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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 (, 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 ( 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