Centuries ago, the city of Timbuktu was one of the most important trade and learning centers in Africa.
Located on the Niger River at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu was a crossroads between the Sahara and the tropical regions to the south. The area surrounding Timbuktu became part of various empires, including the great Songhai Empire that flourished in medieval times.
Those empires have long since passed away, and today the region around Timbuktu, the nation of Mali, is a poor, sparsely populated land. About three times the size of California, Mali has a population of just 6.2 million. Once great Timbuktu is now a sleepy town of about 9,000 people.
Mali is landlocked and completely covered by the Sahara except for a fertile strip in the south. It is one of the hottest countries on earth, too. At Arouane, Mali, a temperature of 130 degrees was once recorded!
Most Malians are Muslim. Many of the people in Mali are poor nomads. In fact, the average income in Mali is less than $100 a year. French is the official language of Mali, but about 95 percent of the people cannot read or write.
So it’s not surprising that Malians use less paper than any other people in the world. In the United States, the average person uses about 100 pounds of paper a year. The average person in Mali uses less than 1.5 ounces of paper a year!