By UNDP Mali
On a spring day in southwest Mali, a group of Malian women holding corners of a blue and turquoise cloth turn their heads to the sky. In seconds, the green mangoes that hang from the tree branches above will be prodded by a stick, knocking them into the colorful cloth.
Anyone who has tried a Malian mango will say it is one of the world’s tastiest fruits. The demand for mangoes worldwide has never been higher, but insect-plagued harvests have prevented Mali from exporting its prized commodity to European markets.
With help from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other international agencies, however, Malian mango orchards have been treated to eliminate the insects and meet international export standards. As a result, mango exports reached 12,676 tons in 2008, up from 2,915 in 2005, and generated US$30 million in additional revenue for the West African country.
Some experts believe Mali has the capacity to export more than 80,000 tons of mangoes each year – an expansion that would make the fruit Mali’s top income-generating crop, alongside cotton.
Aside from being one of Mali's most promising industries, the mango trade also has a gender dimension, as many of the people who work in the mango orchards and sell the mangos at market are women. For this reason, women's cooperatives are common in the country.
Also common are women who once relied solely on cotton production for their income, but have now diversified into mango farming. As more women earn extra money from mangoes, they are able to support their children’s education (school enrollment has risen in families where women work in the mango industry) and put money into other income-producing endeavors, such as goods-trading.
Despite the brevity of Mali's mango season, which lasts from April to July, the four-month period has become much anticipated and heavily monitored.
Currently, UNDP is helping to operate an electronic sales system in France, from where the consumer price for Malian mangoes is text-messaged directly to Mali in real time. The updates give Mali’s mango producers a more precise indication of market conditions in an important foreign country.