Environment Systems and Decisions

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 33–51 | Cite as

Mental models of food security in rural Mali

  • Louie Rivers IIIEmail author
  • Udita Sanga
  • Amadou Sidibe
  • Alexa Wood
  • Rajiv Paudel
  • Sandra T. Marquart-Pyatt
  • Arika Ligmann-Zielinska
  • Laura Schmitt Olabisi
  • Eric Jing Du
  • Saweda Liverpool-Tasie


Recent estimates indicate that 12% of the global population is likely to have suffered from chronic hunger, due to lack of enough food for an active and healthy life. West Africa, specifically across the Sahel countries, is acutely vulnerable to food insecurity concerns. Mail is emblematic of this problem with approximately 4.6 million citizens considered food insecure. Food security poses formidable challenges. Studies have shown that in order to understand food insecurity and identify steps for effective intervention, there is a need to apprehend the food systems and food in/security in a holistic way beyond production alone. Understanding the behavioral aspects of food security is critical in the African context where agriculture, while oriented toward basic subsistence, remains embedded in social system including the social dynamics of households, extended families, and communities. This exploratory work focuses on developing a nuanced understanding of food security and adaptive behaviors to current challenges to food security at the household level with a distinct focus on inter- and intra-family behavioral dynamics in rural, southern Mali. Using mental models methodology, we developed two influence diagrams and a set of sub-models that represent rural households’ mental models of food security under traditional conditions and under conditions of external pressures. These models suggest that food security in rural Mali is at considerable risk due to the influence of external challenges, such as climate change, on traditional behaviors and a lack of easily accessible corresponding behavioral adaptations.


Mental models Food security Climate change Agriculture Mali 


Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louie Rivers III
    • 1
    Email author
  • Udita Sanga
    • 2
  • Amadou Sidibe
    • 3
  • Alexa Wood
    • 1
  • Rajiv Paudel
    • 4
  • Sandra T. Marquart-Pyatt
    • 5
  • Arika Ligmann-Zielinska
    • 6
  • Laura Schmitt Olabisi
    • 7
  • Eric Jing Du
    • 8
  • Saweda Liverpool-Tasie
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Forestry and Environmental ResourcesNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Department of Community SustainabilityMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid TropicsBamakoMali
  4. 4.Department of GeographyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.Department of Sociology, Environmental Science and Policy ProgramMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  6. 6.Department of Geography, Environmental Science and Policy ProgramMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  7. 7.Department of Community Sustainability, Environmental Science and Policy ProgramMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  8. 8.College of ArchitectureTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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