Beige background

Project information: Mali Food security

    Irrigation increases the harvests of smallholders

    Responsible use of water

    Map of Mali

    As of: 10/2022
    Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has dealt with violent conflicts throughout the northern and central parts of the country since 2012. The situation remains unstable. It is more important than ever to improve people’s living conditions for the long term. This reduces poverty, offers new perspectives and strengthens resilience against external influences and climate change. This is why KfW is promoting an extensive small-scale irrigation programme in Mali on behalf of the German Federal Government and other international donors. If agriculture is expanded and run more productively, Mali will have the potential to contribute sustainably to the food supply in the entire Sahel region. Responsible use of water will play a central part in this.

    Project titleSupporting the national programme for sustainable, small-scale agricultural irrigation projects
    Commissioned byGerman Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
    Project partnersDirection Nationale du Génie Rural

    Current situation

    Several people running across a field
    Plants for small-scale irrigation increase the rice harvests in Mali.

    Mali ranked 184th out of 189 countries in 2019 in the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Over half of the population lives below the poverty line, and one-third is chronically undernourished. At the same time, Mali has achieved average economic growth of around 5% in recent years. Nevertheless, the country is slow in its efforts to reduce poverty. This is due to institutional weaknesses at municipal, regional and national level as well as population growth in rural areas standing at over 3% per year. In addition, the political situation in the country remains very tense. Violence breaks out time and again, especially in the northern and in central parts of the country.

    Yet the potential is there: agriculture is Mali’s most important economic sector. Three-quarters of the population work in agriculture. However, due to the consequences of climate change and strong population growth, smallholder families in Mali are increasingly unable to secure their livelihoods. Mali has large water reserves, especially in the dry central and northern parts of the country as well as along the Niger river. Targeted irrigation has the potential to increase the usable agricultural area fivefold.

    Project approach

    In order to significantly increase the amount of land used for agriculture, the Mali government adopted the National Programme for Small-Scale Irrigation at the beginning of 2012. As part of the programme, KfW is financing various projects on behalf of the German Federal Government to improve crops through small-scale, sustained irrigation, to enhance the living conditions of people in rural areas and hence instil new confidence in local, regional and national structures, which is an essential condition for stable relationships.

    The population is closely involved in the changes. Farmers contribute to the financing by making a personal contribution and by working on the new construction projects. This ensures that the support measures will meet their needs. Due to the tense situation, support is also provided for local and regional councils that help to allocate usable land fairly and prevent or diffuse conflicts as much as possible. Cultural characteristics and customs are taken into account.

    Women are given particular attention in the programmes because, while they play a key role in Malian agriculture, they are traditionally at a disadvantage. They have less access to land, markets and finance. The projects involve women in all decision-making bodies and they receive a pre-determined proportion of the newly irrigated areas. This strengthens their position in society and benefits the whole family, as women now contribute significantly to household incomes.

    The complex agreements are recorded in writing in each village before construction on the actual small-scale irrigation projects starts. Agreements and contracts are systematically concluded between the construction companies, the population and the municipalities responsible for farming the land. These agreements define the parties, their responsibilities and how the investments are to be managed later. In order that people can actually perform their part of the agreement, they receive training in irrigation management, cultivation techniques or maintenance of structures and motor pumps. This has a positive side effect, as it also promotes literacy among the adult population.


    Through the small-scale irrigation programme, KfW, on behalf of the German Federal Government, is contributing to increasing Mali's food production and to diminishing still prevalent malnourishment. The entire range of irrigation options is implemented. Pumps and channels are used to irrigate the fields. Natural floodplains are used to retain water for periods when the water level in the river is low or when the rains do not come. The retention basins also help groundwater to accumulate. Floodplains, dams and vegetable gardens irrigated from shallow wells are some of the measures that KfW is financing. Erosion control is also enhanced to prevent the fertile soil from being washed away by the rain. New or renovated roads, tracks and storehouses help improve the marketing of agricultural products.

    The successes so far

    • Between 2014 and 2020, the area of newly gained or rehabilitated agricultural land grew by close to 60,000 hectares. Around 150,000 smallholder family-owned farms with over 700,000 people have benefited from these new areas.
    • The total food production from these farms is three to four times higher, with annual incomes rising by as much as 30%.
    • The nutritional status of children in the project areas has improved significantly and families are better cushioned against the extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.

    The project contributes to the achievement of these following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:


    KfW Group
    KfW Development Bank

    Biodiversity, Agriculture and Water West Africa

    KfW Office Bamako

    Transparency Portal

    Disclosure of our data regarding Development Financing - sorted by countries, sectors and results.

    Our partner countries

    We support development programmes and thus future perspectives in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Southeast Europe.


    Here you will find our evaluation results, general business publications as well as all specialist publications by topic and series.