28 November 2012

West Africa: Planting for a Harsher Climate

Photo: OXFAM
Sahel farmers are finding ways to reclaim the desert.

The hunger crisis in the Sahel region and the ongoing conflict in the northern part of Mali is threatening the lives of millions in the country and across the region.

Compounding this, a changing climate is already eroding the natural resources of poor rural people in many parts of Mali, and contributing to a situation of escalating environmental degradation, hunger and poverty.

"When we were young, 40 or more years ago, it rained a lot more than it does now, and there was grass all year around," says Hama Barry of Youwarou village, president of the Foulbé Wuelebé herders' association in Mali.

For the people living in the Sahel region of Mali, climate change is not a question of debate; it's an undeniable reality and a pressing concern. For decades, the climate has been getting hotter and drier.

"There were many more trees. We have seen changes taking place around us; the rain has become less abundant and the forests and grasslands are disappearing," Barry continues.

"There were two huge droughts in 1973 and 1984. That was when the trees began to die, and the floodwaters of the delta began to recede. In recent years we've lost many animals in the dry season, because there isn't enough for them to eat."

The experience of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has shown that, similar to growing trees, adapting to a changing climate doesn't happen overnight. It takes sustained investment so that once the roots of adaptation practices take hold in one rural community, they can continue and be shared among others and for future generations.

And the benefits can go beyond supporting communities to prepare for a harsher climate, to include enabling rural women and men to build a better life for themselves.

For example, the IFAD-supported Sahelian Areas Development Fund Programme, implemented in the Sahel region of central Mali, is helping to build the capacity of local communities to restore trees and vegetation and improve agricultural productivity. It aims to break the cycle of degradation and to ensure that there is enough to sustain a growing population, now and for the future.

PLANTING BOURGOU

The programme has contributed to the extensive planting of bourgou, a rich native grass of the delta region, which was disappearing rapidly. So far, close to 1,500 hectares have been planted with plans for more in the near future.

The programme has set up and equipped small-scale village nurseries using species adapted to local conditions and resistant to drought, such as eucalyptus. It also encourages communities to develop small market gardens and grow fruits and vegetables year-round to supplement income and sustain productivity through the seasonal cycles.

To date, the programme has planted 2,835 meters of live hedges and 36 hectares of eucalyptus and other trees, and created and equipped 23 village nurseries in the Mopti region. It has supported the elaboration of numerous local resource management plans, from local fisheries to the management of bourgou plantations.

The response to the programme has been enthusiastic. Communities are eager to continue learning to restore the natural environment. They recognize the need to shift their approach.

"This kind of work is just a beginning," says Mamadou Tiéro, the programme coordinator. "It needs to be continued and adopted throughout the region. Only a long-term impact can be considered a successful outcome."

Philippe Remy is the Mali country programme manager for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). IFAD is co-organising Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day on Dec. 3, held in parallel with the climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

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