Mali is among the 10 or so poorest countries in the world. The economy is a heavily dependent on agriculture, but the country's land is more than half desert or semi-arid. Most of the agriculture is restricted to the area irrigated by the floodwaters of the river Niger. About 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing and about 10 percent of the population is nomadic. The industrial activity in Mali is concentrated on agricultural processing and gold mining.
Economic planning since independence from France in 1960 has generally been incoherent and unsuccessful. Problems have been compounded by the fact that export prices fell relative to import prices between 1985 and 1994. But even though Mali remained heavily dependent on foreign aid (mostly from France), the economy was starting to show signs of improvement by 1997 from liberalization efforts suggested by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Mali is already sub-Saharan Africa's leading cotton producer, and cotton is the country's main export, which makes its economy particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in world prices for cotton. To reduce the economy's heavy dependence on cotton, the government has implemented an IMF-recommended structural adjustment program which aims to liberalize the economy and to make it more dependent on markets than on planning and state-owned enterprises.
The success of Mali's economic reforms and the 50 percent devaluation of the CFA franc in January 1994 led to an economic recovery in the late 1990s. Several multinational corporations increased gold mining operations between 1996 and 1998, and the government anticipates that Mali will become a major African gold exporter in the near future. At the beginning of the 21st century, economic growth in Mali is expected to be faster than population growth, leading to steady improvements in living standards.