Rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa demands an intensification of the agri-cultural production. In addition, the key lessons drawn from the green revolution and low soil fertility in sub-Saharan Africa demand sustainable practices. An eminent solution is the concept of sustainable intensification (SI). The objective of SI is to increase agricultural production and simultaneously maintain or even increase the sustainability of the system at multiple domains. However, SI does not define specific pathways. Therefore, the aim of this study is to assess the state of representative farming systems in southern Mali in the near-term future (2027) based on biophysical and socio-economic trends in sub-Saharan Africa and thereby to identify prom-ising pathways that enable SI. Accordingly, a model was developed to assess SI in the baseline situation and in six subsequent scenarios, based on incremental policy intervention and agricul-tural intensification strategies, for 411 smallholder farms in the ‘old cotton basin’ in southern Mali. The model checked for different SI indicators from four domains of sustainability. Under the assumption that intensification is the main objective of SI in sub-Saharan Africa three prom-ising pathways were identified. Firstly, a successful promotion of family planning combined with the creation of job opportunities outside of agriculture reduced the pressure put by the rapid population growth on smallholder systems. Secondly, closing the yield gap up to 85 % of the water limited yield through different means distinctly intensified the system. However, trade-offs with the nitrogen use efficiency were identified. Lastly, the implementation of inven-tory credits for cereals increased the profitability but more importantly reduced farmers’ de-pendency on the cotton sector. Eventually, the research underlines that only a combination of multiple potential pathways can truly enable SI.