Mopti‘s Fishermen and Boatmen: Resisting a receding river

Lien vers la version française: 'Les Pêcheurs Et Pinassiers De Mopti : Leurs Outils De Résistance Face À L’assèchement Du Fleuve'

Mopti is an urban centre located in the region of the Inner Niger Delta more than 600km from the capital Bamako. It lies between the Niger River and its tributary, the Bani, in the middle of the largest wetland in West Africa. The economy of the city is mainly based on resources from agriculture, livestock and fishing, but lacks fair and sustainable governance, which contributes to the extreme vulnerability of the region to climate change and its consequences. Indeed, the exacerbation of climatic variability has not spared the Niger River and its tributary, and the sustained decline in rainfall throughout the region has led to changes in the regimes of the river. This, in turn, had multiple consequences on the inhabitants of Mopti who live mainly from rain-fed crops and pastoralism and are poorly supported by public authorities.

Inner Niger Delta in Mopti
Inner Niger Delta in Mopti (Photo credits: International Alert)

Tiema Djenepa from Mopti is a member of the WPS dialogue forum. He is also the vice-president of the Touristic Association of Pinasse boats of Mopti, which used to encourage residents and tourists to discover the town by Pinasse boats, which are traditional wooden canoes.

Tiema belongs to the Muslim Bozo community. The Bozos are an ethnic group of fishermen who practice semi-nomadic seasonal fishing. Experts in the waters of the Niger River, the Bozos have seen their activities curtailed by climate change and the silting of the river. Furthermore, the security crisis has brought tourism to a halt and forced the Pinasse boatmen of Mopti to find another profession. Tiema is now a fisherman but still transports people on his Pinasse boat, now as public transport. As for his wife, she has opened a small business to supplement the family's income.

Pinasse boatmen navigating on the Niger river
Pinasse boatmen navigating on the Niger river (Photo credits: International Alert)

In this way, boatmen have developed adaptive capacities to cope with the difficult climatic conditions of the region and the lack of responsiveness of government authorities. In particular, they have learned to use fishing techniques that allow them to fish in shallow and often murky waters, such as the swampy areas and rivers of the Niger Delta. 

However, the transformation of the town's former touristic Pinasse boatmen fishermen has not been welcomed by the town's former fishermen. The increasing number of fishermen has made competition tougher, the best fishing spots on the river more crowded, and fish a scarce commodity. The fishermen are no longer able to make a living from their trade and leading to conflict. The fishermen of Mopti have therefore also had to develop strategies to diversify their income by growing vegetables and raising animals, which allows them to cope with fluctuations in the availability of fish, but which creates new tensions with farmers who see fertile land becoming increasingly scarce.


"Our main concern is the high risk of famine, if this situation lasts" - Tiema Djenema

Photo: Herders sell their goats on the river bank

Herders sell their goats on the river bank (Photo credits: International Alert)

Moreover, the desertification is perceived by communities as one of the greatest risks they face in Mali. The economic activities of the population are increasingly disrupted by the changing tides, drying of the river, silting, flooding, insecurity, and water pollution.

Tiema stressed the importance of involving local actors but also the inhabitants and the marginalised voices of Mopti in awareness-raising meetings on environmental protection and gathering the traditional and local authorities in conflict resolution and management. 


"We favour dialogue as an instrument for conflict resolution. Dialogue has helped to resolve conflicts between Pinasse boatmen, fishermen and farmers in Mopti.” - Tiema Djenema

Photo: Aerial view of Pinasse botmen picking up sand from the river

Aerial view of Pinasse boatmen picking up sand from the river (Photo credits: International Alert)

In Mopti, the WPS Forum focussed on setting up a consultation framework to ensure direct communication between the boatmen, farmers and fishermen to resolve and prevent conflicts between the groups and the sustainable management of water. The Forum introduced stakeholders to conflict analysis methodologies to better understand the complex and interrelated challenges of climate change and security in Mopti. These efforts have resulted in a continuous dialogue between the community representatives providing a platform for early conflict resolution.

The forum gathering boatmen, fishermen and farmers was a safe space for an open and transparent discussion of best fishing practices and limits to help protect water resources and maintain their long-term sustainability. It now aims to continue its work on a larger scale to strengthen the transparency and accountability of local authorities and civil society organisations in natural resources management.

Members of the Mopti WPS Forum

Members of the Mopti WPS Forum (Photo credits: International Alert)