Connecting Small Farmers to Big Markets in Mali


In 2005, Tree Aid and Sahel Eco collaborated to address market-access issues confronting Malian farmers through the Mali Shea Tulu project. As Mali is one of the largest countries in Africa, farmers and producers are often located far from commercial centers. This logistical challenge limits producers’ ability to identify buyers for their products and often makes them reliant upon local distributors, who can take a substantial cut from producers’ sales. To address this, Tree Aid and Sahel Eco began to offer a mobile phone service for Shea producers. Ostensibly, producers contact Sahel Eco in Bamako, who then advertise their products over the radio and in local newspapers. Buyers are directed to phone the rural producers directly. This innovative connection allows rural Malian farmers to negotiate directly with buyers and identify the best prices for their goods.

mali shea tulu projectThis service an excellent example of how technology can assist in the process of overcoming poverty. By allowing farmers to connect directly with buyers, they are allowed to set terms more favorable terms for their products. At the same time, buyers can identify suppliers in new communities without the added costs of conducting an exploratory expedition. The simplicity of this system makes it easy to replicate in other areas. Applications can be made in any number of sectors where producers struggle to reach markets for their goods. Economists, especially those of the “trade-not aid” school, argue that these types of innovations are what is going to raise the quality of live in the Global South.

Sahel Eco received a grant from The Funding Network for this project. Without charging farmers or buyers for their marketing services, its hard to see how this project could remain feasible in the long-term. A dues paying service or a percentage of sales would address this but each presents its own complications. The notion of connecting farmers with buyers does offer a certain independence but comes with its own insecurities. Buyers often demand quality assurances that may raise prices for both parties. While this project has changed the economic outlook for many farmers, there are gaps that need to be addressed.

To find out about more ways telecommunications are changing the the international development landscape, have a look at this health project in Bangladesh and this agricultural education project.

Developed by

Tree Aid and Sahel Eco

The information from this article came from a Nourishing the Planet article by Kim Kido.

Eric Pires

Eric Pires

Eric Pires is a writer and co-founder of Innovate Development. He has worked in various sectors in Latin America and is currently working in Antigua, Guatemala.


  1. Comment from Tree Aid via Facebook “Hi Eric thanks for sharing this with us! We’re still working in the area, but not specifically on shea production programmes. In Tominian, we are now focusing on natural resource management, particularly in field systems. Helping communities master new techniques in terms of nursery production, grafting and planting.”

  2. Hello, I’m glad to hear it. Here is another project we covered that be of interest to you.

  3. Hello! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project
    in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

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