Climate & Agriculture

Different climate zones

There are three climate zones across Mali:

i) the arid desert zone in the north, where daytime temperatures reach 50°C but can drop down to 5°C at night,

ii) the Sahel zone in the middle, which receives less than 500mm of rain each year and has daytime temperatures between 23°C and 36°C, and

iii) the Sudanic zone in the southern third of the country, where there is up to 1,400mm of rainfall annually and daytime temperatures vary between 24°C and 30°C.

The more southerly regions of Mali have a rainy season from June to October. During the dry season (November to June), the alize wind brings cooler weather from the northeast, dropping temperatures to a pleasant 25°C. But temperatures begin to rise again from February when the hot harmattan winds blow east from the Sahara.

‘River of rivers’

Although large areas of Mali are barren, the country is self-sufficient in food, largely thanks to the River Niger. The river crosses the dry savannah from the southwest and brings life to the country, providing irrigation for agriculture and plenty of fish. No wonder the name ‘Niger’ stems from the Berber ‘gber-n-igheren’, which means ‘river of rivers’.

The River Niger is the third-longest river in Africa. It rises in the rainforests of Guinea and flows eastwards, making a horseshoe bend through the Saharan region of Mali, before turning south and heading for its exit to the sea on the coast of Nigeria.

The central inland delta of the Niger (between Tombouctou/Timbuktu and Segou) is a key agricultural region, because of the rich alluvial soils here. The river also allows for irrigation areas, for example near the towns of Segou and Mopti.

Cotton is the main cash crop

Crops grown for domestic consumption include rice, millet, sorghum and maize. Livestock farming (cattle, sheep and goats) is practised across the Sahel region.

Cash crops include fruits such as mangoes and guavas, wheat and groundnuts/peanuts. Mali exports both peanut oil and shelled peanuts. But far and away the most important export cash crop is cotton.

What happens to a farmer’s cotton? After harvesting, the cotton is taken to a factory. Here, it is cleaned of any twigs or stones and passed through a carding machine, which has fine blades. These separate the fibres and remove any seeds or smaller particles of dirt. The fluffy cotton is then dried and pressed into bales, ready for selling.

Mali is also one of the largest producers of fish in western African. The inland Niger delta is an important fishing ground, though stocks are threatened by pollution and dam construction.