Located in the heart of Mali, the Office du Niger (ON) is one of the oldest and largest irrigation schemes in Sub-Saharan Africa. The French, who began the scheme in 1932, planned on developing about 1,000,000 hectares (ha) over a period of 50 years. The scheme did not provide the expected resources for cotton and rice farming, and a major source of exploitation of farmers. Change began in the 1980's with Government/donor led reforms that resulted in dissolving the monopoly power of ON and increasing citizen participation in its management. This report provides the context and details on how the government of Mali became committed to reform of the ON, an irrigated rice scheme. The government's decision is presented as the outcome of a series of small power shifts triggered by pro-reform players. Reform advocates played a key role, and identified opportunities and applied their skills to tilt the power balance between agency and farmers to further goals of sustainability and partnership. Initial steps for reform had a significant impact, as they raised yields and farmer incomes in a single season. Coalitions grew into partnership institutions that became effective enough for government to consolidate them into a legal and financial framework. This case study serves as an illustration of how the World Bank and other donors can help governments turn public irrigation systems into financially sustainable operations.