PHOTO ESSAY: Mali’s road to recovery

Mali
Food
Conflict
Society
Market sellers, Mali

Women selling sauces and pastes in Bandiagara market. © Irina Mosel

For the last two years Mali has experienced devastating armed conflict waged by separatists in the north, Islamic groups, the Malian military and international forces. At the peak of the crisis, over half a million people had fled from the violence, and 3.5 million people were going hungry – nearly half of whom were at risk of starvation. The crisis is far from over: insecurity continues, over 200,000 remain displaced within and beyond Mali and 1.9 million people are still without enough food.

But despite the ongoing insecurity, people are surviving – many of them through the vibrant markets in Mali. Triumphing over the constant risk of violence, closed trade routes and dwindling food supplies, these market traders have managed to adapt their trade to bring much needed food and opportunities to their community.

Only 10 per cent of the land on the Bandiagara plateau is suitable for cultivation. A severe lack of rain meant that many villages were only able to produce a very small amount of produce this year.

It’s not clear when Mali will be able to fully recover from the devastation of war, drought and food shortages. But there is no doubt that these markets and the entrepreneurial traders will be key to recovery in many villages across the country.

Irina Mosel

A woman sells rice in Bandiagara market

During the war, Bandiagara found itself cut off from the regular rice trading routes to and from northern Mali and Algeria. For three months, traders struggled to bring in any rice from the north of the country, which saw the heaviest fighting. Rice is now coming into the area, but in smaller amounts. Traders have adapted to take on additional business, such as selling shoes imported from Burkina Faso, to boost and diversify their income.

Irina Mosel

A trader brings shallots from a surrounding village to Bandiagara town on market day

Shallots and onions are an important source of income across the Sahel, while grains like millet and sorghum are mostly produced to be eaten locally. Normally farmers can cultivate up to three cycles of shallots per year. But this year the lack of rain and continuing conflict has meant that most will only be able to produce one cycle – a real blow to their yearly income.

One of the first female livestock traders in Bandiagara

Irina Mosel

This woman was one of the first female traders to start importing livestock from the north to the Bandiagara region. She lost everything when her store in Gao market, where she kept several tonnes of produce, burnt down during the hostilities in 2012.

She is now trying to recover her business and starting again from scratch, though many of the people she used to do business with in the north are no longer there. In order to make ends meet and restock her assets, she is now also selling fruit and vegetables at the market.

Irina Mosel

Horse trader in Garoule village

War in the north and the food crisis have hit livestock traders hard – animal feed prices skyrocketed and animal vaccines, normally supplied from the north, were hard to come by. Cows, sheep, goats and donkeys all became undernourished and could only fetch half the normal asking price. Many livestock traders have had to abandon their businesses.

Market day in Garoulé market, a village located on the plains below the cliffs of Bandiagara

Irina Mosel

During the conflict, people were scared to use their normal trade routes to Mopti to buy sugar, rice and milk, and to sell the millet they cultivate. Instead, people were forced to rely on traders who would occasionally travel along the road from Burkina Faso.

Irina Mosel is a researcher with the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) at the Overseas Development Institute and can be followed on twitter @IrinaMosel. This photo essay is part of HPG’s research into Markets in crises and transitions and a forthcoming paper will continue to explore these issues in Mali.