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Trees outside Forests: Mali

Harouna Yossi and Amadou Malé Kouyaté
Forest Resources Programme, Institute of Rural Economy, Bamako

Photo 55. Growing millet on a sheanut (Vitellaria paradoxa) agroforestry parkland in Mali. (© Cossalter/Cirad)


Mali covers a total area of 1 240 000 km2, with a population of some 10 million people, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas. Mali's agricultural lands cover an estimated 33 517 031 ha (CPS, 1998), and forest domain another 100 million hectares, including 32.3 million ha of tree formations (Sidibé, et al., 1998). There are several million ha of village plantations (FTPP/SSA Mali, 1999), and 15 000 ha of fruit and market garden crops (ESSOR, 1999).

Natural resource management has been hampered by the virtual mining of the natural resource base that occurred in the past, coupled with people's mistrust of some of the earlier legislation. The opening of dialogue between the Government of Mali and its people in March 1991 was a positive step toward devolution, the transfer of power to local levels, and legislative review, particularly of the Forest Code. Among the constraints to enhanced development of woody resource production systems and maintenance are: demographic pressure, agricultural intensification, herd increase and the advance of the desert. In this context, agroforestry parklands are attracting great interest.


In Mali, the concept of Trees outside forests covers all multi-purpose trees growing on village lands that can improve soil fertility, check erosion on croplands, fix soils, provide fodder, wood, fruit, shade and products for medicinal use, and offer recreational and scenic benefits.

Agricultural parklands make up some 39 percent of Mali's land area. These systems are the major agricultural landscape in the Sahel, Sudanian and northern Guinean climatic zones. Other non-forest tree systems include fruit orchards (primarily mango and citrus), linear plantings and living fences, which provide protection, fodder and fruit, help to check erosion, and mark boundaries4 . There are also village plantations of fast-growing species5 and village forests consisting of plantations and remnants of natural forest.

Patterns and extent of change

Factors exerting increasing pressure on natural resources and driving resource exploitation in the last half-century include population expansion, the introduction of draft animal traction, herd increase and drought. Agriculture expanded and intensified, while fallow periods grew shorter, and nomadic herd movements altered. In the year 1952 in Lagassagou in the Bankass district (cercle), croplands represented 31 percent of the total land area, whereas by 1996 the figure had risen to 70 percent. A similar pattern of change was seen in the Koutiala cotton basin (Karembé et al., 1998). This was paralleled by a steadily southward search for pasture to feed the herds of nomadic pastoralists. These land-use changes in the agricultural and livestock production sectors entailed a reduction of natural forests and an expansion of the agroforestry parklands where useful species6 grow.

The Institute of Rural Economy (IER) and the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) have looked at the structures of these agroforestry parklands in two agro-ecological zones, the Mid-Bani Niger and the Gondo Plain. In the Mid-Bani Niger, 20 types of parkland covering 415 700 ha were identified, with shea trees predominating. In the Gondo Plain 17 parkland types were identified with faidherbia albida (kad) as the predominant species over an area of 387 700 ha (Yossi, 1999). These studies identified tree types and species coverage, but assessed neither resource production and dynamics nor local rural management techniques.

In semi-arid zones, agroforestry parklands now concern some 2.5 million people (Cissé, 1995). These resources fail to fully meet the demand for wood and non-wood products for lack of proper management. And yet their socioeconomic and environmental role is critically important. Parkland trees provide income, food, wood, fruit, traditional medicines, tannins and gums. They also supply forage, browse and veterinary products for the livestock sector, and help to maintain the balance of nature by enhancing soil protection, soil fertility and the conservation of plant genetic resources.

Particularly worthy of note is the contribution of fruit trees to food security and nutritional balance: 200 000 tons of mangoes from engrafted and 50 000 tons of fruit from grafted trees are produced each year (Reynes and Odoux, 1999). The vitamin C content of Tamarindus indica (tamarind) fruit and of Adansonia digitata (baobab) is very high. Baobab leaves (fresh or dried) and baobab seeds are both good sources of protein, vitamin A, calcium and iron. Vitelleria paradoxa (shea-nut) is protected by the Forest Code because of its high social, economic and ecological value. This species supplies an annual 60 000 t of kernels (Terpend, 1982), and has an estimated production potential of some 661 500 t (CECI, 1994). Other useful parkland trees are the locally very popular Borassus aethiopium (ronier) and Parkia biglobosa (néré), in addition to Acacia senegal, Acacia seyal, Sterculia setigera and Combretum spp from which gum arabic is extracted. The potential growing-area for gum trees is thought to be as much as 200 km2, or one-sixth the land area of Mali, with a hypothetical output of 100 000 t/yr.

The products of these non-forest trees are consumed locally, factory-processed, or exported. One study of the mango trade in the Sikasso region showed that 72 percent of the output was sold locally, 17 percent was transported to non-mango regions and 11 percent was exported (Coulibaly, 1999). The figures for shea-nut were 30 400 t of kernels, 2 500 t of unrefined oil and 2 300 t of refined oil exported from 1988-1992 (CECI, 1998). Gum Arabic exports amounted to 800 - 8 000 t/yr from 1971-1987. Exploitation of all these species is hindered by the poor performance of the fruit and vegetable processing sector, and generic marketing problems of the small-scale sector (Reynes and Odoux, 1999).

Trees outside forests also help to meet energy needs and other wood uses. From 1984-1986, total official wood output was estimated at 680 869 steres of fuelwood, 649 297 quintals of charcoal, and 59 345 m3 of construction and industrial wood. A total of 4 000 725 trees provided timber, including Borassus aethiopium, (ronier) Hyphaena thebaica (doum), Raphia sudanica and Bambusa spp. (CPS, 1998). Charcoal production is endangering tree resources and should be controlled. Charcoal produces the same amount of heat for the same cooking-time as fuelwood, but demands twice the number of trees. Additionally, specific rates have been established for assessing the leafy biomass of off-forest trees, a key factor in feeding livestock and maintaining soil fertility.

Institutional and Management Aspects

Forest legislation governing forest trees in forested areas and on farmlands comes under the Direction nationale de la conservation de la nature, DNCN, (formerly the forest service or Direction des eaux et forêts), which comes under the Ministry of Facilities, National Development, the Environment and Town Planning.

The devolution of authority and legislative revision launched in 1991 altered the patterns of decision-making. Territorial collectives and decentralized services acquired broader authority. The new Land and Forest Code made local territorial collectives responsible for forest management, natural resource management, and the maintenance of ecological equilibrium. By decree, a territorial collective could protect, wholly or partially, and on a temporary or permanent basis, any species acknowledged to be useful. Customary rights exercised collectively or individually over non-registered lands were to be inalienable, save in the case of public utility, and providing indemnification were made (MDRI, 2000). A communal council, working in cooperation with the competent services and farmers' associations, would be responsible for regulatory activities, in accordance with the law and local conventions.

Public and private agencies, such as the DNCN, IER, Rural Polytechnic Institute, and NGOs like Care Mali and the SOS Sahel UK have designed research and survey strategies for off-forest tree management and operations. They have worked to establish living fences for protection purposes, identify and extend citrus varieties, establish village plantations, and test and extend new techniques and practices. IER worked out a pruning method for shea trees to control parasitical mistletoe and enhance fallow land through the introduction of trees, thus fostering biological recovery (Yossi, et al., 1999). In regions where the Mali Textile Development Firm (CMDT) operates, techniques have been developed for the domestication of local fruit species7 . Under FAO's "Trees, Forests and People" Programme for Sub-Saharan Africa (TFPP/SSA), soil protection and reclamation, water conservation and fruit tree planting was carried out in Mopti by the Alamodiou, (traditional sociocultural village associations).

Farmers and pastoralists maintain and manage ecosystems in accordance with local rules and customs governing resource access and trade. This is true of shea-nut, néré, and kad (Acacia albida). In the area around Ségou, for example, pastoralists contract to supply milk to farmers one day out of three in return for the kad pods consumed by their stock. Other than these restricted species, the fruit of trees growing wild in parklands is free to all. Rural people undeniably possess a considerable body of skills and local knowledge. During clearing operations in southern Mali, peasants were able to identify fertile land by the type of trees growing there (Bagnoud, 1992). People living in the Upper Niger Valley use rock salt to foster baobab growth (Cissé, 1995).

Assessment and Planning

All plant formations including the agroforestry parklands have been inventoried (PIRL, 1990), and all wood resources assessed for planning and management purposes. Specific inventories of all vegetation in parkland areas, including fields and fallow, have also been done by IER, DNCN and Care Mali. A great deal of data have been collected, but unfortunately, most is too sectoral to permit interface with either soil and agricultural or socioeconomic issues (Cissé).

An experimental method of estimating wood volume was tested. The three trees closest to the centre of the inventory plot were identified and their horizontal distance from the centre of the plot measured (Kouyaté, 1995). Field staff in the Sikasso region found ground applications of this method to be rapid and practical. There were no empty plots, the spatial configuration of trees could be read, the equipment, consisting of a compass, rope and double decametre plus two or three tapes was minimal, and a very small team could do the job. The major constraints were the low readings on biodiversity and overestimation of the surface area. Still, the procedure might well prove useful for technical people and forest managers.

The Swiss Cooperation programme for sustainable management of natural resources developed a participatory approach to forest research for land-use planning purposes. Peasant skills, knowledge and reasoning are appraised for a comparison of their technical solutions with research proposals. This provides a framework for discussion and negociation, local associations meeting with technical partners for discussions followed by negotiations with various experts and representatives of the plant, community forestry, local conventions, classified forests and gender sectors. The results of the work and discussions are then presented to a regional council for further discussion.

Assessment of shea and néré parklands

In Mali, as in all countries with scant tree cover where desertification is a constant threat, all off-forest wood resources, including trees and other woody biomass, are vital. The future of tree cover is heavily dependant on widespread recognition and enhancement of the myriad functions of agroforestry parklands. These major challenges presume an understanding of parkland dynamics. This prompted an assessment to advance the state of knowledge of shea and néré parklands (Sénou and Bagnoud, 1998), determine any changes in terms of production systems, and, working closely with the local population, suggest ways of boosting productivity. The research team opted for a participatory approach to assessment. Working with the villagers, they first explained the scope and purpose of the assessment and then, with active village participation, gathered and processed the relevant data.

Two plots shapes, circular and square, were tested before starting the inventory. Circular plots offer greater species representivity where there are few trees, so these were used for fallow areas, whereas the time-saving square shape was used for fields.

In the fallow areas, all trees in a 1 500 m2 area were systematically included in the sample. The inventory threshold for shea and néré was one centimeter in circumference at 1.30 from the ground, and for other species 16 cm in circumference at 1.30 m from the ground. All trees of the same height but under 16 cm were also counted within a 300 m2 circle. For fields of up to 5 ha, all trees were systematically recorded on a one-hectare square plot with the centre taken as the middle of the field. Fields of 5-10 ha were divided into two lots, with a sample plot for each lot. Three plots were established for all fields over 10 ha.

The extent of parasitical growth was rated by the number of clumps of loranthacea (a hemi-parasite that stifles fruit productivity) growing on each tree. The sampling rate was 30.5% for fields and 13.5 percent for fallow.

The assessment data covered species density, diversity, extent of parasitism, and resource dynamics. Tree density in fields varied by agro-ecological zone. Density was greater in the southern guinean zone at 20-28 stems/ha, and lesser in the northern sudanian zone at 9-15 stems/ha in an area which had been intensively and constantly under cultivation during the last 20-40 years. Density was also greater in bushlands at 15-28 stems/ha than in village fields which had been cultivated over a longer period of time, and where density was 8-20 stems/ha. In fields, shea and néré are the commonest species, but néré is not found in fallow areas. Species diversity is greater at 11 - 40 species among trees growing in fields, as compared to the 15 - 19 species found on fallow land. The study did not, however, lead to the identification of species in other non-forest systems. Parasitism rates in shea trees ranged from 89-100 percent to 57-74 percent, depending on the survey area.

Concerning parkland dynamics, there was a clear regression of shea and néré due to the physical elimination of standing trees caused by bark removal. This trend was more accentuated where harvesting had gone on for a long time, and in the Koutiala cotton basin where there is little arable land and substantial agricultural investment. Baobab is the only species which is planted or maintained, and the sole agroforestry practice remains the living fences which protect and demarcate farmlands. In the northern guinean zone, farmers plant néré in their fields and carefully maintain universally valued species such as tamarind, Khaya senegalensis (cailcédrat), Sterculia setigera, Daniellia oliveri (santan), and Afzelia africana (lingué). In fallow fields far from villages, a high rate of regeneration of various species, with circumferences of 8-15 cm at 1.3 m from the ground, was recorded. However, spontaneous regrowth in fallow fields near habitations is systematically cut back. Generally speaking, shea regeneration is more intense in fallow fields, but the species is better developed and more productive in fields.

This assessment was followed by an on-farm trial of parasite control to establish resistant shea trees. This initiative was also extended to neighbouring villages in the target area. But unless concrete steps are taken to `educate' people to plant trees in their fields, the future of shea and néré parklands may well be jeopardized. The decentralization of natural resource management is a golden opportunity to skirt this reef, offering the best opportunity for motivating farmers to maximize the productivity of agroforestry parklands due to the enhanced value of their products.


In a country such as Mali where forest land is very scarce and trees are associated in the popular mind with parkland systems, there is bound to he heightened pressure on these areas to meet the growing demand for wood and non-wood products. In the face of advancing desertification, Trees outside forests not only combine an ecological role with a cultural role in the rural community, they are also an economic and social asset in the struggle to alleviate poverty and foster food security.


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4 The main species grown are Jatropha curcas, Ziziphus mauritiana, Ziziphus mucronata, Acacia nilotica, and Lawsonia inermis.

5 Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Gmelina arborea, Azadirachta indica. Parkia biglobosa, Anacardium occidentale and Vitellaria paradoxa are also current favourites.

6 Vitellaria paradoxa, Parkia biglobosa, Cordyla pinnata, Tamarindus indica, Pterocarpus orinaceus, Ficus gnaphalocarpa, Bombax constantum, Borassus aethiopium and Adansonia digitata.

7 Adansonia digitata, Vitellaria paradoxa, Parkia biglobosa, Ziziphus mauritiana, Sclerocarya birrea, Tamarindus indica, Prosopis africana, Pterocarpus erinaceus,etc.

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