Most poor farmers in Mali keep small ruminants as a main source of livelihoods. Hence, sheep and goats assets are key opportunities for smallholder small ruminant producers to not only engage in income generating activities enabling them to escape the poverty trap but also to consume animal source food they could not afford to buy.
At the national level, sheep and goats contribute to 22% of meat supply in Mali. Between 2001 and 2008, domestic goat meat supply has increased more than threefold with concomitant increases in goat meat prices that reflect a vibrant livestock subsector in Mali with high pro-poor potential if gains along the value chains are benefiting the majority of smallholder farmers small ruminant producers and other small ruminant value chains actors.
The small ruminant population has been estimated at 11.3 million and 15.8 million head for sheep and goats, respectively. Extensive pure pastoral systems with large flock sizes are found in marginal arid areas where low rainfall does not allow successful cropping. Extensive sheep and goat productions systems are also practiced in semi-arid areas (400–600 mm of rainfall) by sedentary rain-fed mixed crop–livestock farmers. A third sheep and goat production system is found in the interior Delta of Niger River. In this subsystem, small ruminants are moved out to the upland Sahelian pastures lands during the rainy season and return to flooded ‘bourgou’
pastures areas during the dry season.
All these pastoral low-input systems rely on family labour and on livestock mobility to adapt to seasonal feed and water shortages. On the other hand, sedentary mixed crop–livestock systems are either based on millet or irrigated rice production where sheep and goats are grazed on natural pastures with limited mobility.
Financially profitable investment in sheep fattening operations is involving an increasing number of farmers, including women, to diversify their income using home grown crop residues and purchased concentrates.
Prominent constraints to smallholder farmers keeping sheep and goats include insecure access to feeds (encroachment of cropping into grazing lands, land degradation) and water and exposure to risks (drought, animal diseases, price volatility) which translate into poor productivity and disincentives for further investment in livestock production. High pre-weaning mortality is a significant problem for herd growth and Peste de Petits Ruminants (PPR) is a threat in many areas.
Uptake of technical and organizational innovations which have been designed to address these constraints has been low because of the inadequate ‘push’ from the market in terms of the inputs and services required to support their adoption. Difficult access to animal health services is a persistent problem of small ruminant producers. In addition, limited small ruminant producers bargaining power, high transactions costs, and imperfections in financial and animal input/outputs markets prevent benefits along livestock value chain to trickle down to poor livestock keepers which in turn has an adverse effect on adoption of innovations.