Malian Farmers’ Access to Fertilizer Is Challenged by COVID-19

Malian Farmers face greater difficulty accessing fertilizer during COVID-19

Supplying fertilizers to farmers on time is a fundamental element of any successful cropping season. In Mali, there are four main supply channels for fertilizer: 1) Office du Niger (ON) for irrigated rice farmers in the Delta du Niger; 2) Malian Company for the Development of Textiles (CMDT) for cotton farmers; 3) agro-input dealers authorized by the Regional Directorate of Agriculture for farmers who are eligible to subsidized fertilizer but are not in the ON and CMDT areas; and 4) agro-input dealers for unsubsidized fertilizer for all farmers. Nationwide, about 496 MT of fertilizer was applied in 2017/2018, most of it by cotton farmers (Kone et al. 2019). 

Cotton growers apply fertilizer not only to this important cash crop but to the cereals that are the mainstay of the Malian diet: millet, sorghum, maize, and rice. Further, the rotational effects of fertilizers on cereals are highly appreciated by the cotton-growing household who also consume and sell staple cereals. Access to the recommended amounts of fertilizer at the right time is a major concern of farming households. Challenges to access fertilizer have been deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic—in three ways

First, in the regions of the country served by the CMDT, access to fertilizer is tied to the hectares of cotton planted by the producer. The greater the cotton area they plant, the greater the amount of fertilizer on credit they are eligible to receive. Because of the world cotton market disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic between January and April 2020, cotton boycott led to reduced cotton area planted (see blog). By boycotting cotton cultivation, the majority of producers gave up their access to fertilizers on credit made available by the CMDT. Among those who planted cotton this year, most did not attain the minimum area necessary to achieve the income to repay the cotton credit and their fertilizer needs for cereal crops. Since cotton is the only cash crop at a guarantee price, low cotton areas mean low cotton revenues overall and lower capacity to reduce debt. 

Second, the method of paying for fertilizer has constrained access to this input by farming growers, both in rice and cotton production zones. Usually, access to fertilizer is made either through cash or credit payment. The credit payment method is the most commonly used by rice and cotton producers, because of the cash crop income availability and a guarantee at the level of the credit institutions. The cotton boycott has limited cotton revenues and therefore the reimbursement of bank credit. Many farmers were unable to access bank credit on their own.

The third factor affects not only cotton farmers but all other farmers who are eligible to subsidized fertilizer and who grow the starchy staples on which the population depends (maize, sorghum, millet, and rice). Each year, the credit of authorized fertilizer suppliers is paid by the national treasury as part of the fertilizer subsidy program. The COVID-19 pandemic has created extra public expenditures, including those aimed at slowing its rate and reducing its effects. These extra costs have strained the national treasury, delay the reimbursement of this credit. Cash flow difficulties have worsened, leading to a delay in the payment of invoices from fertilizer suppliers. In order to access their funds, fertilizer suppliers ceased fertilizer distribution to producers until overdue invoices had been paid. This withholding of fertilizers has slowed the supply of subsidized fertilizer to growers of maize, rice, sorghum and millet—the vast majority of farmers in the country. 

In conclusion, COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the access of smallholder farmers to fertilizer in Mali. Cotton producers have been heavily affected because less cotton hectares led to fewer access to fertilizer on credit. Also, key cereal crops, including rice, maize, sorghum, and millet, will suffer from the lack of access to fertilizer, notably through the subsidy program. All these challenges to access fertilizer would likely negatively affect yield and production for the 2020/21 crop year.


Koné, Y., Thériault, V. Kergna, A., Smale, M. (2019). La subvention des engrais au Mali : origines, contexte et évolution. Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy, nº142, Michigan MSU.

Koné, Y., Sissoko M., Thériault, V., Assima, A., Keita, N. 2020. Will the COVID-19 Pandemic Lead to a Cotton Crisis in Mali?


Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy -Mali Food Security Policy Research Program/ Projet de Recherche sur les Politiques de Sécurité Alimentaire au Mali (PREPOSAM)

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