Several hundred people are meeting in Gao, north-eastern Mali, to raise awareness about the problems faced by poor people in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mali is a major producer of cotton in sub-Saharan Africa
Dubbed the "Poor People's Summit", it has been timed to coincide with the G8 talks in Russia.
Attendees say armed conflict, debt and unfair trade practices are not heard about or understood by those at G8.
Those involved in the talks include representatives from Burkina Faso, Niger and the Ivory Coast and Mali.
Many of the participants have travelled more than 1,000km (600 miles) to take part.
Talks will be held over the next three days in a secondary school in Gao, on the edge of the Sahara desert.
Standard of living
One of the main concerns to be discussed is fair trade.
Mali is the largest producer of cotton in sub-Saharan Africa, but Dao Dounantie, a participant at the summit, says paying subsidies to American cotton farmers makes it impossible for farmers in Mali to compete and sends them into debt.
"The cotton producers of Mali cannot benefit from their production. So, our cotton farmers are victims of unfair trade and we are fighting for fair trade," he told the BBC.
Immigration is also of great concern.
Many Africans attempting to escape poverty and insecurity head to Gao on a long and dangerous journey across the Sahara desert towards Europe.
People at this summit say working to improve the standard of living in sub-Saharan Africa is the only way to stem the tide of immigration, the BBC's Will Ross in Gao reports.
He adds while the summit may not possess the same backing and pomp of G8, it has no shortage of enthusiasm.