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MDG target 7.B: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss ConStraint:
Desertification Caused by Deforestation and Destructive Farming and Livestock Practices Lack of information and technologies to combat unsustainable deforestation, farming and livestock practices
Niger’s Environmental Rehabilitation consisted of various policies and Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) initiatives to contribute to reforestation by managing natural tree regeneration. By conserving trees on agricultural land, farmers have not only contributed to reforestation, but have also benefited from the natural fertilizer that the leaves provide, improved soil fertility, increased crop yields and increased incomes from forest products.
• The intervention of managing natural tree regeneration has had many knock-on effects in
Niger through improved soil fertility, improved access to fuel-wood energy, fodder for livestock and income from sales of forest products. The intervention provides a pathway to improved agricultural production and food security as well as increased incomes and natural products that support and diversify rural livelihoods. • Using low-cost methods, Niger has made considerable strides to combat desertification through the efforts of poor farmers. Since 1980, improved rainfall and conservation efforts such as farmer-managed natural tree regeneration have resulted in over 7.4 million new tree-covered acres. • Not only has reforestation occurred simultaneously with rapid population growth, but satellite imagery shows that the densest vegetation is within some of the most densely populated areas—contrary to conventional wisdom that there is a correlation between population growth and land degradation. • In the arid Sahel region such as Niger, where drought and desertification have posed a persistent threat to development, farmers are reaping a variety of economic benefits from the reforested areas. The presence of the new trees has resulted in increased crop yields as well as increased incomes and natural products that support and diversify rural livelihoods. For example, leaves, wood, fodder and fruit provide both subsistence and marketable products to rural inhabitants, thus contributing to food security and poverty reduction.
Key elements of success:
• Changes in environmental policy have also contributed to Niger’s successes in reforestation. In
recent years, laws have been amended to transfer ownership of trees to farmers. The shift in official policy, however, has come about largely in response to changes in local attitudes toward conservation. Farmers had already begun taking ownership of the trees years before the change in legal status. The new policy strengthens local responsibility for natural resources by allowing farmers to benefit from their protection and to pursue legal action against the poaching of branches, fruit, etc., by others. • As climate change continues, rain cycles may become increasingly volatile and severe droughts are more likely. Gains in reforestation already achieved may buffer against future dry periods both by mitigating their environmental impact and by providing a supplemental source of income when crop productivity declines. The greening of the Sahel has the potential to reduce both environmental and economic vulnerability in the region. However, additional investments in education, health, infrastructure, energy, water and agriculture would be required as Niger moves up the development ladder.
• Support of communities through access to information, training, tools and technical support (e.g.,
learning by doing) as well as diversified and intensified farming systems through agro-forestry all produced a more positive, self-reliant outlook and increased capacities.
• Support to the expansion of local NGOs and service providers through capacity building and
grants has had a real impact in reaching the households.
• Improved access to markets for wood and forest products as well as crops has improved
household income and food security, reduced vulnerability to drought and mitigated demand for rural out-migration. • Changed perceptions about rights to trees (from State ownership of trees to individual property rights) has had a profound impact on sustainability. • Improved Managed Natural Regeneration is an effective mechanism for leveraging transformational development including poverty reduction, economic growth, agricultural and rural development, improved governance and health. • It is important to take stock, to validate, to disseminate, and to equip champions and producers alike with knowledge of what has worked and why. • Although challenges remain, the resiliency, innovations and adaptations of rural producers, their responsiveness to favorable policy, regulatory and market conditions in the face of environmental and economic stresses, and the willingness of many partners to capitalize on lessons learned, all provide a solid foundation that encourages prospects for replicability.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a combination of severe draught, destructive farming and livestock processes, and a rapidly increasing population resulted in vast areas of land being denuded. In the last 20 years, the population of Niger has doubled, and birthrates continue to be one of the highest in the world. With a population of around 13 million, only 12 percent of Niger’s land is suitable for cultivation, yet 90 percent of the population depends on farming. Rapid desertification, such as that which was occurring in the 1970s and 80s, has been a major threat to development gains in Niger. Through the concerted support of local authorities in the 1980s, though, NGOs, donors such as USAID and farmers, farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) was identified as one pathway to improved agricultural productivity and diversification of livelihood. Niger’s successes in combating desertification have largely been the result of local efforts by farmers, using simple, low-cost technologies. The trees are part of a larger shift in local agricultural and land use practices by local farmers over the past two decades. Though farmers continue to rely primarily on rain-fed agriculture to produce sorghum, millet, peanuts, and beans, they no longer clear fields as before. In the past, farmers would entirely clear the field of trees and other vegetation. When the productivity of the field began to decline, the farmer would simply move to another. With limited cultivatable land, increasing population and problems with drought, this was no longer feasible. Today, more farmers are leaving trees on the land, carefully sowing crops around them. Recognizing the ecological and economic benefits the trees can provide, farmers protect and nurture young saplings rather than removing them as before. Besides ecological benefits from reforestation, the trees provide a number of products to farmers. Farmers with trees on their property have access to extra income through the sale of fuel wood, leaves, fruits, pods, bark (for medicinal purposes) and wood. One tree making a comeback in the region is the Faidherbia albida, or gao tree. The gao tree is a nitrogen-fixing tree and helps to fertilize the soil. And since its leaves fall off during the rainy season, it does not compete with crops for water, sun, or soil nutrients during their growing season. The fallen leaves also provide a natural source of fertilizer for the crops.
Nadine Gbossa UNDP E-mail Nadine.firstname.lastname@example.org
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