Vast and landlocked in the Sahel region of West Africa, Mali has a rich cultural heritage of trading and nomadic pastoralism.
More than half of Mali is desert or semi-desert, but the winding River Niger offers a vital conduit for trade and agriculture.
When severe drought struck in 1973, many of Mali’s nomadic herders were forced into a sedentary lifestyle after losing cattle and are now based in permanent camps.
Half of the country’s population survives on less than US$1.25 a day and there are additional challenges from drought, flooding and locust epidemics.
Mali is one of Africa’s biggest cotton producers, but its farmers struggle with unfair competition from subsidised farmers in richer countries.
Malian children face a difficult journey to adulthood. Nearly one in four will die before the age of five. One in three suffer chronic malnutrition. Children are also vulnerable to being trafficked to neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire for work on cotton plantations.
Nomadic groups such as the Tuareg feel abandoned by politicians, and rebellions have erupted over land, cultural and linguistic rights, while competition for pasture has led to localised inter-tribal clashes.
A minority group (five per cent of the population), the Malian church can operate freely and is respected for its social witness.
In 2012, Mali is facing a major food crisis. A poor harvest in 2011 means that grain prices are on the increase and Tearfund is supporting partners to prepare the communities where they are working for a tough year ahead.
A key aspect of our work is building resilience to such events, through the use of grain banks, and by protecting crops with natural compost, introducing drought-resistant varieties of millet and growing a more diverse range of crops.
To add to Mali's problems, a Tuareg rebellion in the north has led to thousands of people being displaced internally and many fleeing to neighbouring countries.
In March 2012, members of the Malian army ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure from power in protest over his handling of the campaign against the rebellion.