Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2011
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Land Rehabilitation on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso
and Building Resilience to Climate Change
through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration in Niger

Pauline Buffle - International Union for Conservation of Nature
Chris Reij - University of Amsterdam

Originally published in Ecosystem & Livelihoods Adaptation Network (ELAN), August 2011

Global climate change scenarios strongly suggest that drylands in West Africa are likely to become more arid. Changes in rainfall distribution could result in additional stress on agricultural production in these areas.

This case study examines adaptation measures that have been implemented in the Sahel region since the 1980s. These include farmer-­-managed natural regeneration (FMNR), a very simple practice whereby existing vegetation on degraded land is identified, managed and protected.

Woody species can regenerate naturally in those areas where top soil contains stocks of seeds or where there are underground root systems. Equally, livestock manure and bird droppings often contain seeds that can easily germinate given the right conditions.

In Burkina Faso, efforts have been implemented to rehabilitate barren crusted land using contour bunds and improved planting pits. These simple techniques have served to increase the volume of water available to crops; farmers who have invested in these techniques have also improved soil fertility management.

Improvements in the rural landscape have enabled hundreds of thousands of households living on US$2 or less a day to diversify their sources of livelihoods and increase their incomes, thereby strengthening their resilience. They have also played a critical role in addressing chronic hunger among families at the mercy of unpredictable harvests. FMNR has had an enormously empowering effect on farmers. Keywords: climate change adaptation, dryland, grazeland, drought, trees, farmer-­-managed natural regeneration (FMNR), Sahel

Foreword to ELAN Case Studies

Ecosystem and rights-based integrated adaptation

Adaptation projects based on an integrated approach should meet the following criteria in the project design and implementation:

  • Promotion of livelihoods resilience;
  • Disaster risk reduction to minimize the impacts of hazards, particularly on the most vulnerable households and individuals;
  • Capacity strengthening of local civil society and government institutions so that they can more effectively support community, household and individual adaptation efforts;
  • Advocacy and social mobilisation to address the underlying causes of vulnerability including poor governance, degraded ecosystems, inequitable control and access to resources, limited access to basic services, discrimination and other social injustices;
  • Sustainable management, conservation, protection and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity in order to maintain the multiple benefits provided by the ecosystems' goods and services.

What can we learn from the ELAN case studies?

An important lesson learned from the research process is that projects that fully embody an integrated approach to adaptation are few and far between. Indeed, despite extensive research, case studies that met all the above-­-mentioned criteria for an integrated approach and adhered to both human rights-­-based principles and principles of ecosystem sustainability could not be found. Why not?

First, the complexity of ecosystem goods and services and their links to climate change were often ill-­-considered during project design and implementation. Oftentimes a community-­-based adaptation project may simply entail community-­-based natural resource management – which is not the same as adopting a truly ecosystem management approach; in other cases the proposed measures had no real foundation in climate change; finally, most projects focused on restoring or conserving ecosystems under a static climate, rather than on finding ways of preserving ecosystems to help people adapt in the context of a changing climate, posing the project's long-­-term sustainability at risk.

Second, ensuring that adaptation policy and practice promote human rights-­-based principles was often not straightforward. , Although most projects were designed to increase community resilience to climate risks and deliver additional benefits to local livelihoods through nature-­-based solutions, only a few addressed the underlying causes of vulnerability and pursued true empowerment of vulnerable groups. In other cases, projects intending to promote a rights-­-based approach supported the rights of some community members but not others. For example, while the importance of involving women in adaptation initiatives was often underscored, efforts to address the special needs of other vulnerable groups (such as the elderly, the disabled, or children) were not always prominent components of the projects, particularly during the implementation phase.

Third, the ELAN case studies demonstrate the complexity of pursuing a truly integrated approach to climate change adaptation. While there are many projects that prioritized the promotion of human rights through community-­-based adaptation practices, environmental sustainability was not always equally guaranteed; at the same time, an ecosystem-­-based adaptation project may not always seek to ensure that the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society are protected.

These and other lessons learned make an important contribution to generating and exchanging knowledge on integrated adaptation approaches. In addition, the case studies help to underscore the challenge and importance of integrating the full range of rights-­-based and ecosystem-­-based responses to climate change. An enhanced understanding of the complex interplay between these principles – informed in part by these case studies -­--­- can help move us towards the goal of protecting the ecosystems that play a vital role in ensuring that poor and marginalized populations can manage and adapt to climate variability and change.


Environmental context

Drylands are ecosystems characterized by a lack of water spatially and temporally. They include cultivated lands, scrublands, grasslands, savannahs, semi-­-deserts and true deserts. In these landscapes, water scarcity limits production of crops, forage, and wood and other ecosystem services. The Sahel has been identified as one of the areas most vulnerable to increased drought in a warming climate. While rains have been relatively good in recent years (except 2004), the long-­-term projections point to longer and more frequent droughts across the region as global temperatures rise (IPCC, 2007; 2008).

This case study1 examines adaptation measures implemented in the West African Sahel region with a focus on South Niger and the Central Plateau of Burkin Faso since the 1980s. The inhabitants of these regions are farmers, essentially living from production of millet and sorghum as well as livestock. The adaptation strategies featured in this study increase resilience to climate change impacts in drylands ecosystems, which are increasingly vulnerable to droughts, irregular rainfall and soil erosion. In drylands, farmers depending on the soil are very vulnerable as well. The rural communities managed to increase their resilience by restoring their soil leading to better cereal yields as well as new alternative livelihoods to agriculture. To attain these goals, they pursued three types of activities: farmer-­-managed natural regeneration, improved planting pits and contour stone bunds.

In the absence of effective natural resource management approaches in the Sahel region, there is an increased threat that future famines could match the devastating scale of those of the 1970s; this absence could also accelerate desertification of fragile lands in the Sahel. Yet development experts and intermediary organizations are hoping that region-wide expansion of farmer-managed

Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) involves supporting the regeneration of trees and their sustainable management to produce sustainable supplies of fuelwood as well as non-timber products such as edible seeds and leaves. Natural regeneration of woody species can occur where the top soil contains a stock of seeds or where it has an underground root system. Similarly, it is also possible where livestock manure and bird droppings contain seeds that easily germinate. FMNR has been implemented over an area of 5 million ha in some densely populated parts of Niger. In Burkina Faso, the emphasis has been on water conservation through rehabilitation of barren crusted land using contour bunds and improved planting pits. These simple techniques have increased the volume of water available to crops while farmers who have invested in them have also achieved improved soil fertility management.

natural regeneration (FMNR) and other land management programmes will help the region increase its resilience in the face of a changing climate (WRI, 2008). In the 30 years since farmers and non-governmental-organizations' practitioners have begun land rehabilitation with improved soil and water conservation techniques, evaluations have been regularly conducted. Indeed, NGOs and IOs still advocate such measures in dryland ecosystems today.


The Sahel has been plagued by droughts throughout the 20th century and before. The 1982–84 drought was followed by persistent dryness which lasted until 1993. Although more rain fell during the decade from 1994 to 2003, conditions remained far drier than the period from 1930 to 1965 (Anyamba and Tucker, 2005). The impacts of these changes in the climate have been very severe. The 1968–73 drought, in particular, resulted in numerous deaths. The result was an acute human and environmental crisis (Reij, Tappan and Smale, 2009). Average sorghum and millet yields decreased. As a result, a majority of farming households had annual food deficits of 50 percent or more (Broekhuyse, 1983). Meanwhile, the barren land surface area on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso continued to expand.

The loss of trees and soil degradation which increased the local population's vulnerability to drought was induced by a complex scheme of historical and socio-­-economic factors. The mean population growth in the case study areas has increased since the beginning of the 20th Century. More specifically, the demographic pressure on the land has greatly increased since the 1960's. This population growth, combined to other factors such as the decentralization of the traditional labor units2 (less people per unit leading to less efficiency as well as increased space utilization for agriculture) and a trend to cereal quasi monoculture since the 1970's3 led to a situation where extensive agriculture combined with deforestation. Increased use of space resulted in a diminition of fallow time (then abandonment of the practice), of manure per surface (volume of cattle remained the same), both leading to soil degradation and erosion4 (Marchal, 1985). Useful tree species were lost and little natural regeneration occurred. In the Maradi region of Niger, the landscape was denuded and exposed to severe wind erosion. The agro-­-environment and the people it sustained were increasingly vulnerable to drought (Raynaut, 1987; 1997).

The widespread migration of men in search of labour caused social disruption (Monimart, 1989). Between 1975 and 1985, some villages lost as many as 25 percent of their families, who migrated to the Ivory Coast and to areas of higher rainfall in Burkina Faso. In the early 1980s, groundwater levels in the Central Plateau dropped an estimated 50–100 centimetres (cm) per year (Reij, 1983). Many wells and boreholes dried up immediately after the end of the rainy season and had to be deepened.

Stakeholders and access rights to natural resources


Local: The practices featured in this case study are prinicpally community driven. Farmers are the primary stakeholders involved in implementation of FMNR, Zai (planting pits) and contour stone bunds. In part because these innovations often require collective action for wide implementation, farmer groups and village associations play an important role. In the past, promotion of these measures was often done by charismatic individuals (Haggblade and Hazel, 2009) rather than being based on the efficiency of the measures.

National: Government policy and supporting public investment have also been important. The strong push by the Burkinabé government from the mid-­-1980s to increase awareness of environmental problems and their solutions proved very useful as an incentive (Reij and Steeds, 2003). Infrastructure investments reduced transport costs and supported commercialization of farm and tree products (Reij, Tappan and Belemvire, 2005; Reij and Smaling, 2007).

International: Since the mid 1980s, all major donors and projects in Burkina Faso have promoted contour stone bunds or Zai or both (e.g. Dutch and German funding, IFAD and World Bank projects, etc.). At the request of the Burkina Faso government, many NGOs have intervened in the northern part of the Central Plateau, one of the poorest and most degraded regions of the country (Reij, Tappan and Belemvire, 2005). In Niger, the widespread adoption of FMNR was similarly facilitated by the governments and NGOs (WRI, 2008).

Natural resources regulations

In order to promote sound ecosystem management practices it is important to understand the land regulation system.

Until the 1970's in Niger, French colonial rules on access to land and trees were maintained. All natural resources including trees were State property. After decolonization, new forestry rules and measures were imposed and strictly applied by the State without consulting the local population. This has regime generated frustration amongst the population leading to illegal collection and refusal to apply conservation measures. Added to the recurrent droughts between 1970 and 1984 and existing human pressures, Niger had to consider a new environmental policy. With the Commitment of Maradi in 1984 an new era of environmental mangement began, centered on stronger conservation policy and population involvement. However, the State soon realized that incentives to preserve the trees were not strong enough if trees were still Sate property. Consequently, in 20045, a new forest regime was implemented and today, private ownership of trees is a right.


I. Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) in Niger (WRI, 2008)

The concept is very simple. Generally, natural regeneration andseedlings continue to grow even in degraded soils, however, they are either collected for firewood or chewed by livestock. Young tree saplings need protection for two to three years. Farmer-­-managed natural regeneration is a simple technique that can be implemented by all farmers to protect the small sprouts so that they can contribute to soil regeneration while at the same time yielding other benefits. The first stage in FMNR involves selective land clearance for crop planting. In the past, farmers would clear the land completely and remove all tree stumps and roots. With FMNR, farmers select those tree stumps with sprouts – or the sprouts themselves, depending on the values of the species for food (nutritious fruits and leaves), fuel, or fodder. The farmers then select the tallest and straightest stems on each stump which they then prune and protect. They remove all unwanted stems and side branches.

Tree species that regenerate include those stumps or roots which are robust enough to sprout in degraded soil; seeds of trees and bushes in the 'seed memory' of the soil (seeds that remain dormant until rainfall or another event allows them to grow); or seeds found in livestock manure and bird droppings.

II. Improved planting pits (Zai)

In 1980, several farmers close to Ouahigouya, the capital of Yatenga Province in the Northern region of Burkina Faso, began 'innovating out of despair'. They began to experiment with planting pits (also known as Zai), a technique used for many years by farmers elsewhere in the Sahel (Reij, Tappan and Belemvire, 2005). Planting pits or Zai consist of pits dug into the surface of the soil. These are filled with moisture and nutrients and then used for planting. As part of their experimentation, farmers began by digging pits. Then they increased the depth and diameter of the pits, before concentrating nutrients and moisture in them. As part of efforts to reclaim severely degraded farmland that was otherwise impermeable to water, the farmers dug a grid of planting pits across their rock-­-hard plots and then added organic matter to the bottom of the pits (Ouedraogo and Sawadogo, 2001; Kaboré and Reij, 2004).

Planting pits improve soil fertility in several ways:

(i) They capture windblown soil and organic matter.

(ii) The compost attracts termites, which dig channels that enhance soil architecture, water infiltration, and retention. By digesting the organic matter, the termites make nutrients more easily available to the plant roots (Ouedraogo and Sawadogo, 2001). Manure (for nitrogen) and urea may be added, along with mineral fertilizer to palliate for the low phosphorus and potassium content of these soils.

Less obvious advantages of planting pits also exist (Kaboré and Reij, 2004):
(i) Rehabilitating land enables farmers to expand their farms into previously uncultivated areas. Without land rehabilitation crop yields are 0 kg/ha. With rehabilitation, cereal (millet plus sorgho) yields can reach 300–400 kg/ha in a low rainfall year, 'easily' rising to 1,500 kg/ha in a good year. The water which is retained in the pits enables plants to survive long dry spells or dry spells which follow the first rains when many plants die or fail to germinate on other plots. Because more water is harvested and conserved and organic matter is used in the pits, this helps enhance the performance of mineral fertilizer thereby increasing yields and biomass production.

(ii) Concentrating manure and mineral fertilizers in the pits can also be cost-­-effective. In the first few years, fields rehabilitated using planting pits are less vulnerable to infestation by Striga hermontheca (indigenous parasitic plant) and other weeds, thereby reducing the amount of labour required for weeding relative to other fields. Since the land is prepared during the dry season, farmers do not need to wait until the rains arrive to plough their land.

Planting pits can be used to increase cereal production, grow trees and produce tree products. Trees and shrubs start to grow spontaneously from the seeds in the manure and compost placed in the pits; farmers protect these in order to develop new agroforestry systems on their farms. Some farmers even sow the seeds of those tree species they would like to have in their fields. This is an example of Zais being used for reforestation.

III. Contour stone bunds

Contour stone bunding uses stones laid out along the contours of the land to reduce rainwater runoff and encourage infiltration of water into the land. The stones are typically laid out in long lines with a base of 35-­-40 cm reaching a height of about 25 cm. In the past, the efficiency of traditional stone lines was limited principally because the contours were not accurately measured and other elements such as stone placement and line spacing were sub-­-optimal. Farmers sometimes started down slope rather than starting at higher points in the catchment area and working down slope. To remedy this, a simple technique was developed using a simple hosepipe water level which farmers could use to identify the contour lines and hence where to place the stones. The cost of a water tube level is about US$6. It is simple to use – even for farmers with no reading and literacy skills – and can be mastered in a day or two to ensure correct alignment of the stones along the correct contours (Wright, 1985).

Stone bunds were first pioneered at the end of the 1970s. After an initial testing period from 1979–82, the traditional technique was improved by placing the stone lines along the contours of the land. It is a technique that is still widely used today. It allows runoff to spread evenly through the field and trickle through the small gaps between the stones, trapping sediments and organic matter from the catchment area, including eroded soil, bits of dead plants, and manure behind the bunds, which improves the soil.

Before the introduction of contour stone bunds, much of the manure applied by farmers washed away during the first rains; stone contour lines help retain it on fields.



The most immediate benefit accruing to families practicing FMNR is the availability of fuelwood from pruned tree branches. Starting from the first year of implementation, communities are able to harvest light firewood; as of the second year they are able to harvest sufficient numbers of branches to sell in local markets for much-­-needed extra income (Rinaudo, 2005). Studies indicate that in 100 Maradi villages alone, about US$600,000 worth of wood was sold between 1985 and 1997 (SIM 1999, as cited by Rinaudo 2005). And survey results from across villages with land rehabilitation projects demonstrate that residents perceive a marked decrease in poverty around them as a result of the projects (Abdoulaye and Ibro, 2006).

Improved soil quality

Livestock and birds attracted to tree shade and branches leave droppings that fertilize the soil (Rinaudo in WRI, 2008). Moreover, the growing season on land populated by trees is longer because farmers only have to sow once, compared with twice or more on fields that enjoy no protection from the elements (Rinaudo, 2005; Reij in WRI, 2008). Such benefits are magnified when farmers act collectively, as villages in Maradi and Zinder regions have discovered.

According to 400 farmers interviewed (Larwanou, Abdoulaye and Reij, 2006), trees generate multiple benefits. First, they reduce wind speed and evaporation. In the 1980s, crops had to be replanted three or four times because they were covered by wind-­-blown sand; today farmers typically only plant once. Similarly, not only does the vegetation act as a windbreak, it also promotes water infiltration and soil retention (Winterbottom in WRI, 2008). Tree litter increases the organic matter content of the soil. Termites digest the litter and the network of holes they dig increases the absorption of rainfall. Nitrogen-­-fixing species like Faidherbia albida enhance soil fertility, although farmers do not observe these effects with very young trees.

Use of water harvesting techniques, like Zai and contour stone bunds, have resulted in increases in sorghum yields of between 20 and 85 percent and in millet yields of between 15 and 50 percent in those villages where they have been implemented (Amoukou, 2006). Other studies suggest that millet yields have even consistently doubled in some FMNR-­-practicing communities (Tougiani et al., 2008). This growth has enabled households both to store more food to protect against the threat of shortages in the dry season and, occasionally, to sell surplus crops in local markets or for export to neighbouring Nigeria (Reij, 2006).

Non timber products

Trees have also yielded direct non-­-timber benefits in the form of fodder for livestock and edible leaves and seedpods that can be stored for times of less abundant harvest (Rinaudo, 2005). The trees of the Parkland system of West Africa produce at least a six-­- month supply of fodder for on-­-farm livestock. In addition, they also provide firewood, fruit and medicinal products for home consumption or cash sales.

Some villagers in the Aguié district of Maradi, for example, harvest the leaves of a common scrubland tree, Maerua crassifolia, which are rich in vitamin A (Reij, 2008). One baobab tree (Adansonia) can bring in an average of US$20 a year in economic benefits just from the sale of its edible leaves (Larwanou et al. 2006). Some farms have an average of 50 baobab trees per ha. That can amount to US$1,000 per ha a year—nearly three times the total annual income of much of the population (calculation based on Larwanou et al. 2006; Winterbottom 2007).

Maradi-­-based farmers have also used the proceeds of FMNR to develop new income-­-generating activities, such as beekeeping (Burns in WRI, 2008).

Marginalized people

The re-­-greening movement has introduced especially important benefits for some of the poorest members of Nigerian society— women and in particular (Larwanou et al., 2006). Indeed, the burden on women associated with gathering of wood for household fuel has been substantially reduced (Boubacar et al., 2005). Furthermore, there is a strong case for arguing that while traditionally excluded from resource management decisions (despite being skilled in farming and animal husbandry), women have actually gained greater benefits from FMNR than their male counterparts (Tougiani et al., 2008). Achieving the best results from re-­-vegetation not only requires sound tree management (annual pruning), but also requires ongoing protection of trees against illegal wood cutting. As most men still migrate to urban centres throughout West Africa during the dry season in search of paid employment, increasingly the important task of tree husbandry falls to women (Wentling, 2008).

Tree products are usually sold by young men (fuel, poles) and women (leaves, fruits) in local markets. Larwanou and Adam (2008) recorded that the sell of Baobab (Adansonia digitata) leaves from a single tree are worth 20-­-40$ depending on the size of the crown. Firewood sales generate revenues from 6$ to 20$ per year in a village (Ara Safoua) and 30$ to 120$ in another one.

Another research from Sawagado et Al. Showed that some women in the region could earn up to 210$ of annual income by selling the leaves from regenerated baobabs, flowers of the kapok (Ceiba pentandra) and fruit of shea nut (Vitellaria paradoxa) and locust bean (Parkia biglobosa).

Women and their families derive a host of material benefits from this. Using their own wood for cooking removes the need for buying wood thereby saving precious cash (USAID et al., 2005), while the surplus wood provides additional income in local markets during the dry season. Women farmers use FMNR income to meet household needs, including purchasing food and paying school fees. Many have also diversified their households' livelihoods: some by taking advantage of better soil fertility and water retention to cultivate cash crops such as onions, tomatoes, sesame, and hibiscus; others by using their new earnings to invest in sheep and goats, which live off of tree seedpods for six months of the year (BBC, 2006; Reij, 2006).

Notably, young men seeking urban jobs in Niger and neighbouring countries have also benefitted from FMNR, thanks to new opportunities to earn income in an expanded and diversified rural economy (Larwanou et al., 2006). With farmers producing more fuelwood to supply urban areas, Niger's shrinking natural forests have also been spared further destruction (Winterbottom, 2008).


Table 1 presents a summary of the impacts of land rehabilitation on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso and FMNR in Niger (Reij, 2008).

Table 1: Summary of Impact of Land Rehabilitiation

Changes in the rural landscape have enabled hundreds of thousands of households living on US$2 or less a day to diversify their livelihoods and increase their incomes, thereby increasing their economic resilience. They have also played a critical role in addressing chronic hunger among families at the mercy of unpredictable harvests.

FMNR has also had an enormously empowering effect, demonstrating to hundreds of thousands of people that they were not helpless hostages to poverty and a capricious climate (McGahuey, 2008).

Monitoring and evaluation

The best testimony to the economic viability of farm-­-based natural resources management is their sustainable adoption by farming communities in Burkina Faso and Niger. Much of the early documentation on the experience in Burkina Faso, in particular, was recorded by field technicians and project staff before recent advances in statistical approaches for assessing and attributing impacts. Use of aerial photography, and the sheer breadth and longevity of this initiative, are evidence of its success. By contrast, the extent of farm-­-based management in Niger has only recently been 'discovered' thanks to the use of aerial photography and satellite imagery. Page 8 of 11 In neither case were all indicators of success measured with scientific rigour; some were based on farmers' statements and perceptions, and others may not have been subject to sufficient controls. This is unavoidable given the range of impacts generated by soil, water, and agroforestry conservation and the challenges of measuring them on a large geographical scale over three decades. The magnitude of the aggregate benefits over time (and in years to come) is likely to be good, especially when compared with the public funds (donor and national) that were spent to support innovations on farms, i.e. low investments are needed. Farmers themselves, as well as local and international non-­-governmental organizations, bore a substantial share of total investment costs (Reij, Tappan and Smale, 2009).

Another evaluation problem rests with the fact that there is no standardized approach for preparing planting pits, which is one reason why quantifying their impacts is difficult. Famers have adapted pits to meet their own needs (Hien and Ouedraogo, 2001). The number of pits per hectare and the pit dimensions vary, as does the volume of organic matter transferred to planting pits. For specific evaluations and more information, please refer to some of the documents listed in the bibliography.


Pits and contour stone bund techniques

The major disadvantage of planting pits is that they are labour intensive. Farmers must have access to family members or hired labour to dig compost pits, and to fill and maintain pits from year to year. The labour investment required for pits and contour stone bunds is high, especially when both techniques are combined. Practice shows that richer farmers are able to hire labourers to rehabilitate land, which is likely to contribute to growing inequality. Small farmers are only able to rehabilitate the land to which they have access in incremental steps (Reij, 2009).

FMNR technique

Potentially negative impacts of FMNR include an increase in pests, such as birds that cause damage to crops, competition between trees and crops for nutrients and sunlight. For example, in one village in the Maradi region (Dan Saga) in 2007, as on-­-farm tree densities had increased considerably, villagers began cutting trees to reduce their density and generate income from firewood.

Land property rights

In farmer-­-managed natural regeneration projects in southern Niger, guaranteeing land access rights of farmers involved in tree regeneration projects has been crucial (Larwanou, Abdoulaye and Reij, 2006) to ensure sound management of the dryland ecosystem. When the farmer-­-managed natural regeneration project was first developed, farmers did not own the trees on their own land.

"There was no incentive to protect trees and much of the destruction of that era was linked to this policy", notes Tony Rinaudo. Indeed, "the tradition of free access to trees on anybody's property and a code of silence protecting those who cut down trees made it difficult to promote FMNR. It was considered anti-­-social to expose anybody who had felled trees. This tradition was hard to break and those who left trees were often discouraged when their trees were taken by others. This situation was successfully addressed through advocacy, creation of local by-­-laws and support from village and district chiefs in administering justice. Gradually, people accepted that there was no difference between stealing from someone's farm and stealing from within someone's house".

After discussions with the head of the Maradi Forestry Department, project staff were able to give assurances that if farmers cared for the trees on their land they would be allowed to reap the benefits without fear of being fined. These laws came into effect in 2004 at national level after much negotiation by bodies such as USAID. Farmers began to access markets with greater ease. As trees on farms switched from being nuisance weeds to becoming cash crops in their own right, this provided good incentives for farmers to cultivate them. Over time, locally agreed upon codes and rules were established with support from village and district chiefs. Without this consensus and support for the protection of private property, it is unlikely that FMNR would have spread as fast as it did (Rinaudo, 2008).

National policies put in place also provided incentives for change by involving more rural people in development activities and informing them about the ecological crisis (Bretaudeau,McGahuey and Lewis, personal communication, July 2009). Scaling up of FMNR requires forestry legislation that gives farmers an exclusive right to the trees on their cultivated fields. Equally important in creating the incentive for change is the transfer of land rights and authority to local communities and letting them control access to and use of natural resources.

But there are new challenges. Where tree regeneration is widely practiced, community and local governments need to act to resolve conflicts over access to natural resources and property rights to formerly abandoned land that has been restored (Winterbottom, 2008). In particular, the rights of the more vulnerable—nomadic herders, the landless and women—to equitably gain access to the benefits of FMNR need to be strengthened (Tougiani et al., 2008). Another issue is the risk that herders may lose out because the number of cattle entrusted to them by the farmers appears to have decreased. Farmers now prefer to keep cattle close to their compounds so that they have ready access to livestock manure. On the other hand, herders can now sell manure to the farmers for cash (Reij, 2009).

According to natural resource management experts, in an ecologically vulnerable region where the prevalence and occurrence of drought are likely to increase as a result of climate change, Niger's tree regeneration movement offers a proven path to greater environmental and economic resilience and increased food security for the inhabitants of Africa's drylands (Harris, 2007; IPCC, 2007). Page 9 of 11 Given the rapid rate of population growth in the region and the expected impacts of climate change, FMNR alone will not be sufficient for Niger—or indeed other Sahelian countries—to stay ahead of the food and livelihood needs of their people (McGahuey, 2008). Indeed, even though FMNR is used widely today, fifty percent of Niger's children remain undernourished (INS and Macro International Inc., 2007). Nonetheless, it remains an important tool to increase productivity for land-­-poor farmers and has already proved its capacity to provide them with diverse and sustainable rural livelihoods and economies (WRI, 2008).

FMNR has several advantages which make it replicable: it is cheap, it produces firewood and fodder quite quickly, it is simple to implement—no experts are needed, it can be scaled up quite quickly and the protection and management of trees are the responsibility of farmers, which means there are no recurrent costs to governments.

FMNR is not only practiced in Niger, but also in Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal. A growing number of organizations are trying to expand farmer-­-led re-­-greening to different countries in and outside Africa (Ethiopia, Chad, Tanzania, Myanmar, Indonesia, etc.).


1 This document has been prepared, based on case studies carried out by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Chris Reij, Gray Tappan and Melinda Smale for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), supported by a Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), for the project "Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development". WRI works with business partners, governments and civil society to tackle today's most urgent environmental challenges (more on IFPRI seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger and poverty. IFPRI is one of 15 centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations (more on the IFPRI web site).

2 One reason among others is the introduction of per capita taxes.

3 Read Marchal (1985) to understand the sociological factors leading to that.

4 Ibid.

5 Loi n°2004- Fixant le régime forestier au Niger. Among other things it is interesting to note that regeneration is an obligation according to this law (art.2).


Reij C., Tappan G., Smale M. "Agroenvironmental Transformation in the Sahel. Another Kind of 'Green Revolution'", November 2009, IFPRI Discussion Paper 00914, 2020 Vision Initiative.

WRI. 2008. Roots of resilience (Chapter 3).


Amoukou, A.I.2006. Impacts des Investissements dans la Gestion des Ressources Naturelles sur les Systèmes de Production dans les Régions de Maradi, Tahoua et Tillabery au Niger. Report part of Etudes Saheliennes, Papers presented at Conference of Study Results of Natural Resource Management Investments from 1980 to 2005 in Niger, Sept. 20–21. Comité Permanent Inter-­-Etats de Lutte Contre La Sécheresse Dans le Sahel.

Boubacar, Y., M. Larwanou, A. Hassane, C. Reij and International Resources Group. 2005. Niger Study: Sahel Pilot Study Report. Washington, DC: United States Agency for International Development.

Haggblade, S. and P. Hazell, (eds). 2009. Successes in African agriculture: Lessons for the future. Baltimore, Md., U.S.A.: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hien, F. and A. Ouedraogo. 2001. Joint analysis of the sustainability of a local SWC technique in Burkina Faso. In: Farmer innovation in Africa: A source of inspiration for agricultural development,, ed. C. Reij and A. Waters-­-Bayer. London: Earthscan.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2007. Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group II Report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Geneva: IPCC.

Kaboré, P.D. and C. Reij. 2004. The emergence and spreading of an improved traditional soil and water conservation practice in Burkina Faso. Environment and Production Technology Division Discussion Paper 114. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.

Larwanou, M., M. Abdoulaye and C. Reij. 2006. Etude de la régénération naturelle assistée dans la Région de Zinder (Niger): Une première exploration d'un phénomène spectaculaire. Washington, D.C.: International Resources Group for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

McGahuey, M. 2008. Environment and Natural Resource Management Advisor. USAID, Washington, DC. Personal Communication. Jan. 14 and 16, Feb. 11 and 19. McGahuey, M. and R. Winterbottom. 2007. Transformational Development in Niger. PowerPoint. Jan.

Ouedraogo, A. and H. Sawadogo. 2001. Three models of extension by farmer innovators in Burkina Faso. In: Farmer innovation in Africa: A source of inspiration for agricultural development, ed. C. Reij and A. Wayers-­-Bayer. London: Earthscan.

Reij, C. 2006. More Success Stories in Africa's Drylands than Often Assumed. Notes presented at Forum sur la Souveraineté Alimentaire, Niamey, Nov. 7–10. Niamey, Niger: Réseau des Organisations Paysannes et de Producteurs Agricoles de L'Afrique de L'Ouest.

Reij, C. and D. Steeds. 2003. Success stories in Africa's drylands: Supporting advocates and answering skeptics. Paper commissioned by the Global Mechanism of the Convention to Combat Desertification. Vrije University and Centre for International Cooperation, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Reij, C. and E. M. A. Smaling. 2007. Analyzing successes in agriculture and land management in Sub-­-Saharan Africa: Is macro-­-level gloom obscuring positive micro-­-level change? Land Use Policy 25: 410–420.

Reij, C. and T. Thiombiano. 2003. Développement rural et environnement au Burkina Faso: La réhabilitation de la capacité productive des terroirs sur la partie nord du Plateau Central entre 1980 et 2001. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: Ambassade des Pays-­-Bas, German Agency for Technical Cooperation-­-PATECORE, and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Reij, C., G. Tappan and A. Belemvire. 2005. Changing land management practices and vegetation in the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso (1968–2002). Journal of Arid Environments 63 (3): 642–659.

Rinaudo T. 2005. Economic Benefits of Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration. FRAME Web site post. Sep. 27. Washington, DC: FRAME Community, United States Agency for International Development.

Rinaudo, T. 2005. Uncovering the Underground Forest: A Short History and Description of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. Melbourne, Australia: World Vision.

Tougiani, A., C. Guero and T. Rinaudo. 2008. "Success in Improving Livelihoods Through Tree Crop Management and Use in Niger." To be published in GeoJournal. The Netherlands: Springer Publishing.

Toumieux, E. 2005. Trip Report to Niger. Thies, Senegal: World Vision Senegal.

USAID (United States Agency for International Development), Comité Permanent Inter-­-Etats de Lutte Contre La Sécheresse Dans le Sahel and International Resources Group. 2005. Investing in Tomorrow's Forests : Toward an Action Agenda for Revitalizing Forestry in West Africa. Washington, DC: USAID.

Wentling, M. 2008. Niger—Annual food security report and future prospects. Niamey, Niger: U.S. Agency for International Development.

Wentling, M. 2008b. Niger—Annual Food Security Report: Current Situation and Future Prospects. Niamey, Niger: United States Agency for International Development Niger.

Recommended videos

Rinaudo's didactical explanations of FMNR:

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR): A good news story for a deforested and degraded world (World Vision Australia, 2008).

FMNR in Niger (Part 1, 1990).

FMNR in Niger (Part 2, 1990).

BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). 2006. Villages on the Front Line: Niger. Video. London: BBC.

ABOUT ELAN: The Ecosystem & Livelihoods Adaptation Network (ELAN)> is enhancing poor and marginalized people's resilience to the impacts of climate change by integrating ecosystem and rights-­-based approaches into adaptation policies and practices. It is a global network working to enhance poor and marginalized people's resilience to the impacts of climate change. To do so, ELAN promotes an integrated approach to adaptation, defined as adaptation planning and action that adheres both to human rights-­-based principles and principles of ecosystem sustainability, recognizing their co-­- dependent roles in successfully managing climate variability and long-­-term change. ELAN has developed a series of case studies on adaptation practices whose design and implementation approximate aspects of this integrated approach. The ELAN case studies showcase how nature-­-based adaptation can offer benefits to communities. They also demonstrate the complexity of pursuing a truly integrated approach to climate change adaptation and highlight elements of adaptation projects that lend themselves to an integrated approach. It is our aim that this enhanced understanding of an integrated approach may contribute to learning, knowledge exchange and capacity building, and in particular help practitioners to design and implement future adaptation projects that enhance poor and marginalized populations' capacity to adapt. The research process consisted of examination of hundreds of projects and consultation with a diverse range of project managers. The selected ELAN case studies constitute the best available practices and approaches of projects that combine nature-­-based solutions with community benefits. Case studies represent a broad geographic scope and ecosystems. They are drawn from Africa, Latin America and Asia.

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