SEGOU, Mali – Irrigated farmland near the Niger River should be the breadbasket of drought-plagued Mali.
But a lack of infrastructure, political instability, climate change and botched foreign investment deals mean the region, and the country as a whole, isn't living up to its potential.
More than 70 percent of Malians rely on farming to earn a living and feed themselves, but nearly 2 million people in the West African country don't get enough to eat, according to the World Food Programme.
In south-central Mali, a region known as the Office Du Niger is greener than much of the rest of the country because of its proximity to the Niger River and the Markala irrigation dam built by French colonialists in the 1930s. It is here where the Malian government signed a series of large land deals with foreign investors.
Supporters of these investments believe they will help boost production by bringing money and skills into the region. Critics say the deals are land grabs by foreigners backed by corrupt politicians who aren't looking out for the best interests of Malians.
In one of the largest land deals – the Malibya project – Mali offered 100,000 hectares in the Office du Niger to the Libyan government under late leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Since Gaddafi's ouster in 2011, and Libya's descent into chaos with rival militias feuding for control over the state and its large foreign assets, development of the project has stalled.
Several thousand farmers living in the concession area worry foreign investors might throw them off their ancestral lands if stability returns to Libya.