActivityResources and inputs requiredAvailabilitySourceCost
AquacultureWaterMares, borrow pits, irrigated perimetersVariable
LaborMen, women, fishermenCFAF1000/day
LandRural Development AgenciesCFAF60 000/ha/year
FingerlingsWild in natural watersCFAF20 ea
ToolsLocal markets, importsVariable
(but expensive)
Rice and cotton processingCFAF300 – 5 000/kg
InformationlimitedMolodo Fish StationTransport
IrrigationWaterRivers, seasonal ponds, borrow pits, irrigated perimeters, groundwater sourcesCFAF60 000 per ha per year (average)
Land improvement
(but expensive)
Consultants, DNAER, Irrigated perimetersVariable1
PumpsPrivate sector, NGOs, importsVariable
Spare partsPrivate sectorVariable
FuelPrivate sectorCFAF350/liter
InformationIrrigation schemes; governmentFree

1 SPFS documents indicated costs up to CFAF4 000 000 to improve seasonal pond irrigation systems in Mopti (SPFS, 2000).

3. Economics
Fish, cotton and onions are important exports in Mali. Cotton and onion production require irrigation and/or water management, and aquaculture could be integrated into their production systems. The devaluation of the CFA Franc, and the importance of regional fish markets make the products of IIA activities particularly attractive in Mali.

4. Knowledge
All irrigated perimeters have staff responsible for extension. Moreover, irrigation practices and perimeters have been around for some time, and there is a critical mass of irrigation knowledge and expertise in the country. In addition, Malians are some of the most successful fishermen in the region, and have significant capture fisheries knowledge, which could be exploited and transformed for aquaculture systems.

5. Institutional opportunities
Mali is a member of numerous organizations which promote the management of aquatic and other natural resources, which indicates an interest on the part of government in improved natural resource management. The recent reorganization of fisheries activities from the DNFF to the DNAER, which is housed in the same ministry as agricultural extension staff, could also facilitate the development and implementation of IIA activities. Decentralization of the management of development activities to the local level also facilitates IIA evolution. In addition, numerous village management committees exist for the management of seasonal ponds and dams (e.g. in Sikasso, Kadiolo, Mopti), which are essential for IIA development.

6. Availability of inputs
Agricultural by-products including rice bran and cotton meal, and numerous fish species and wild fingerlings in natural water bodies are available.

IIA constraints

The constraints to IIA development can be grouped into technical, environmental, institutional and socio-economic.

Technical constraints include the challenge to develop low-cost technologies or make more profitable use of existing systems without increasing associated costs. The potential need to modify large-scale irrigation schemes to allow for mixed rice-fish culture is a significant constraint. In the past, sandy soils and high infiltration rates limited aquaculture development in some areas, but technicians have found that these problems are alleviated over time, and infiltration is currently only a problem in new or recently rehabilitated sites. Feed costs and the costs of intensifying production are also a challenge for poor farmers. Technologies should be developed which allow farmers to use feed and fertilization materials which are produced on-farm, or in the community.

Environmental constraints include sandy and rocky soils, insufficient rainfall in large parts of the country coupled with high evaporation rates as well as topographical limitations at many sites. Water supplies are unreliable in seasonal ponds particularly during drought years.

Socio-economic constraints include the large number of competing income generating activities available to farmers in irrigated perimeters, which could limit the time and interest farmers have in aquaculture. The size of the parcels given to families in large irrigated perimeters may be insufficient for combined production. In addition, difficulties inherent in working with migratory fishermen, and land tenure and access issues between fishermen and farmers, and between resources used by members of multiple communities could also pose problems. Theft by professional fishermen using nets at night was also mentioned as a constraint to the development of IIA activities. In some irrigated perimeters such as Banguimenda, family fish ponds have been completely abandoned due to theft.

On the institutional side, Mali is one of the few countries with no national fisheries programme or department. The Section d'Aménagement et Gestion des Ressources Halieutiques is only a section of the DNAER, housed within the Ministry of Rural Development. They are located outside the realm of most decision-making bodies, and have no one directly representing their interests to the authorities. Moreover, all fisheries infrastructures has been transferred to local communities with the implementation of decentralization policies. In addition, aquaculture knowledge, research and extension have been limited in Mali. The current lapse of funding for SPFS activities in Mali, and the existing lack of collaboration and coordination between SPFS and DNAER activities further constrain IIA development. Finally, some of the large irrigated perimeters do not permit the integration of aquaculture with rice culture in drainage canals due to fears that such systems could lead to blocked canals, or create drainage difficulties during harvest periods. Additional institutional issues include:

Recommendations for the development of IIA in Mali

IIA development in Mali should be seen in the context of the Africa Regional Aquaculture Review (FAO, 2000) which concluded to establish national development policies and an Aquaculture Development Plan in consultation with stakeholders, to reduce expensive and unsustainable aquaculture infrastructure, to promote and facilitate private sector production of seed and feed, to encourage credit for medium and large scale producers, to revise aquaculture extension (establishing a flexible and efficient structure to meet producers’needs), to advocate farmer-friendly existing technologies that use readily available culture species and local materials, and to facilitate the formation of farmers’associations.

Specifically for Mali, and based on additional information from Miller as well as Sanni and Juanich mission reports, there are opportunities for the integration of aquaculture particularly in marsh environments and in rice fields. Artisanal marsh aquaculture may be promoted in Dagawomina and Gnimitongo, while IIA in rice-fish systems has potential in Mopti, Koulikoro, and Kayes areas. The rice-fish integration can be done in an intensive way in irrigated rice areas under complete water control, whereas floods have to be managed in lowlands before promoting more intensive forms of integration there. Improved extensive rice-fish farming options exist particularly along waterways and in mangrove areas (provided that environmental considerations in these fragile cosystems are met). Development must be based on improved local knowledge and increased local capacity, and integrated pest management in rice needs to be advocated.

To achieve a wide adoption rate, participatory approaches should be used, and collaboration enhanced between NGOs, other donor funded initiatives, volunteer associations, community based organizations, women’s groups and research organizations involved in IIA activities. Subsidies should be avoided.

Further areas that deserve attention include the reduction of post harvest losses, especially in Mopti and Niono, the promotion of rural savings and credit options, the establishment of communications programmes with aquaculture success stories, and the provision of logistical support for aquaculture extension activities.

The Direction Nationale d'Aménagement et Equipement Rural (DNAER) of the Ministère du Développement Rural should focus on:

  1. Identification and training of DNAER staff in aquaculture and IIA, and increasing staff levels;
  2. Evaluation and follow-up of SPFS IIA activities, and feasibility studies to define priority IIA zones and sites;
  3. Development of a package of IIA technologies adapted to priority sites and systems (applied research);
  4. Harmonization of interventions between different development partners and actors; and increased collaboration between irrigation and aquaculture specialists and practitioners;
  5. Identification and training of public and private sector partners (farmers’organizations, extension staff, NGOS);
  6. Training of producers.

Support should be provided by external organizations such as FAO to reinforce the capacity of the DNAER to manage IIA activities in terms of administration, training, and extension/communication. A revitalized and reinforced SPFS Programme should also focus on IIA activities.


Mali has all of the essential resources necessary to produce large quantities of fish. Land, water, labor, fingerlings, inputs and indigenous knowledge of inland capture fisheries are available. However, there are opportunity costs associated with using each of these resources, and in many cases alternate uses of these inputs are more profitable than their use for aquaculture production. For example, land with year-round access to water and irrigated land can be used to produce cash crops such as vegetables, or subsistence crops like rice. Cash crops may generate several times more income per cubic meter of water than fish culture.

In areas which do not require water pumping, aquaculture may be more profitable, but water is not always available year round in those sites (generally seasonal ponds, borrow pits, recessional flood plains and lakes). Moreover, these sites do not always offer the potential for complete drainage of fishponds. There are also competing uses for water in these sites, including gardening and animal husbandry. These competing and generally more profitable uses of land and water require the development of innovative aquaculture systems which are not geared to the principal production of fish, but rather incidental or secondary fish production. The development of fish production in short cycle systems, using locally available, low cost techniques, which allows for the production of fish with minimal competition with other, more profitable exploitations is required.

More research needs to be done on the profitable production of local fish species, and on extensive aquaculture production systems and IIA systems in seasonal ponds and lakes. Competing uses of limited resources - especially water - needs to be taken into consideration. Aquaculture should be integrated into local farming systems, as well as irrigation systems.

References/Further reading

Bamba, A. & Kienta, M. 2000. Intégration irrigation-aquaculture, Etude de cas de Dagawomina/Mopti. Rapport de mission. Bamako (Mali), FAO/PSSA.

Coche,A.G. 1998. Supporting aquaculture development in Africa: Research Network on Integration of Aquaculture and Irrigation. CIFA Occasional Paper No. 23. Accra, FAO. 141 pp.

Collart, A. 1986. Les possibilités de développement de la pisciculture au Mali. Rapport de mission. Bamako (Mali),FAO.

DNAER. 1997. Schéma Directeur de Développement de la Pêche et de la Pisciculture. Bamako, Direction National de l'Aménagement et d'Equipement Rural, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l'Environnement. 61 pp.

DNAER. 2001. Aspects Socio-Economiques de la Pêche au Mali. Bamako, Direction National de l'Aménagement et d'Equipement Rural, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l'Environnement/ Unité de Coordination National du PMEDP. 15 pp.

FAO. 2000. Africa Regional Aquaculture Review. Proceedings of a Workshop held in Accra, Ghana, 22–24 September 1999. CIFA Occasional Paper 24. Accra, FAO. 50 pp.

Kelepily, M. 2001. La pisciculture extensive dans les cercles de Sikasso et Kadiolo: contraintes et perspectives. Mémoire de fin de cycle présenté pour l'obtention du Diplôme de l’IPR/FRA de Katibongou. Katibongou (Mali).

Kienta, M. 2001. Formation en pisciculture villageoise (extensive) site PSSA de Mopti/Mali (Dagawomina et Gnimitongo). Rapport de mission. Bamako (Mali), FAO/PSSA.

Kone, S. & Sangono, B. 2000. Rapport de l'atelier de formation des agents et partenaires du PSSA en diagnostic partifipatif et initiation à l'analyse socio-économique selon le genre (ASEG), tenu à Kangaba du 06 au 15 novembre 2000. Bamako (Mali). 63 pp.

Miller, J. 2000.Mission for Integrated Irrigation Aquaculture. Sénégal, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Mission report, December 1999 - January 2000. Rome, FAO. 76 pp. (unpublished)1.

Moehl, J.F., Beernaerts, I., Coche, A.G., Halwart, M. & Sagua, V.O. 2001. Proposal for an African network on integrated irrigation and aquaculture. Proceedings of a Workshop held in Accra, Ghana, 20–21 September 1999. Rome, FAO. 75 pp.

Projet développement pisciculture Mali. 1992a. Rapport de synthèse sur le test de pisciculture dans les zones d'Emprunts du périmètre de Sélingue. Région de Sikasso, Mali (86/011-PNUD/FAO). Bamako (Mali), FAO.

Projet développement pisciculture Mali. 1992b. Compte Rendu des Travaux du 1er Atelier du Projet de Pisciculture tenu à Sélingue du 13 au 15 août 1992. Région de Sikasso, Mali (86/001/ PNUD/FAO). Bamako (Mali), FAO.

PSSA. 2000. Rapport de l'atelier de formation des agents et partenaires du PSSA en diagnostic participatif et initiation à l'analyse socio-économique selon le genre (ASEG), tenu à Kangaba du 06 au 15 novembre 2000. Bamako, Programme Spécial pour la Sécurité Alimentaire, Ministère du Développement Rural and FAO.

Sanni, D. & Juanich, G. 2001. Etude de faisabilité de la rizipisciculture en Afrique de l'Ouest. Rapport principal, 87 pp. (unpublished).

SPFS. 1999. Agroecological zones in Mali. Bamako, Special Programme for Food Security.

SPFS. 2000. Fiche d'Information (GCSP/MLI/022/ NET). Bamako, Special Programme for Food Security. 25 pp.

Van der Mheen, H. 1996. Feasibility study for integrating aquaculture and irrigation at the pilot sites of the Special Programme for Food Security in Zambia. Mission report (26 November–1 December 1996). Harare, FAO/SPFS. 24 pp.

Van der Mheen, H.1997. Integrated small scale irrigation and aquaculture. Mission report. Harare, FAO/Fisheries Programme. 52 pp.

Van der Mheen, H. 1999. Adoption of integrated aquaculture and irrigation. A study conducted in Zambia and Tanzania. ALCOM Working Paper 23. 18 pp.

1 A modified version of this report is included in this volume (see Chapter 5).

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