he area occupied by Mali was once home to the Manding Empire (c. 1230 to c. 1600), the largest empire known to exist in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1300s, the Manding Empire extended from the Atlantic coast to west of the Niger River, bordered by the Sahara Desert in the North and the equatorial rain forest in the South.

The Inland Delta of the Niger River spreads across central Mali — a unique ecosystem in West Africa. A result of the Niger River flowing into the sandy Sahelian plains, this vast network of channels, swamps, and lakes mitigates the severity of the arid climate and forms the second largest interior delta in Africa. Host to rice farming, fishing, and animal husbandry, the delta plays a critical role in the country’s economy. Agriculture, which accounts for about 40 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 74 percent of the labor force, remains the main economic sector in Mali, which ranks as Africa’s fourth largest cotton producer (CIA, 2013). Gold mining has greatly increased since the beginning of the 2000s, accounting today for about 15 percent of Mali’s GDP and making it West Africa’s second largest exporter of gold after Ghana (Hale, 2002). Mali has major tourist attractions with sites such as the Bandiagara escarpment, known for its stunning landscapes with centuries-old village architecture, and the famous city of Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site.