Long-term change in the Malian Sahel: portrait of Dlonguebougou village

IIED is documenting social and environmental change in the village of Dlonguebougou, in central Mali. The research will examine transformations to land use, people, and livelihoods in this dryland region over 35 years.

April 2016 to October 2017

A interactive Google map showing the location of the village of Dlonguebougou: zoom in or out to explore the area

Dlonguebougou, a rural community in the dryland region of central Mali, has experienced significant change in the last 35 years.

This project, being carried out by IIED senior fellow Camilla Toulmin in the village where she carried out her doctoral fieldwork from 1980-82, explores growing pressures on land, shifts to farming systems, increasing scarcity of pasture, and rising tensions between herding and farming groups.

What IIED is doing

A combination of field-level enquiry and satellite imagery are being used to explore the cause of increases in land pressure, and engage with the population on how they might develop more sustainable patterns of land use.

Rainfall data will be compared over the last 35 years, and rainfall variability will be discussed with farmers as one of the factors that bring good or bad harvest. Soil fertility and labour invested in weeding are other major factors being examined.

Taking a wider landscape approach allows for an understanding of the impacts of national policies on the region. The government is promoting the expansion of irrigated sugar-cane some 40km away. This is pushing hundreds of farmers into Dlonguebougou's territory, creating land shortage and growing conflict.

The research will also look at the impact of a new law that is designed to secure land rights of rural communities.

Growing population, growing households

Surveys and interviews are being used to compare population numbers, patterns of settlement, and household organisation.

The research explores the continued significance of very large domestic groups. These households combine being a farming business, providing for food, shelter and raising of children, and offering a way in which people protect themselves against the risks of illness, and old age. The average household size in Dlonguebougou is now 33 people, a doubling since 1980, with more than 100 people living and working together in some of the largest domestic groups. 

Diagram showing growing population and changing household sizes in the village

Interviews with migrants who have left the village to go and live in the capital Bamako provide insights into decisions to try a new life elsewhere, and the continuing importance of their village-based roots.

Changes in assets, consumption patterns and broader livelihoods are explored through a range of methods, and show a large increase in disposable income, and major investments in solar energy. As in many other parts of Africa, mobile phones have become very widespread.

The figure below shows the big increase in solar panels, over the period 2000-16.

Graph showing investment in solar panels in Dlonguebougou 2000-2016

Other significant transformations over the last 35 years include the abandonment of customary religion and the building of a mosque, the building of a village school and clinic, and the establishment of elected local government.

Outputs from the research will include a book on 35 years of change in the Malian Sahel, and two journal articles on land use change and the significance of large household size as a risk-sharing mechanism for Sahelian communities.


    The Open Society Foundation 

    The Binks Family Trust


    Near East Foundation, Mali


    Camilla Toulmin (camilla.toulmin@iied.org), Senior fellow, Climate Change research group