Read at :
Technorati : desertification (see Blogroll in left column)
KORHOGO, northern Côte d’Ivoire, May 3 (IPS) – For Katienéfoha Yéo, two decades of cotton farming that resulted in nothing but debt were enough to get him on the road, out of Tanikaha in northern Côte d’Ivoire to Sarala in the west. “At Tanikaha I worked the land for more than 20 years without ever managing to own the least thing. Almost all my agricultural seasons ended with significant (harvest) shortfalls because the soil was no longer good (fertile),” he told IPS. In 2000 Yéo finally left his village of Korhogo to set up a new home in the Fouyagôrô encampment in the region of Sarala, where land is still productive. Since then the man who was once in debt to cotton companies for fertilizer and pesticides has built two houses: “I rebuilt the house of my father in a more proper way in the village, and I built (a house) for myself and my family. Before, I lived in a hut on depleted land.” The good harvests that that his new fields have regularly produced even enabled Yéo to buy a vehicle to transport goods by road between Korhogo and Sarala.
He is one of tens of thousands of farmers who have moved into regions of centre-west and western Côte d’Ivoire over recent years, establishing new villages and encampments. “Youths who’re leaving the savannahs of the north…are to a certain extent forced to do this, as their land has become unproductive and agricultural yields almost negligible,” Siriki Yéo, chief of the village of Yèkaha in western Côte d’Ivoire, told IPS.
The improved farming conditions that migrants find come at a cost, however, as farmers are settling in forested areas that should remain uninhabited for the conservation of natural resources. Additional forest areas are occupied every day says Benoît Cinan Soro, director of Rural Activities of Korhogo (Animation rurale de Korhogo, ARK), a non-governmental organisation that defends the rights of subsistence farmers. He also warns that newly-occupied forests will experience the same environmental destruction as areas that migrants have left behind in about 20 years, if reforestation is not resumed as a matter of urgency.
Political difficulties have proved an obstacle in this regard. A rebellion in 2002 led to Côte d’Ivoire being divided in two, with rebels occupying the northern half of the country. They claimed to be fighting the marginalisation of people living in this part of the nation. After several failed attempts at peace an agreement was signed about two months ago that provides for the creation of a new administration, joint military command between rebels and officials, and elections within the next year. Until recently, however, war has taken precedence over environmental concerns — notably in rebel-held areas.
The most recent attempt at reforestation in northern Côte d’Ivoire dates back to 2000 at Dolékaha in the Karakoro region. It was carried out by the environmental ministry when the country was still unified. Land degradation in the north has turned to desertification in certain areas, particularly Napiélédougou, Tiorniaradougou, Karakoro, Sinematiali and Korhogo, where firewood and charcoal have also become scarce.
“Communities have…started to use the stems of millet, cotton and sorghum or maize to cook their meals,” reports Roger Gaoussou Soro, an ARK activities co-ordinator who is in charge of environmental protection. A start to reforestation has taken place in other parts of the country: the environment ministry and the Society for Forest Development (Société pour le développement de la forêt) have launched initiatives in the south, which government has been overseeing. But these initiatives have not produced the anticipated results, because communities have not been included in them.
When questioned, the inhabitants of these settlements say they’re more interested in fruit trees that provide a direct profit than trees that restore life to an ecosystem, for which “they do not see the immediate importance” Mathias Dago, a former regional director at the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests, told IPS. Notes Gaoussou Soro, “Unfortunately, what most often happens in these villages is that after the departure of persons involved with reforestation, the villagers — not seeing the usefulness of the trees that have been planted — destroy them when they farm.” And while environmental officials and activists try to save forests, farmers like Jérome Kolotiolona Ouattara still believe they have no option but to start farming in these areas.
Here, the cashew nut and cotton producer explains, you can “plant seed after having cut down the undergrowth — and the payoff is immediate, clearly greater than in the north where you put in a lot of work to produce a small yield.” (END/2007)