Tuesday, 27 November 2012


A delegation from Nigeria visits the village of Dan Saga (Aguié district, Niger) to draw lessons from Niger’s re-greening experience for agroforestry policy and practice in Nigeria. The delegation got some hands on training by the farmers in selection of stems and in pruning.

Why is it important to scale existing farmer managed re-greening?

On-farm trees (agroforestry systems) are the pillar of future agriculture in Africa’s drylands and sub-humid regions, but this is also true for drylands in other parts of the world. They help smallholder farmers create more complex, more productive and drought-resilient farming systems. On-farm trees not only increase food security, but they also help farmers to adapt to climate change, produce more fodder for livestock and a wide range of other benefits (energy, nutrition, cash, medicinal produce). Increasing the number of on-farm trees is only a first essential step; more is needed to significantly increase crop yields for a rapidly growing population. A big advantage of on-farm trees is that they help maintain or improve soil organic matter, which makes it rational for farmers to begin using small quantities of inorganic fertilizers.

The pruning of Guiéra senegalensis (Niger, June 2012) produces significant quantities of leaves (soil organic matter) as well as branches and twigs (household energy).

This helps increase crop yields significantly. As farmers from the village of Dan Saga (Niger) explained during a workshop in Ouagadougou in June…”we are now systematically combining agroforestry and small quantities of inorganic fertilizers (micro dosing) and this allows us to harvest about 1000 kg/ha instead of about 500 kg/ha”.

If micro dosing could be introduced during the next 5 years on 1 million ha of existing agroforestry parklands in Niger, it would increase crop production by about 500,000 ton. Many smallholder farmers would become food secure and could even produce a surplus for the market. Before presenting the components of a scaling strategy, the question should be answered why it has taken 7 months to produce this new update? The answer is simple…there were a number of activities and promising developments, which contributed to postponing the writing of a new update.

Some promising developments

Expanding re-greening into Northern Nigeria

Early June, a 25 person strong delegation from Nigeria visited the Maradi and Zinder Regions in Niger to draw lessons from Niger’s experience with re-greening for agroforestry policy and practice in Nigeria (see pictures front page). This visit was co-organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Nigeria and ARI’s partners in Niger, in particular Prof. Adam Toudou and Dr. Abassé Tougiani. It was co-funded by IFAD and by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Parts of Northern Nigeria have high population densities and low on-farm tree densities, which means that this is a case of “low hanging fruit”. There is a potential for quickly expanding the number of on-farm trees through the protection of natural regeneration.

Before leaving Niger, all participants developed their own points of action. Upon return, several participants decided to try to develop on-the-ground activities. We’ll brief you in the next updates about developments.

A regional food and water initiative for the Sahel and the Horn of Africa

At the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) began on August 1 an intensive process of formulating a major regional food and water initiative for the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. The proposal will be submitted before the end of 2012 and, if approved, implementation will start early in 2013. The approach of this land user driven program will be to expand the scale of existing successes. Its technical components include agroforestry with an accent on farmer-managed re-greening, water harvesting, micro dosing (small quantities of inorganic fertilizers) and improved seeds. These technologies have often been promoted and used in isolation, but this program will integrate these activities as much as possible. The program proposal emphasizes the need for flexibility in order to be able to respond to emerging opportunities and it does not rigidly fix targets like conventional projects do, but it wants to develop a multi-stakeholder movement and a process. We’ll know soon whether the proposal will be accepted or rejected.

A movement is developing around farmer-managed re-greening

OXFAM NOVIB has decided to support the development of agroforestry in Senegal and in Niger. OXFAM America supports a major women’s credit and savings program in Mali with more than 400,000 members, who have identified the depletion of soil fertility as a main problem that can be tackled by increasing the number of on-farm trees.

World Vision Australia is increasing its support for farmer-managed re-greening and so do other World Vision countries, in particular after the successful “Beating the Famine” conference in Nairobi in April 2012 (see ARI update 2012 no.4).

As mentioned in earlier updates, IFAD is already supporting agroforestry in the Sahel and its project in Niger’s Aguié District is a source of inspiration. The World Bank TerrAfrica and the Global Environment Facility have put agroforestry/farmer-managed re-greening firmly on their agenda.

Slowly but surely, the interest in agroforestry is increasing, but more needs to be done to put agroforestry firmly on the global policy agenda’s

A workshop on the economic impacts of agroforestry systems in the Sahel

From 8 – 11 October re-greening partners from Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal met in Ouagadougou with ICRAF and its partners amongst others to discuss the first results of an ICRAF study funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and co-funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). This study on the economic impacts of agroforestry systems in the Sahel is based on interviews with 1040 households in 4 countries. It indicates that agroforestry improves food security, but there are differences between each country. As soon as the report will be available, a next update will summarize the findings.

Scaling existing re-greening successes: how do you do it?

This update does not offer space to go into details, but it is possible to briefly present 18 different components of a scaling strategy. A working paper will soon be published, which will treat each component in more detail. Most of these components are already used by re-greening partners in the Sahel, but they are also applicable in very different socioeconomic and agro-ecological situations, for instance in the USA, Brazil or India. The starting point is always the identification and analysis of smaller and bigger re-greening successes, which can be found in many places. Even in situations that seem to be bleak, it is always possible to find farmers and villages that have innovated to overcome a crisis. These successes can be used as sources of inspiration, training grounds and seed banks.


1. Organize farmer-to-farmer visits

2. Farmer experts train farmers and herders

3. Support or develop village institutions

4. Introduce agroforestry competitions at different levels

5. Develop a movement of non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations and build their capacity to promote re-greening by farmers (men and women).

This cluster of activities shows that knowledge management is important. It’s about farmers sharing their knowledge and experience with other farmers, which is a widely used tool, and farmers with good knowledge and experience can train other farmers. The participants from the village of Dan Saga (Niger) in the above-mentioned workshop in Ouagadougou, mentioned that in their area 300 farmer experts (50% women) are now able to train other farmers in and outside Niger, and some already do so.

Re-greening is also about creating village institutions to manage the new capital asset: trees. Some villagers in Dan Saga have specific responsibilities for controlling whether everyone respects the rules that have been set by the community. (June 2012)


6. Adapt national agricultural policies and forestry legislation

7. Mainstream re-greening into existing and new agricultural development projects

8. Organize field visits for national policymakers

9. Create a Presidential Award for the best re-greening/agroforestry village

Developing a grassroots movement is important, but it’s not enough. National policies and forest legislation should be adapted to incentivize farmers to invest in trees. Unless farmers perceive ownership rights to their on-farm trees, they will be reluctant to invest in them. A draft national re-greening strategy or Niger proposes the creation of a Presidential Award for the best re-greening village. If that would be accepted, it can have a big impact. If the President decides to deliver the award personally, it will not only trigger a lot of attention from the national TV, radio and press, which helps spread the message about re-greening and its impacts, but it will also induce other villages to do better and join the competition.


10. Use the mass media to inform farmers and herders

11. Link ICT, radio and internet (develop a “web of speech”)

12. Produce documentaries for national TV

13. Organize national and regional experience sharing workshops

14. Mobilize African champions to promote re-greening

15. Mobilize international media

16. Develop advocacy at all levels

Too few people in Africa’s drylands, but also in the rest of the world, are aware about what has already been achieved, the multiple impacts of re-greening and the crucial role on-farm and off-farm trees play in improving livelihoods and in adaption to and mitigation of climate change. Development of agroforestry and restoring degraded forests has to get much higher on the national and international political agenda than it currently is.


17. Support the development of agroforestry value chains

18. Induce or support the private sector to develop input/output markets

National and international agroforestry value chains do already exist around some species like the Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) and baobab leaves harvested in Niger’s Mirriah district find their way to markets in Sudan and even in Saudi Arabia. A species that is on the rise in several countries, and has an untapped potential, is Moringa oleifera. It is also called the miracle tree, because of its considerable nutritional value. The picture below was taken in early June on the road between Niamey and Torodi (Niger). This zone has witnessed a big expansion of the area under Moringa oleifeira in the last few years.

Moringa oleifera is expanding rapidly along road between Niamey and Torodi (Niger). This picture was taken early June 2012. The lack of clarity is due to the quantities of fine soil particles in the air

Request The 18 components of the scaling strategy are neither perfect nor complete. If you have any questions, remarks or suggestions regarding the scaling strategy, please send them to Chris Reij .

Media attention for re-greening Re-greening successes continue to generate media attention. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the USA made a documentary in Niger end May/early June 2012 about the famine, but it also wanted to show the solutions and it showed the increasing on-farm tree densities in Maradi’s Aguié. It’s a nicely balanced story, which they gave the following title: “Amidst drought and famine Niger leads West Africa in addressing crisis”.

This documentary was broadcasted across the USA by PBS Newshour.

Some re-greening partners in action IED Afrique in Senegal One of the key activities of IED Afrique is informing a network of environmental journalists in Senegal about re-greening. From 26 – 28 November about 20 journalists are visiting the region of Kaolack and to visit areas re-greened, discuss with farmers who have protected and managed trees, which regenerate spontaneously on their farms. Read more about this workshop and visit in the article published on Agence de Presse Sénégalaise. Besides Mamadou Fall, the re-greening coordinator of IED Afrique, a number of researchers from the National Agronomic Research Institute who have done research on yield impacts of re-greening accompany the environmental journalists.

This kind of activity is vital to get re-greening on the radar screen of a wider public and of national policy makers. It should be mentioned here that IED Afrique is collaborating closely with World Vision Senegal and other NGOs.

Reseau MARP in Burkina Faso

In July, the Reseau MARP organized a visit for national policymakers of three ministries to farmer innovators in the Zondoma and Yatenga provinces. It is important to expose policymakers to the innovations by farmers and to what’s happening on the ground. The delegation was accompanied by the press and radio, which triggered a flurry of media attention.

CRESA in Niger

As mentioned earlier in this update, our re-greening partners in Niger were actively involved in organizing a study visit by a major delegation from Nigeria to Southern Niger. Besides this, a number of studies on re-greening have been realized and a draft national agroforestry strategy has been developed, which remains to be discussed in a workshop. In the meantime, this draft strategy has been shared with the re-greening partners in the other Sahel countries, and they want to explore which parts of this strategy are relevant to the specific conditions in their countries.

SahelECO, Network Institute and World-Wide Web Foundation

SahelECO is working closely with Network Institute of Free University Amsterdam and with the World Wide Web Foundation on testing and implementing a so-called “ web of speech”, which is based on linking mobile phone and community radio. Rural communities lack access to electricity and have no access to the Internet. Communication is also hampered by the variety of small local African languages and dialects spoken in each region. The services are designed for those without Internet. The services are based on speech (in local languages) for those without reading skills. A radio platform is accessible by phone for farmers and rural “village reporters”. The interactivity that is thus generated, (“web of radios”) gives a voice to those communities and individuals who were previously not able to express their voices. You can learn more about this initiative by watching this short documentary.

The partners are working with community (rural) radios and farmer organizations for the deployment of these systems, in a co-creation setting with the local users (farmers!), to ensure they are optimized for the local rural conditions in Africa. The systems have extensively been tested in a production environment in Mali by all partners in cooperation with 6 radio stations.

Some final remarks about extreme weather conditions

In 2011, rainfall was bad in parts of the Sahel and millions of people suffered from hunger and malnutrition. The 2012 rainy season fortunately saw record rainfall and a bumper harvest.

17 states in the USA suffered this year from prolonged drought, which led to lower maize yields in states like Iowa and Kansas and a sell-off of livestock.

Early November, the Northeastern part of the USA was struck by hurricane Sandy, which caused devastation at a vast scale. In 2011, Mark Hertsgaard, a US environmental journalist, published a book called “Hot: living through the next 50 years on earth”. He quotes mayor Bloomberg who declared on Earth Day 2007 that coping with climate change was imperative to New York’s future and “he felt that New York was threatened by “ rising sea levels and intensifying storms”. Hertsgaard explores the city and its vulnerability to extreme weather events and what he describes almost exactly what happened early November (Hertsgaard, 2011: 97 – 104). In 2010, climatologist Heidi Cullen wrote a book called “The weather of the future: heat waves, extreme storms, and other scenes from a climate-changed planet”. She dedicated a full chapter to New York City (227 – 259), predicts correctly what happened and looks at the future.

In her book she also makes a forecast for the Sahel Re-greening Initiative in 2015 and in 2022 (p. 81-82). Her forecast for 2015 is that “through support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and OXFAM America, the re-greening initiative has spread across the Sahel”. Well…let’s hope this promising forecast will come true. Our re-greening partners don’t have the financial resources to meet the demands for expansion of activities to other provinces or districts.

The next update

The next update will be published end January 2013, or sooner in case there is a good reason to do so. The accent in that update will be on information about on-the-ground activities by field partners and about the Web Alliance for Re-greening in Africa.

An agroforestry parkland just south of Arba Minch in Ethiopia, which is dominated by Moringa stenotepala

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


The latest update mentioned that the Kantche district in Niger, which has a high population density and high on-farm tree densities, produced a grain surplus of almost 14.000 tons in 2011. This is lower than in preceding years, but still of interest. It appears that also the region around Bankass in Mali, which has a vast young agroforestry parkland, has produced a grain surplus in 2011. The figure mentioned is 50,000 tons. It remains to be verified, but any surplus in 2011 is good. It goes without saying that despite an overall surplus in a region, many families will experience hardship in 2012. Nevertheless, these examples are bright spots in a situation in the Sahel characterized by major cereal deficits. Question is…can these surpluses be attributed to the new agroforestry parkland? It’s a question to be explored, but it is likely.

The Beating the Famine Conference in Nairobi (10 – 13 April 2012) This conference was organized jointly by World Vision and the World Agroforestry Center. The almost 200 participants (development workers, policymakers, researchers, journalists) assessed the current experience with farmer-managed regreening, looked at the multiple impacts of regreening and got some practical training in how to prune. The participants came from Kenya, Uganda (including the Ministers of Agriculture and of Planning), Ethiopia, Tanzania, Niger, Tchad, Puntland….. Many journalists from the region interviewed participants and the “Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen” (Second German TV channel) had a short item in its evening news about the conference. Information about the conference can be found at www.beatingfamine.com An informal partnership to promote re-greening On Saturday 14 April a number of people, representing the World Agroforestry Centre, African Forest Forum, World Resources Institute, World Vision Australia, Center for International Cooperation Free University Amsterdam, met to discuss the conference and its follow up and they established an informal partnership pledging to work together to promote re-greening in order to develop an Evergreen Agriculture in Africa. One of the drivers is the growing awareness that a dangerous scenario is now unfolding in parts of Africa, which may lead to structural famine in the next decade. This point has been made in earlier updates….soil fertility is depleting in many areas, rainfall is becoming more erratic and more extreme, more long dry spells occur during the rainy season. In combination, these trends are depressing crop yields in a context of often rapid demographic growth. At the same time, cereal prices are reaching record highs again, which creates hardship for the urban poor, but also for small farmers who do not produce enough to cover family food needs. The world food stocks are low, which means it cannot be taken for granted that food deficits can be covered by food aid. “Business-as-usual “is no longer an option. The informal partnership discussed a mix of measures for sustainable intensification, comprising the building of new agroforestry systems through farmer-managed regreening, the introduction of simple water harvesting techniques in semi-arid regions (400 – 800 mm rainfall), which increase the quantities of water available to crops and to trees, and the use of small quantities of inorganic fertilizers ideally in those situations where agroforestry has already increased the quantity of organic matter in the topsoil. The efficiency of fertilizer use is determined by the soil organic matter content (SOM), which also has a positive impact on the water holding capacity of the soil. Let’s briefly present here those who participated in this meeting.

Roland Bunch is an agro ecologist and author of “Two Ears of Corn: A Guide to People-Centered Agricultural Improvement”. He has served as Head of the Department of Rural Development at the Pan-American Agricultural School of Honduras, as the Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods for World Neighbors, a US-based NGO working in integrated rural development and as Co-Founder and former Coordinator of COSECHA (Association of Consultants for a Sustainable, Ecological and People-Centered Agriculture) in Honduras. He has consulted widely in three continents and is renowned for promoting sustainable, "people-centered" agriculture, including "farmer-to-farmer extension" and "participatory technology development" methodologies.

Dennis Garrity is Distinguished Board Research Fellow and former Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre. He has recently been designated as UNCCD Drylands Ambassador, and is involved in a global effort examine unconventional ways of creating more productive and environmentally sound farming systems. He chairs the Steering Committee for Landcare International, was previously the Regional Coordinator of the Southeast Asia Programme of the World Agroforestry Centre (Bogor, Indonesia) and was agronomist and Head of the Agroecology Unit at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. He has a Ph.D. in crop physiology (University of Nebraska).

Larwanou Mahamane is Senior Programme Officer at African Forest Forum. Formerly a research scientist in the Forestry Department at “Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger” (INRAN), he joined the University of Niamey as a lecturer and research scientist in 2006. In Niger he conducted research in forestry and agroforestry, developing agroforestry technologies for improving parkland systems in the Sahel. He has published many articles in peer reviewed journals and coordinated many scientific collaborative projects. Dr Larwanou obtained his B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Forest Ecology/Agroforestry (University of Ibadan, Nigeria) and his Ph.D. (University Abdou Moumouni of Niamey) in 2005.

Chris Reij is a Sustainable Land Management specialist of the Centre for International Cooperation, VU University Amsterdam and a Senior Fellow of the World Resources Institute in Washington. He works in Africa since 1978 and is currently facilitator of “African Re-greening Initiatives”, which supports farmers to adapt to climate change and to develop more productive and sustainable farming systems. The approach of this initiative is to expand the scale of existing successes in re-greening (agroforestry, participatory forest management) by individual farmers and communities.

Tony Rinaudo interviewed by the press during the Beating the Famine conference

Tony Rinaudo is involved in the development and promotion of agricultural-forestry-pastoral systems across a range of environments. Tony previously spent 18 years in Niger (1980 – 1998) managing a long term agricultural development program and he catalyzed the process of re-greening in Niger’s Maradi Region in 1985. He has recently given training courses in farmer-managed re-greening in Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Indonesia and East Timor.

Robert Winterbottom is Director Ecosystem Services at the World Resources Institute (WRI), Washington, D.C. He has worked in reforestation in Burkina Faso; desertification control planning with the Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS); institutional strengthening for improved coordination of natural resource management (NRM) in Niger; community-based NRM in Namibia; integrating environmental governance and poverty reduction through natural resource based enterprise development in Senegal and Bangladesh; assessing needs and opportunities for climate change adaptation in Madagascar and Vietnam and in preparing the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (World Bank, UNDP, FAO and WRI). He earned a M.Sc. (Forest Science) from Yale University. We will create opportunities to jointly design projects and programs. The individuals mentioned above agreed to form an informal partnership, but the regreening movement is much bigger. Let’s present a few more partners.

Assefa Tofu is the NRM advisor of World Vision Ethiopia (WVE) and a driving force behind WVE’s regreening activities. The picture shows Assefa Tofu giving conference participants some hands on training in selecting stems for removal and in pruning.

Abasse Tougiani , who is a researcher attached to Niger’s National Agricultural Research Institute, has been based for many years in Maradi where he cooperated closely with Tony Rinaudo and with the IFAD-funded project in Aguié, which is successfully promoting regreening by farmers.

Gray Tappan of the US Geological Survey’s EROS (Earth Resources Observation and Science) Center in South Dakota is a geographer who specialized in remote sensing of land use and vegetation. He made and continues to make invaluable contributions to our understanding of long term changes in vegetation. The satellite images Gray has provided of the same villages for different periods have helped convince many people that parts of the Sahel are now greener than 20 – 30 years ago.

Mathieu Ouedraogo (on the left) is the regreening coordinator of African Regreening Initiatives in Burkina Faso. He began his career in the early 1980s when working for the OXFAM-funded Agroforestry Project in the Yatenga region, which was one of the most innovative water harvesting projects. On the right prof. Adam Toudou, regreening coordinator in Niger, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Niamey.

Mary Allen Ballo is an environmental scientist by training, executive secretary of SahelECO, and ARI regreening coordinator. She has worked for more than two decades in Mali and has made SahelECO one of the leading environmental NGOs of the country. These are just some of the regreening champions. In future updates some more partners/champions will be shown. The next ARI update will be published either just before the visit by a delegation from Nigeria to Southern Niger (June 4 – 7) or shortly after it. Recent French updates can be found on: www.reverdir-afrique.com

Thursday, 8 March 2012


A dense stand of Piliostigma reticulatum on fields in the Konni department of Niger (January 2012).Their pods are good fodder for livestock and also serve as famine food. They are perceived to improve soil fertility. In the background a number of trees, which have been pruned and developed a trunk and a canopy. In the foreground very young and dense Piliostigma bushes that capture a lot of fine and fertile dust moved by the harmattan winds.

The international media are drawing our attention to the food crisis, which is emerging in the Sahel. They express the fear that the Sahel is facing a crisis similar to the one recently experienced in the Horn of Africa. The 2011 rainy season in the Sahel was characterized by low and irregular rainfall and in some regions also by crop pests. In November 2011 it was estimated that Niger alone would have a food deficit of almost 600,000 ton. The indication is that not all areas in Niger are equally affected by shortages in cereal production. A map produced by the Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) in September 2011 indicated that the predicted shortages seemed to be less severe in some areas of Southern Niger with high density on-farm trees.

Using some funds from the International Fund for Agricultural Development available for developing a national policy dialogue around re-greening, two researchers from the University of Niamey (Prof. Yamba Boubacar and Mr. Sambo) undertook a quick study in five villages in the Kantché department (Southern Zinder) to look at re-greening and food security. On February 24 they forwarded a first draft report. They did a survey among 197 farm households, but they also looked at some national statistics. Let’s start with the latter. The data of the National Committee for the Prevention and Management of Food Crises and the Famine Early Warning Systems in Niger indicate that the Kantché Department (350,000 inhabitants) systematically produced a cereal surplus since 2007 and also in 2011.

2007 + 21,230 ton
2008 + 36,838 ton
2009 + 28,122 ton
2010 + 64,208 ton
2011 + 13,818 ton

Is it a coincidence that this area with high population densities and high on-farm tree densities produces cereal surpluses? Can it be due to other interventions? Can it be that this area received a bit more rainfall and/or had a slightly better distribution of rainfall? What we can say at this stage is that the surplus is not due to other interventions. It also true that most of this area has high density young agroforestry parkland strongly dominated by Faidherbia albida, a nitrogen fixing species, which helps maintain and improve soil fertility. Although the Kantché department as a whole produced a cereal surplus in 2011, the poorest farmers will still be facing food shortages.

The information in the draft report also shows that the poorest households often derive significant income from their on-farm trees in the form of fodder, firewood, fruit and leaves part of which is sold on the market. Trees are an important source of farm income. Yamba and Sambo mention, for instance, that the sale of leaves from a single mature baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) generates an income of 27 US $ to 75 US $ depending on when the leaves get on the market. This income alone allows the owner of the baobab(s) (often women) to buy 75 to 175 kg of cereals on the market. In parts of the Mirriah department (Zinder Region), baobab is the dominating species and one finds many mature, but also young baobabs.

Why do farmers invest in trees?
Yamba and Sambo asked farmers why they protected and managed on-farm trees. They could provide more than one answer, but the dominating answer was (58%) for soil fertility and for food (25%). Farmers (men and women) across the Sahel are very worried about declining soil fertility and are ready to do everything to reverse a decline in soil fertility and certain tree species are perceived to improve soil fertility (Faidherbia albida, Piliostigma reticulatum, Combretum glutinosum, Guiéra senegalensis).

Some conclusions about agroforestry
1. On-farm trees increase and stabilize access of farm households to food. They reduce the risk of crop failure and even if crops fail, the trees provide other forms of income that allow farmers to buy expensive cereals on the market.
2. Average cereal yields under agroforestry in Niger remain low (usually about 450 kg/ha or more depending on soils, soil fertility management and groundwater level) and the use of modest doses of inorganic fertilizers is required to significantly increase yields.
3. Tree litter helps maintain or improve soil fertility by increasing the organic matter content of the soil, which improves the efficiency of fertilizer use and the water holding capacity of the topsoil. Trees first and micro doses of fertilizers next.
4. A recent study has shown that in certain situations trees can also decrease cereal yields, but the study did not indicate under which conditions. None of the farmers in the new agroforestry parklands in Niger, Mali and Burkina has ever mentioned this. Even if this would be the case, the multiple benefits of the tree capital outweighs a loss in cereals. If this were not the case, the farmers would cut the on-farm trees.

This picture of an old agroforestry parkland dominated by shea trees (Vitellaria paradoxa) and néré (Parkia biglobosa) in Mali shows that the vegetation on the communal fields has been destroyed for the production of charcoal for the capital Bamako. However, no one touches a single tree in the parkland. Tree densities are high and the canopy cover is significant. This may lead to lower cereal yields, which is very likely more than compensated for by the value of the products produced by these trees.

5. Although not everybody will readily believe it, when young trees are pruned, they develop a trunk and a canopy, and the prunings produce twigs that women can burn in their kitchen and the leaves add to the organic matter content of the soil. Trees produce benefits quickly and depending on species, rainfall and altitude can grow rapidly.

Water harvesting, groundwater recharge, small-scale irrigation and trees

The rural population in most drylands is rapidly increasing in absolute numbers, which makes it essential not only to increase food production and improve access to food, but also to increase the availability of water for the growing human population, but also for their livestock and for small-scale irrigation. This requires that available rainfall and runoff is captured and stored as much as possible in the soil.

We have a lot of anecdotal evidence of local increases in groundwater after the introduction of simple water harvesting techniques, like planting pits, half moons, contour stone bunds and low water spreading dams. They all force rainfall and runoff to slow down and infiltrate into the soil. ARI update 2012 no.2 tells the story about the village of Batodi in Niger’s Illéla department, which experienced a significant increase in water levels in their wells since they introduced planting pits and half moons in the early 1990s. The cereal crops in this village largely failed in 2011, but there are now 10 vegetable gardens in the village (0 in 1994). It will be a harsh year for many farm households, but without the investments in water harvesting it would have been a lot harsher. Similar stories can be told for the Northern part of Burkina Faso’s Central Plateau and for villages in Tigray (Ethiopia).

Natural regeneration on degraded slopes in combination with stone walls forces rainfall and runoff to infiltrate, which leads to groundwater recharge and expansion of irrigation in valleys and to the emergence of permanent springs (Tigray, Ethiopia).

We have a lot of anecdotal evidence, which taken together point to a plausible relationship between water harvesting and local groundwater recharge, but this is obviously one of the gaps in our knowledge that needs to be filled.

It is vital to create more productive and drought resilient farming systems in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa to increase food production and improve soil fertility. Expanding agroforestry and developing water harvesting systems to recharge groundwater are vital first steps. There is no time to lose.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Update no. 2: Impressions of Niger in January 2012

This picture was made on January 19, 2012 in the Adouna valley (Tahoua Region, Niger). The valley is about 40 km long and has a Faidherbia albida dominated parkland on about 40,000 ha. In some places the parkland is very dense and it has a good mixture of trees in all age classes. The crop residues shows that all the land between the trees is cultivated. Groundwater in this valley is fairly low and soils are quite fertile. This partially explains why this parkland is in such a good shape. Several long low dams have been built across the valley floor, which force runoff to infiltrate. Higher groundwater levels have allowed the expansion of irrigation. If the irrigated area is 1500 ha and the average yield of onions is 20 ton/ha, then this valley alone already produces 30,000 tons of vegetables.

One of the first major events in 2012 would have been a study visit by a delegation from Nigeria to Southern Niger. This delegation would draw lessons from re-greening in Southern Niger for agroforestry policy and practice in Nigeria. The Heinrich Böll Foundation in Abuja had composed an extraordinary delegation of about 30 participants representing policymakers from all 12 states bordering Niger, researchers, NGOs, staff of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Unfortunately the visit had to be postponed at the last minute due to the general strike in Niger, which led to the closure of banks, gas stations and the border between Nigeria and Niger. Together, we will start looking for a new date.

The visit was postponed just upon our arrival in Niger, so it was decided to anyway make a field visit to the Dosso, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua Regions.

Let me share with you some pictures and impressions.
The purpose of the visit to the area around Dogon Kiria (Dosso region) was to look at re-greening activities just started in this “commune” under a project managed by Both Ends and funded by the Netherlands-based Turing Foundation. A major indicator of farmer-managed re-greening is that suddenly one can see everywhere in the fields young trees that have been pruned. The area where this is happening has about 350 mm rainfall and is at the edge of where cultivation is possible. The young pruned trees show that the process has begun.

A visit to parts of the Maradi and Zinder regions is always a source of inspiration. It is where farmers have built new agroforestry parklands on 5 million ha. Let me tell you about some new impressions.

Inter-village institution building for land rehabilitation and re-greening
Not far from the small town of Illéla (Maradi Region) water harvesting techniques (half moons) are used to successfully rehabilitate barren degraded land. This is not new in itself, but what is new is that this is done jointly by a number of villages and they have set rules for the protection and management of the trees planted in the half moons and those that emerged spontaneously (see picture 2). Villagers use bicycles to police the rehabilitated area and they have developed sanctions for those who don’t respect the rules. This activity was initiated by the IFAD-funded PPILDA project. It would be very useful to analyze and document this experience as it is one of the few examples of successful inter-village institution building for land rehabilitation and re-greening.

Introducing farmer-managed re-greening in primary schools

As Abasse Tougiani explained, it is important to involve school children in re-greening and the children of the school shown in picture 3 know about the role of trees in reversing land degradation and they have been trained to prune trees. These kids will soon receive a delegation of school children from another village and they will inform and train them in re-greening. This was the first time that I’ve seen farmer-managed re-greening introduced into the curriculum of a primary school. Looking at the enthusiasm of the children, it is obvious they have become champions.

Barren degraded land rehabilitated collectively by a group of villages in the Illéla department.

Large-scale regeneration of baobabs in the Mirriah department (Zinder Region)
Although Southern Zinder is dominated by young agroforestry parkland, there are also significant areas where other trees dominate. Around the small town of Mirriah one finds vast areas with baobabs in all age classes. Picture 4 shows a dense stand of fairly old trees, which produce valuable leaves and fruit. The owners of the trees often sell the leaves on the tree to young men, who harvest them, put them in bags and sell the leaves in regional markets. It is said that baobabs in the Sahel barely regenerate, but they do so at significant scale in the Mirriah department, but also in the Yatenga region of Burkina Faso.

School children have become champions of re-greening

An impressive stand of baobabs close to Mirriah

New agroforestry parklands and locally rising groundwater levels in the village of Batodi (Tahoua Region)
After having travelled through the 42 km long Adouna valley, we decided to make a quick visit to the village of Batodi, which I had visited several times between 1989 and 1994, then again in 2004 and for the last time in 2006. In 1990 this village was surrounded by a vast expanse of barren degraded land and with the support of an IFAD-funded soil and water conservation project villagers had timidly begun to rehabilitate barren degraded land using “zaï”. Sitting down with villagers in 1991, I joked:
“ can I buy some degraded land to rehabilitate it with zaï”. Their reaction was…”no you can’t ..if someone sells land we’ll buy it ourselves”. This I how I coincidentally stumbled across the fact that a land market had emerged and that people were buying and selling degraded land using simple water harvesting techniques to rehabilitate it.

When I got back to Batodi in November 2004 after not having visited the village for a decade, the first thing they said was…” the water level in our wells is now only at 4 m depth, and it was at about - 18 m when you were here last time”. The higher level of water in the wells allowed women start a vegetable garden. As 2004 was a drought year (less than 200 mm rainfall in this area), the vegetable garden was vital to women. They sold the vegetables on the market and their families consumed what they could not sell. The number of vegetable gardens in this village had increased from 2 in 2004 to 10 in 2012. Picture 5 shows one of these vegetable gardens.

Onion is the most popular vegetable grown in the village of Batodi, like in many other places in Niger.

The question arises as to how this increase in groundwater levels can be explained? We looked at two wells at the end of the day and water was at 4 – 6 m deep and it is apparently at about 3 – 4 m early in the morning before they begin irrigating. Is it increased rainfall? Interestingly, 2004 was a drought year and so was 2011. This makes it unlikely that increased rainfall has caused local groundwater level to rise. If increased rainfall would be the major causal factor, then also other villages would experience a rise in groundwater levels and that is not the case. A much more likely explanation is that the systematic rehabilitation of degraded land using water harvesting techniques, which forces rainfall and runoff to infiltrate has led to a local recharge of groundwater.

The agroforestry parkland in Batodi is young and in parts dominated by Piliostigma reticulatum, which provides fodder for livestock. The picture shows a field that was completely barren 20 years ago. The densities are variable, for instance, tree densities in the background are much higher.. Farmers made it clear to us… higher densities are good for the crops.

Agroforestry parkland and food security
2012 will be a very difficult year in various parts of the Sahel. The food deficit of Niger is estimated to be more than 500,000 tons. Within a few weeks, the results of a study will be available, which explores the relationship between farmer-managed natural regeneration in Southern Zinder and household food security. If all goes according to plan, the next ARI update will report the major findings of this study.
The next ARI update will be written as soon as the results of the above-mentioned study will be available.

You can find more information about ARI and related projects on the Web Alliance for Re-greening in Africa.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


The Badaguichiri valley in Niger was in the 1980s and 1990s scarred by a big gully,
which rapidly drained most rainfall and runoff. Since the building of long and low dams across the valley floor and the introduction of simple water harvesting techniques on the surrounding plateaus, the situation has improved significantly. This picture shows a well developed agroforestry landscape. The faidherbida albida trees look greyish as they don’t have leaves in the rainy season. Sorghum and millet benefit from the nitrogen fixation by faidherbida albida.


1. African Re-greening Initiatives (ARI) wants to build on and expand the scale of existing successes in farmer-managed re-greening in drylands. The message that the protection and management of trees and bushes, which emerge spontaneously, is a low cost and efficient form of agricultural intensification, is increasingly getting across.

2. A visit to the Seno Plains in Mali confirmed that farmers protect and manage trees which emerge on their farms. They do so at a large scale and most trees are young. Gray Tappan of the US Geological Survey was asked to look into the scale of these new agroforestry parklands. His analysis of high resolution satellite images revealed medium to high on-farm tree densities on 450,000 ha, which is much more than anyone imagined. Until Gray Tappan established the scale, it was assumed that about 18,000 ha had been re-greened.

The young agroforestry parkland on Mali’s Seno Plains. This picture was taken end March 2011, which is way into the dry season. Nevertheless, vast quantities of crop residues were still stored on the fields.

3. The re-greening partners in Burkina Faso (Reseau MARP and its partners) and in Mali (SahelECO) and its partners are building a movement around farmer-managed re-greening and they undertake a wide range of activities, including the organisation of farmer-to-farmer visits, visits for national and regional policymakers as well as technicians. They get documentaries on national TV, but also show these in village meetings. They organize groups that discuss agroforestry policy and legislation.

4. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) approved a two year grant for “Supporting Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration in the Sahel”. This will allow us to develop a national policy dialogue around farmer-managed re-greening in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Besides the policy dialogue, two more activities are included under this grant. The first is a study on the socioeconomic impacts of agroforestry systems in the Sahel, which is implemented by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). The second is the production of 12 mini-documentaries about successful adaptation to climate change in Afrca’s drylands. These documentaries will be ready by mid-2012.

5. In November a start was made with the formulation of a national re-greening strategy and action plan for Niger. This process will be finalized early in 2012. This activity is funded under the IFAD project mentioned under 4.

Southern Zinder (Niger) has many small depressions surrounded by sandy dunes (wetlands in drylands). Farmers grow a large variety of crops and trees in these depressions, which include sugar cane, rice, date palms, vegetables, fruit trees (papaya and mango). On the surrounding sand dunes, the number of Faidherbia albida is increasing.

6. The Web Alliance for Re-greening in the Sahel (www.W4RA.org) is increasingly operational. In November, the first version of a newly developed voice-based Radio Marché system was tested in Mali. Radio Marché will be used by SahelEco and by two community radio stations in Segou and Tominian.Radio Marché has been developed in close collaboration with the end-users, who actively contribute in its development. It is based on mobile voice and web technologies. It has been designed to automatically generate voice communiqués of market information, which can be broadcasted on the radio.

7. More good news from the web alliance. In November the W4RA was informed that it had won the International Press Institute contest. The proposal, to deploy innovative voice services for the empowerment of radio journalists in Mali, who work for community radio stations promoting Re-greening Initiatives in the Sahel, has been selected amongst 376 proposals. From the 376 proposals submitted, only 3 received a grant. The project will run during 12 months, starting in 2012.

8. In September, Chris Reij visited Nairobi to explore the possibilities for a re-greening initiative in Kenya and to build stronger links with the World Agroforestry Centre (see ARI update 2011 no.6). There’s an exceptional opportunity for promoting farmer-managed re-greening in Kenya as it is the only country in Africa, which has included I its constitution that all farmers should have 10% of their land under trees. Protecting and managing spontaneous regeneration on-farm and off-farm is an interesting option for Kenya’s drylands.

9. The working links with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) are increasingly stronger. Invaluable support was provided during the September visit to Nairobi and close contacts are maintained with Dennis Garrity, until recently DG of ICRAF and the driving force behind its Evergreen Agriculture Initiative.

10. Tony Rinaudo of World Vision Australia is another driving force behind re-greening. In June Tony Rinaudo, Gray Tappan and Chris Reij visited the Kaffrine area in Senegal where World Vision Senegal is promoting farmer-managed re-greening. Several farmers from the Kaffrine area visited Niger 4 years ago and upon return they began protecting and managing spontaneous regeneration. Re-greening now takes place on about 40,000 ha and intensification in existing areas and expansion to others is certain.

11. In 2011, Tony Rinaudo also successfully trained farmers in such diverse countries as (Northern) Ghana, Tigray (Ethiopia), East Timor and East Sumba (Indonesia). In Tigray the regional government is now institutionalizing farmer-managed re-greening. Tony will be asked to produce a next ARI update as soon as he has time in his busy schedule. The message is spreading to other parts of the world.

12. In September, Chris Reij made a presentation at the World Resources Institute in Washington (www.wri.org) World Resources Institute (WRI) is one of the driving forces behind a new Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration. This partnership wants to restore 150 million ha of degraded forests till 2020. That’s a bold target, which requires bold action. A link will be built between this partnership and African Re-greening Initiatives.

13. The documentary “ The man who stopped the desert” made by Mark Dodd about the life, innovations and impact of Yacouba Sawadogo, farmer innovator in Burkina Faso, won 7 awards in 2011 (www.1080films.co.uk). On December 12, Yacouba received a national decoration (Chevalier de l’Ordre de Mérite Nationale).

14. LucGnacadja, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, invited Yacouba Sawadogo and Mathieu Ouedraogo to join a special day at the Caux Forum on Human Security in Switzerland, which was dedicated to discussing the restoration of the Earth’s degraded lands (www.cauxforum.net). About 250 participants from 50 countries watched the documentary, which triggered many positive reactions.

15. Yacouba Sawadogo hit the spotlight in 2011 as he was also invited to speak in October at a special session of the Conference of Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification held in Changwon (South Korea). During the opening session of this Conference of Parties, UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon specifically mentioned Yacouba and his work.

16. The media continued to pay attention to farmer managed re-greening. Articles were published, amongst others, in: The New Yorker (Dec. 19&26), Le Monde Diplomatique (November), The Nation (November) Our Planet, which is UNEP’s flagship publication (September), Ökotest (December) as well as a special issue Environment and Energy published in August, Bild der Wissenschaft (August), Welt am Sonntag (March 27), Suddeutsche Zeitung (October 31) and Daily Telegraph (July 15). This media exposure acts as counterweight against the usual doom and gloom stories published about drylands.

17. The re-greening movement is building and the number of champions is increasing. Just to give some examples. In September, Roland Bunch (www.rolandbunch.com), who authored the famous book “Two Ears of Corn: a guide to people-centered agricultural improvement” mentioned his support for re-greening and a willingness to get involved. In the same month Groundswell in Ghana (www.groundswellinternational.org) expressed its interest in developing re-greening in Northern Ghana and they will mobilize their own funding.

Perspectives for 2012

1. Key in 2012 will be…let’s catalyze more on the ground action…and let’s develop dialogues with national and international policymakers around re-greening. The financial support by FINHUMF and the IFAD grant for 4 countries in the Sahel will help us to continue pushing forward.

2. A national re-greening workshop will be organized in Ethiopia early in 2012 about re-greening successes in this country. The Government of Ethiopia intends to reforest 15 million hectares and to plant 100 million fertilizer trees (Faidherbia albida). The objective of the workshop will be to try to feed some lessons into national policy and practice. The workshop will be co-organized by the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre, FAO and FarmAfrica.

3. A regional workshop on re-greening will be organized by World Vision early April in Nairobi. Tony Rinaudo will spend 3 months in this region to visit partner and provide training.

4. The national re-greening strategy and action plan for Niger will be assessed in a national workshop early this year. There is no reason why this national strategy should not become operational in 2012.

5. Closer links will be forged not only with World Resources Institute and the Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration, which I now tend to call more simply…Global Re-greening Initiative, but also with Evergreen Agriculture, World Vision Australia and with other re-greening initiatives.

Finally I would like to thank all of you who have directly or indirectly provided support to re-greening under ARI. I wish you a healthy and inspirational 2012. Let’s together try to make the world a bit greener to improve food security, adapt to climate change, reduce rural poverty, alleviate the burden of women and girls have who collect firewood, increase the fodder available to livestock, maintain or improve soil fertility, increase biodiversity, restore ecosystem services. Resource users can do it themselves, but sometimes they need a bit of external support…not necessarily money, but new ideas and new experience. There is no other intervention that produces so many benefits at such low costs. Let us catalyze more action. Your involvement in this process is vital.

Chris Reij
January 6, 2012