Issue no.17 - July 2010

Natural Resource Management experiences and approaches in WCA

Message from the Director

    Wisdom corner  
    “We start as fools and become wise through experience”, African proverb (Ghana).  

Welcome to this special issue on Natural Resources Management (NRM). The issue profiles some of the experiences and initiatives implemented by projects in the region. The newsletter includes articles from the field and some short success stories. The aim is to keep those involved in NRM better informed about developments in the region. The systematic knowledge sharing on solutions can make it possible to benefit from these experiences today in the planning and implementation of natural resources management, and enhancing their implementation.



Burkina Faso - Farmers weeding millet in the Ouro village, near Ouahigouya. Note stone 'diguettes', a technique to combat soil erosion.

Through the publication of this special issue, we aim to recognize successful and innovative methods used for protecting natural resources, which demonstrate the outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through natural resources conservation. Upscaling NRM approaches that have proven their worth is one way of raising the sustainabability of natural resources in rural areas – particularly approaches based on rural communities’ participation which, by means of erosion protection, reforestation and irrigation, not only enhance the productivity of rural natural resources, but also reduce rural people’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Your feedback is appreciated. Please send your comments, questions, and story ideas. 

Enjoy your reading

Mohamed Beavogui
Western and Central Africa Division

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Mali: Regenerating floating pastures in the Niger delta



Bourem region, Mali: A flooded bourgou pasture in October 2008 (Photo PIDRN).

We take a closer look at the work of the Northern Mali Investment and Rural Development Programme (PIDRN) and the Sahelian Areas Development Fund Programme (FODESA) in the Niger delta, where climate change is affecting natural flood cycles and the growth of bourgou grass, an important fodder for livestock.

What is bourgou?

Bourgou is a semi-aquatic, long-stemmed grass that grows on floodplains and wetlands in Africa and Asia. It thrives in the flooded areas of the Niger Delta and is a critical fodder resource for livestock during the dry season. In recent years it has also been used as a cash crop for havest and sale in local markets. Bourgou pastures are key breeding and feeding habitat for fish, insects and birds.

Each year during the rainy season, the Niger River bursts its banks and floodwater spills into the Niger Delta, inundating an area of about 30,000 square kilometres. Bourgou grows during this period, when cattle and other animals graze on rain-fed pastures. Livestock return to bourgou pastures to feed during the dry season. In the region of Mopti, one hectare of bourgou can feed 23 cows for 150 days. When dried, a 3.5kg bundle of bourgou straw nets a mean price of 150CFA ($0.30).

Why are bourgou pastures under increased pressure in the Niger Delta?

Bourgou is highly-adapted to the yearly floods. In ideal conditions, it can grow to a height of seven metres, producing offshoots that typically grow several centimetres per day. But in recent years, unpredictable weather patterns and lower flood levels caused by climate change are affecting the crop’s growth and rest periods. Overgrazing can also damage bourgou pastures.

How is PIDRN regenerating degraded bourgou pastures?

Two techniques are being applied: broadcast seeding at a rate of 5kg per hectare, usually carried out in June and July, and transplantation using cuttings from previously irrigated grasslands. The latter method, which is more effective but requires more manpower, involves transplanting cuttings spaced 0.5 to 1 metre apart.  Although bourgou is a perennial grass, secondary irrigation in the run-up to the rainy season ensures better growth in areas affected by early or late rains. Supplemental irrigation has been instrumental in restoring grasslands affected by climate change and unpredictable weather patterns. Three irrigation sessions in the months of June and July are usually necessary, taking into account rain patterns.

What are the implications of bourgou pasture regeneration?

Secondary irrigation can dissuade hippos and other wild animals from bourgou floodplains. Additionally, late onset rains sparked by climate change can contribute to overgrazing, discouraging cattle from roaming elsewhere. FODESA and PIDRN are working with local communities to identify solutions that ensure the long-term viability of bourgou pastures while preserving critical ecosystems.

The case of Korienzé

Life in the rural community of Korienzé, 150km from Mopti, has long been dictated by by the flood and drought cycle of the Niger River. But erratic flood patterns caused by climate change, coupled with overgrazing during the unpredictable flood season were taking their toll on bourgou pastures. In collaboration with the Sahelian Areas Development Fund Programme (FODESA), farmers launched an irrigation project to inject new life into the pastures. By February 2009, it was deemed successful. 240 hectares of bourgou pastures have now been regenerated, giving a much-needed boost to livelihoods, family incomes and food security. The rural ecosystem has regained its balance and migratory birds are returning to the area, feeding on the small fish that now re-populate the floating pastures.

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Niger: Turning red land green

Regeneration in numbers:

  • 178 hectares of arid land brought back to life so far
  • 500 young people have benefited from the scheme
  • 36964 demi-lunes constructed

Drive along the rust-red roads of Niger’s Aguie region and you’ll see a remarkable sight - thousands of lush green demi-lunes in an otherwise arid landscape. The five-metre long crescents, dug by local youth under an innovative ‘cash for work’ scheme, are designed to catch rainwater, make the hardpan soil usable and promote plant growth. They are among the successes of the Project to Promote Local Initiative in Development in Aguie (PPILDA).



The site before (Photo PPILDA)

The project is boosting the capacity, income and livelihood of the local population, while helping to regenerate vast swathes of arid land that could be used for agriculture. Since the launch of the project, 178 hectares of land have been successfully regenerated and seeded. Hundreds of young families have been able to supplement their low incomes. Community members have also noticed that wildlife is returning to the area, including squirrels and rabbits – much-needed in a region where food     insecurity prevails.

The project methodology involves four key steps; identifying sites, communities and local actors; initial work; planting species such as Acacia seyal and Bauhinia rufescens and seeding grass and lastly, follow-up and monitoring work. Water-harvesting techniques such as stone bunds and demi-lunes are being employed, designed to speed the process of re-greening.

As Niger’s food crisis continues, prompting thousands of young people join the mass exodus south to Nigeria; the incentives of the PPILDA project have encouraged some to stay at home.

“With my earnings from the first season I bought 100kg of millet” said one head of household who took part. “That bag of millet fed me and my family – 7 people in total – for 20 days, meaning that I didn’t need to go out and farm.” Under the scheme, participants earn 300 CFA per demi-lune – enough to buy a loaf of bread - while digging a much larger banquette nets 15,000 CFA (GBP18).



The site after (Photo PPILDA)

The scheme also includes a drive to produce 265 tons of straw, enough to feed 220 dairy cows for nine months. On their own initiative, benefiting from technical support from the PPILDA team, community members are also harvesting straw over an area of 23 hectares. To date the sale of straw has raised over 300,000 CFA ($600) of which 55% has gone to the local committee and 15% to the heads of local villages. In order to ensure good practice, fines have been imposed for anyone caught stealing straw.

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Benin: Successful rehabilitation of sacred spawning grounds

Five years after the Participatory Artisanal Fisheries Development Support Programme (PADPPA) began rehabilitating sacred spawning grounds on the sandy shores of Lake Ahémé, fishers are netting bigger, healthier catches than before.

Avlékététin are sacred spawning zones in Beninese culture, providing a safe habitat for female fish to deposit their eggs for fertilisation. For centuries, traditional leaders have made animal sacrifices in the 15 square metres spawning grounds of Lake Ahémé , boosting reproduction of tilapia, catfish and other species of fish that populate the lake.



Fishermen on Lake Ahémé (Photo PADPPA)

Under the direction of the Ministry of Fisheries, the Participatory Artisanal Fisheries Development Support Programme rehabilited 30 avlékététin spawning grounds in 2004. Fish populations had been low since the Nangbéto dam was commissioned upstream in 1987. The floodplain at Lake Ahémé was drying out more quickly and opportunities for fish to reproduce in the spawning areas had become limited. A drop in fish numbers led some fishers to bend sacrosanct rules, casting their nets in the avlékététin or employing acadja ambush traps, which destroy mangroves and other biodiversity.

PADPPA’s rehabilitation programme targeted the communities of Kpomassè, Comè and Bopa. It involved planting stakes to prevent fishers from straying into the protected areas. The traditional circular shape was maintained with a diameter of 50 to 75 metres, for a larger available protected surface area to increase production.

Traditional leaders are unanimous in their recognition of the programme’s success, noting the reappearance of several elusive fish species. But PADPPA can’t take all the credit; the lake is watched over by Mamiwata, the voodoo goddess of water, fertility and wealth.

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Lessons from the Sahel: How to adapt to climate change, improve household food security and reduce rural poverty



Photo Young high-density agroforestry parkland in the southern part of Niger’s Zinder region (Photo VU University Amsterdam)

By Chris Reij, Senior Advisor on Natural Resource Management, Centre for International Cooperation, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

Over the last two decades, IFAD has been helping farmers in the Sahel adapt to climate change, improve food security in their households and reduce rural poverty. But as climate change takes a greater toll, how will the region cope?

As far as climate change is concerned, the forecast doesn’t look good. Meteorologists predict that in the next two decades, temperatures across the Sahel will increase and rainfall will decline by about 20 percent. Crop yields will suffer (shrinking by 20 percent or more) as a result of the declining and more erratic rainfall. And over same period, the population is expected to double.

The Sahel faced a similar scenario in the past and was able to cope with the changes. At the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s, rainfall suddenly dropped by about 30 per cent, causing hunger and hardship. The region’s farmers and herders needed some years to adapt to the lower rainfall. Reports analysing agriculture and environment in the Sahel in the 1980s tended to be pessimistic using terms such as “failure” and “breakdown” to describe the situation.

However, recent studies show some surprising trends. In the Niger, for example, farmers in several densely populated regions protect and manage natural regeneration of trees and bushes on their farms. The process began in 1985 and has led to on-farm re-greening of about 5 million hectares: the largest scale environmental transformation to date in the Sahel and possibly in all of Africa.

This process of on-farm protection and management of trees feeds about 2.5 million people, by growing “useful” trees such as Faidherbia albida (which produces nitrogen that improves soil fertility, and fodder for livestock), Piliostigma reticulatum (used for fodder), Combretum glutinosum (used for firewood), Adansonia digitata (whose leaves and fruit offer high-quality nutrition) and Guiera senegalensis (used for fodder). The annual production value of the new trees is at least EUR 200 million, which flows directly back to the farmers, either as cash or as produce.

The development of agroforestry systems in the Niger took off as soon as farmers began to experience exclusive rights to their on-farm trees.

The development of agroforestry systems bring a good number of benefits, including reduced wind speed, added shade, better soil fertility (a good stand of Faidherbia albida fixes 80 to 90 kg of nitrogen per hectare) carbon emissions and a boost to food security (even if crops fail, trees will produce). Farmers and NGO staff have improved traditional water harvesting techniques such as the zaï infiltration pits and contour stone bunds. Land rehabilitated on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso now produces enough to feed an additional 400,000 people.

National policies and legislation or land and tree tenure that induce Africa’s small farmers to investin natural resources are vital.  In parts of Mali this process began in 1994 following the change in the forestry law, once farmers were informed of the changes.

Adapting to climate change in Africa requires a mix of investments, changes in policies and legislation, social capital development, the building of a movement in support of re-greening, as well as action-research to quantify multiple impacts. The biggest spanner in the works? Rapid population growth.

Niger has the highest population growth rate in the world (estimates range from 3.4 per cent to 3.7 per cent per year). The country’s population stands at about 15 million for 2010. This will climb to at least 30 million in 2030, and – if nothing changes – to well over 60 million in 2050. The trend has been “more people, more trees” but although people in the Niger may well be better off now than they were 20-30 years ago, limits also exist. Even if it were possible to feed a fast growing population, creating livelihood prospects for the many young people is another challenge altogether.

The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official views or policies of the international Fund for Agricultural Development, except as explicitly stated.

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Short success stories from projects on NRM

Rehabilitating rice fields in the Gambia



Wheat growing in an oasis in Adrar, Mauritania - Oasis Sustainable Development Programme (PDDO) - January 2010

Although rice is the Gambia’s national staple, much of what the tiny Anglophone country consumes is imported from Asia. According to 2005 figures, the total area put to paddy in the country was 15,821 hectares – but output was greatly reduced by flooding and high salinity. Since 2006, the Participatory Integrated Watershed Management Project (PIWAMP) has been supporting the construction and rehabilitation of rice fields in lowland and upland areas, encouraging self-sufficiency and boosting rural food security.

As of December 2009, a total of 5,125 hectares of land were under cultivation by PIWAMP, with the involvement of 34,240 farmers, most of whom are female. The lack of access to machinery, particularly power tillers, is negatively impacting the women, who must work manually. The project continues, targeting a total of 18,000 beneficiary households.

Northern Nigeria: Ram fattening scheme eases food security worries



"Half moons" are crescent shaped holes designed to catch rain water and protect seedlings from the wind. They are an anti- desertification measure being trialed in Illela Region, Niger, by PPILDA.

The Community-Based Agriculture and Rural Development Programme (CBARDP) has been running in northern Nigeria since 2003, responding to food security issues and growing poverty in rural areas. With projects in the eight northern states of Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara in the northwest and Borno and Yobe in the northeast, it aims to improve the livelihoods and living conditions of rural communities, with emphasis on women and other vulnerable groups.

Programme staff report considerable progress, measured by the rehabilitation of degraded farmland, creation of orchards, increased crop yield and better management of livestock. In Katsina state, a ram fattening scheme has benefited 1,050 people so far.

Saving Nigeria’s katamfe plants: a Community-Based Natural Resource Management Programme project

The katamfe plant, or Thaumatoccocus daniellii, a large rhizomatous flowering herb native to the rainforests of West Africa, is fast becoming extinct. It produces violet flowers and fleshy red fruit that contain the sweet substance thaumatin. Women wrap food in its malleable leaves.  CBNRMOP-ND is supporting katamfe cultivation projects for the purpose of producing and distributing the seeds to interested communities. In a similar vein, its oil palm seedling distribution programme is providing canopy/cover to minimise top soil loss, as well as enhancing household nutrition.

Participatory Artisanal Fisheries Development Support Programme releases 900,000 fry into Benin’s reservoirs

As part of the Participatory Artisanal Fisheries Development Support Programme (PADPPA)’s artisanal fisheries support programme in Benin, more than 900,000 fry have been released into reservoirs for re-stocking purposes. Boats and nets have also been supplied and mangroves have been planted along 110 hectares of shoreline. The programme aims to re-balance delicate eco-systems damaged by overfishing and support local fishers, many of whom are women.

Giving farmers an edge in Burkina Faso

Working in five of Burkina Faso’s provinces, the Sustainable Rural Development Programme (PDRD) worked with 3,332 farmers in 2009, 1,420 of whom are female. Stone contour lines have been constructed, as well stone bunds and demi-lunes. Farmers have also been sensitised about the properties of organic manure. Some farmers say their yields have doubled since the programme began. The Burkina Faso Community Investment Programme for Agricultural Fertility (PICOFA) is also making an impact, working on watershed management, constructing “demi-lunes” and stone bunds and recovering hundreds of hectares of degraded land.

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News and events

New Projects

IFAD has approved two new projects:

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