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Interview with Bakary Kone about the Inner Niger Delta (Mali)


This article "Issues in the Inner Niger Delta: Interview with Bakary Kone, Director of Wetlands International Mali Office" is published in the book 'The Ecosystem Promise' by Meindert Brouwer.

The flow of the Niger River is expected to decrease. What will be the consequences for the Inner Niger Delta?

As there will be less flooded area in the Inner Niger Delta, less rice can be grown and livestock and fishing will decrease. I expect a high rate of mortality of migratory water birds, hunting pressure will increase. People will move to other parts of Mali or to neighboring countries, in search for a better life. 

Do you think the decrease of the river flow can be lessened? If so, how?

Yes, it can be lessened by 
a) Improving the management of existing dams, instead of building new dams.
b) Improving the efficiency of irrigating rice and sugar cane fields. Currently Office du Niger is using 32,000 m³/ha from the Niger River instead of the required of 7,000 - 15,000 m³/ha)

c) Extending the management committee of water resources of the Niger River. All users should be represented, farmers, cattle breeders and fishermen. Communities located downstream, big infrastructures and civil society should have more voice.

Wetlands International uses the bio-rights micro-credit scheme. Is it working?

Here the main target and beneficiary groups of bio-rights funds are women. A number of women who had no income at all, now earn 6 to 9 euro per month. They have developed vegetable gardens and have been engaged in the restoration of 27 hectares of flood forests. They have more food for their children now. If the bio-rights micro-credit scheme would be scaled up to the entire country, it would not only reduce rural poverty but also promote restoration and conservation of wetland ecosystems and its biodiversity.

What is the significance of the flood forests in the Inner Niger Delta?

During floods the forests are the main production areas of fry for the Inner Niger Delta. There small fishes can grow well as they feed on big amounts of feces dropped into the water by colonies of water birds. Dead wood of flood forests is used to smoke fish or to cook. The forests provide high quality forage for livestock, shelter for boatmen when it storms and shade during the dry season. They are a refuge for fauna, the few remaining hippos use the flood forests as a nursery. 

Acacia kirkii and Ziziphus sp are the main trees in the flood forests, they are marketed. The gum of the Acacia kirkii is highly valued for its therapeutic properties. The flood forests serve as sources of fruit. However, the trees of the flood forests are also a breeding place for seed-eating passerines that cause crop damage. People call the flood forests their ‘local banks’ because of their great social, cultural, economic and biodiversity values. Nineteen flood forests have disappeared or have dried out due to destruction by people and climate change. Seventeen flood forests are still present and two new ones have been discovered.

Population growth puts pressure on the environment. Birth control seems important to safeguard the Inner Niger Delta. What is your opinion?

One and a half million people fully depend on the natural resources of the Inner Niger Delta. The population growth rate in the delta is similar to that of Mali as a whole, 2.43%, which is high. The population growth in the Inner Niger Delta is one of the main causes of the degradation of its natural resources. In spite of this, the people will have difficulties to accept birth control for social and cultural reasons. From my point of view birth control will surely contribute significantly, lessening the speed of degradation of natural resources such as fish. Nowadays, it is difficult to catch a fish older than one year, because of the growing number of fishers and the use of prohibited fishing techniques.

What does the Inner Niger Delta mean to you personally? 

During the last 15 years the IND has been my passion and it will remain to be so for the rest of my life. It is a source of inspiration to me; it’s like a complex library which is alive. Every time I visit the IND, I get relaxed, I discover new things and I feel more natural.


Bio-rights is an innovative financing mechanism which provides micro-credits for sustainable development to poor communities in return for their active involvement in the protection of the natural environment. Successful community involvement leads to conversion of micro-credits into definite payments, enabling sustainable development and environmental conservation to go hand in hand.


The Inner Niger Delta

The Inner Niger Delta in Mali is a 3,000,000 hectares wetland area not far from the Sahara, consisting of flood plains, lakes, river branches and small pockets of flood forest. Classified as a Ramsar site in 2004, it is of extraordinary importance for a large range of water dependent plant and animal species.
The main ethnic groups in the region include Fulani (who are cattle breeders), Bozo and Somono (both fishermen) and Bambara and Rimaibe (who are farmers). Altogether some 1.4 million people depend on these floodplains for their daily resources and ecosystem services. Socio-economic activities include agriculture, livestock, fisheries, picking of fruits, handicraft, navigation, tourism and trade.
Its main threats are bad water management planning, including infrastructure such as dams, and pollution and climate change. Most climate scenarios indicate less rain in the Sahel, and all recent climate research indicates an increase of the temperature there. The river flow of the Niger is expected to decrease. This will have strong impacts on the livelihoods of the Delta’s inhabitants. The Inner Niger Delta is part of the 4,200 kilometers Niger River catchment, which flows through 10 countries before discharging in the Atlantic Ocean.


Communications and Media Coordinator

Wetlands International Africa

Phone: +221 33 869 16 81


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