Economy & Industry

Agriculture is dominant

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world and is on the United Nations list of 48 ‘Least Developed Countries’. Over half the population survive on less than a dollar a day.

Working in the fieldThough much of its land is desert or semi-desert, farming is the country’s main activity. In drier regions, Malians raise goats, sheep and cattle, often living a nomadic lifestyle. In the wetter south, farmers are mainly subsistence growers, cultivating the food they need. But some crops – such as peanuts and maize - are grown for money.

The most important cash crop is cotton. Thanks to the fertile areas along the River Niger, Mali is a key cotton producer. Cotton is the top-earning agricultural export, earning the country over 200 million dollars in revenue each year.

Gold exports

Gold is also extremely important to the economy, accounting for over two-thirds of exports. Mali is the third largest exporter of gold in Africa, producing over 45,000 tonnes of the metal each year.

Around 4,000 tonnes of gold is extracted annually by lone or ‘artisan’ miners.

The largest mines are at Sadiola and Loulo in western Mali, with a number of other key mining sites across the country.

Other natural resources in Mali include salt, marble and limestone. But these are extracted in fairly small quantities.

Trade deficit

It's a fact...

Mali’s economy has benefitted from debt relief programmes, but the country is still heavily reliant on foreign aid.

Though Mali has key exports such as cotton and peanuts, the country has to import many of the goods it needs, such as machinery and petrol. This means that Mali suffers from a ‘trade deficit’, where it spends more money on buying goods than it earns.

The construction of five dams (Markala, Sotuba, Selingue, Felou and Manantali) has helped to increase supplies of hydro-electric power, reducing Mali’s requirement for imported oil.