This case study focuses on the incentives and risks of market actors in Mali's shea kernel value chain for investing in upgrading operations and developing reliable sources of supply. The lessons from this case reveal how important inter-firm co-operation can be to market actors' decision to invest and thereby affect the competitiveness of a value chain.The prospects for Mali's overall shea value chain rest on improving the competitive position of its shea kernels, in which Mali's market players are poor competitors compared with those in other West African countries. After presenting the markets and actors of the shea kernel value chain, this case examines what gaps market actors need to close for Mali to be competitive and how actors are approaching these problems. Although there are clear incentives for international vegetable oil firms to develop Mali as a reliable source of good-quality kernels, the incentives for producers to upgrade are less clear. Practical examples are drawn regarding how one development programme was able to spur investment by fostering communications between market actors at different levels of the value chain.