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Improved traditional agricultural techniques and a greener landscape in the Sahel

Photo credit: SIANI

Innovative farmer in front of his field of half moons in Burkina Faso. Photo credit: Anneli Sundin

Re-greening the Sahel?

by Anneli Sundin

Desertification in the Sahel – an untruthful story?

The area of the Sahel has long been depicted as a disaster area with one of the highest poverty levels in the world. This portrayal has been closely related to the notion of desertification; “an image of the advancing desert” where humans have been proclaimed as the culprit due to their unsustainable management of land. Desertification has gained a strong foothold as a type of development narrative however this assumption is the result of weak research and has been proven not to be accurate in all parts of the Sahel. Still these particular narratives have been the ones that have gained ground because they have been fashioned by powerful actors. The development narrative of desertification with its set of ideas about the environment has informed many decisions made by national governments, scientists and international donor organisations for many years, which have led to top-down approaches in land management and imbalances in power structures. Over time this has resulted in unsustainable land management practices that have been disadvantageous to the people living from this land.

(Combined agricultural techniques in Burkina Faso: zaï and stone lines. Photo credit: Hanna Sinare) - http://www.siani.se/sites/clients.codepositive.com/files/imce/blog_w_zai_and_stone_lines_burkina_faso.jpg
(Combined agricultural techniques in Burkina Faso: zaï and stone lines. Photo credit: Hanna Sinare) – http://www.siani.se/sites/clients.codepositive.com/files/imce/blog_w_zai_and_stone_lines_burkina_faso.jpg

 

During the last two decades extensive studies based on satellite images, researchers have discovered an increase in greenness over large parts of the Sahel since the mid-80s. This is linked to a recorded increase in rainfall and is believed to represent the recovery of the landscape from the persistent droughts in the 70s and 80s. What research also shows is that while rainfall does cause a greenness to occur, there are specific ‘hot spots’ in the Sahel where the greening cannot be explained by rainfall alone.  This means that land management practices might also have played a role. Since evidence has indicated that the Sahara desert is not encroaching further south to the same extent that had been assumed, counter-narratives have gained an increased foothold. These counter-narratives discuss the importance of local indigenous knowledge and customary institutional management of land and highlight farmers own adaptability to climate uncertainty and dynamic ecosystems.

Sustainable agricultural techniques

In the arid and semi-arid parts of West Africa traditional soil and water conservation techniques have been developed and promoted thanks to their beneficial effects on degraded and/or arid lands and on agricultural production.

Read the full article: SIANI

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Community garden for the women of Niou (Prov. Kourweogo, Burkina Faso) with the application of the soil conditioner TerraCottem - Photo Credit WVC 1997-12
Community garden for the women of Niou (Prov. Kourweogo, Burkina Faso) with the application of the soil conditioner TerraCottem – Photo Credit WVC 1997-12

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.