Thursday, 20 October 2011

News from the United Nations Conference to Combat Desertification in South Korea

Looking to the Sahel for Lessons in Pushing Back Deserts

Article by Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 17, 2011 (IPS) - Nearly all our food comes from the Earth's limited food- producing lands, but those lands continue to be degraded, guaranteeing far higher food prices and less food in the future, experts warn.

But degradation and desertification can be halted and reversed, as evidenced by once barren parts of Africa's dry Sahel Region that are now green and thriving thanks to local efforts.

read more

Friday, 7 October 2011

ARI update 7: October 2011

Wangari Maathai (April 1, 1940 – September 25, 2011)

Wangari Maathai
From September 5 – 16 I was in Nairobi to meet with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Green Belt Movement and many other organisations. Almost everyday I travelled to and from my hotel to ICRAF…and every time I looked at a piece of beautiful and diverse forest in the city. The driver explained that it is the Karura Forest and he said..”it’s still there because of Wangari Maathai…in the 1990s the forest was given to developers who wanted to build big houses, but Wangari Maathai resisted this development”. On my way to the Kenyan Forest Research Institute, a driver made a similar remark about another forest.

Later I understood that resisting the developers meant that she was beaten up badly and even had to be hospitalized, but as soon as she got out of the hospital, the first thing she did was to go back to the forest to continue action….that’s courage…and she, and those who supported her,…won the battle.

She will always be remembered because she created the famous Greenbelt Movement, which planted tens of millions of trees in Kenya’s Highlands and she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, because of her relentless work not only for the environment, but also for democracy, peace, women’s rights and empowerment of the poor.

On September 23 I had the privilege to be in a meeting with Prof. Karanja Njoroge, the Executive Director of the Green Belt Movement, during which he unveiled a plan for creating a Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi. I assume that funding will be mobilized to create this institute in memory of Wangari Maathai. One thing is certain…with or without this institute, she will continue to live in the hearts and minds of many people in and outside Africa for who she was, for what she did and for the difference she made.

Exploring a re-greening initiative in Kenya

Many parts of Kenya’s highlands have high on-farm tree densities and Grevillea robusta is a common species. Kenya is the only country in the world that has a Constitution which requires farmers to have 10% of their land under trees. Kenya has its successful Green Belt Movement…so why go to Kenya to explore a re-greening initiative?

The answer to this question is that almost all re-greening in Kenya is concentrated on planting of trees in the Highlands of Kenya and much less on Kenya’s drylands (about 80% of the country). Very little attention is paid to the potential of promoting on-farm and off-farm re-greening through the protection and management of natural regeneration.

This visit could not have come at a better moment as the Ministries of Agriculture and of Environment have started reflections about how to implement the 10% rule.

Dennis Garrity, DG of ICRAF till September 16, and his staff, provided all possible support to make this visit a success. Without their support much less would have been achieved. Meetings were held amongst others with:

- Prof. Margaret Kamar (Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology)
- Dr. Linah Jebii kilimo (Assistant Minister for Co-operative Development and Marketing)
- Dr. Wilson A. Songa (Agriculture Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture)
- Eng. J.A. M. Nkanya (Agricultural Engineering Service, Ministry of Agriculture)
- Mr. Wafula Mutoro (Head of Soil Conservation and Fertility Branch, Min. of Agriculture)
- Mrs. Janet A. Oyuke (Head Agroforestry, Ministry of Agriculture)
- Dr. Ben Chikamai (Director Kenya Forestry Research Insititute)
- Dr. Phanuel Oballa (Asst. Director Kenya Forest Research Institute)
- Prof. Karanja Njoroge (Executive Director Green Belt Movement)
- Mr. Mounkaila Goumandakoye (Director Africa UNEP)
- Dr. Mahamane Larwanou (African Forest Forum)
- Dr. Bashir Jama (Director Soil Health Program, AGRA)
- Mr. Lawrence Kiguro (Associate Director World Vision Kenya)
- Mr. Henrik Brudin (Regional Director SCC-Vi Eastern Africa)
- Mr. George Onyango (Deputy Regional Director SCC- Vi Eastern Africa)

All showed a keen interest in natural regeneration to build new agroforestry systems and to restore degraded natural forests. The impact of this visit is probably that farmer-managed natural regeneration will be on the table as an option for Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands.

The next step will be a regional meeting in Kenya on re-greening, which will be organized by World Vision. Tony Rinaudo of World Vision Australia plans to be in the region from March – May 2012. His visit will include practical training in farmer-managed natural regeneration. All persons met during this visit in first half of September will receive the ARI updates and will be informed about the regional conference in March 2012.

In the week of September 12 – 16, ICRAF had its Science Week, which meant that most ICRAF researchers were in Nairobi. This provided an extraordinary opportunity for discussion with researchers in-between meetings in town. It was possible to meet regularly with Dennis Garrity, who after having done two terms as DG of ICRAF will now become responsible for ICRAF’s Evergreen Agriculture Initiative, Phil Dobie (policy advisor), Moctar Touré (senior fellow), Ermias Betemariam (landscape ecologist), and many others.

The re-greening movement is expanding
Met in Nairobi with Roland Bunch, the author of “Two Ears of Corn” ( Roland worked for many years on cover crops in central America and is now very worried about declining soil fertility in many parts of Africa. Roland recently visited the on-farm re-greening in Mali’s Seno Plains and wants to join the ARI movement, which is very good news, because he brings with him vast experience and a big network.

At the same time a message arrived from CIKOD-Groundswell in Northern Ghana ( with the request…can we join the re-greening movement? We want to promote re-greening in Northern Ghana and will try to mobilize our own funding. My reaction…yes, of course…you make my day. More about this in the next update.

Networking about farmer-managed re-greening in Washington (September 20 – 23).

Presentation at the World Resources Institute on September 21 about “Expanding re-greening successes in Africa’s drylands to increase food security and reduce poverty”

Multiple meetings at World Resources Institute with Bob Winterbottom (Director Ecosystem Services), Edward Cameron (Director International Climate Initiative), Nigel Sizer (Director Global Forest Initiative), Lars Laestadius (Senior Associate) and Manish Bapna (Interim President).

Presentation at World Bank TerrAfrica of “The man who stopped the desert” followed by discussion. About 30 persons attended, including Mary Barton-Dock, Director Environment, Martin Bwalya, Head of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and Paola Agostini of TerrAfrica and Regional GEF coordinaotor. The documentary was followed by a lively exchange about the role of farmer innovation and about farmer-managed re-greening.

Mary Barton-Dock subsequently stated the following:

This film is a wonderful piece of storytelling that recounts many critical lessons in the pursuit of economic and environmental sustainability in the Sahel. Yacouba's thriving farm and forest -- and the land rehabilitated by others he inspired -- show that individual champions and local communities can achieve much. But the film also shows that these remarkable achievements need to be underpinned by a strong policy and institutional environment, such as enforceable local resource rights and government accountability.

A follow-up presentation/meeting will be scheduled early in 2012.

Presentation at US Agency for International Development about “How can USAID help feed the future”. This presentation, which was organized by natural resource management specialists Chris Kosnik and Mike McGahuey, was also attended by 3 staff of the Food Security Bureau. It was followed by a meeting with Christian Holmes, USAID’s Global Water Coordinator, who suggested at the end of the meeting that he would like to visit the farmer-managed re-greening /new agroforestry parklands in the Sahel and he felt that was presented should be brought to the attention of the USAID Administrator.

A meeting at the Global Environment Facility with senior environmental specialist Mohamed Bakarr to discuss where re-greening/agroforestry can be presented in the upcoming Conference of Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in October in South Korea.

During the different presentations in Washington, it was emphasized that resource users protect and manage natural regeneration for many reasons. One is that it helps them build more productive and more drought resilient farming systems. To farmers it is the lowest cost way of intensifying agriculture. One of the main benefits to women is that it reduces the time required for collection of firewood as they can now prune on-farm trees rather than walk many miles to search for some shrubs.

“The man who stopped the desert”

Since the beginning of 2011 this documentary about the life, innovations and impacts of farmer innovator Yacouba Sawadogo has won 4 awards:

February 2011 Special Jury Award at International Forest Film Festival (USA)
May 2011 8th Award at International Audiovisual Festival of Biodiversity (Rome)
August 2011 Best sustainability message at 10th Japan Wildlife Film Festival
September 2011 Sapphire award Montana Cine International Film Festival
and in April/May the film has been shown 4 times at France 5.

Mark Dodd (, who made the documentary, is now developing a scenario for a more general documentary about the multiple impacts of re-greening/agroforestry.

Web Alliance for Re-greening Africa (W4RA)

The 4 minute clip below explains the tools that the Web Alliance for Re-greening Africa is now developing to increase access of resource users to relevant information about re-greening and its impacts. It is essentially about linking mobile phones and rural radios. The tool has already been tested in Mali and a wider roll out will be tried in Mali in November. If it works then it can be used at a much larger scale to spread info about farmer-managed natural regeneration as well as on the natural regeneration of degraded forests.

W4RA film

Given the ambitious re-greening/forest landscape restoration initiatives now emerging, the strategic importance of this work by the Network Institute of VU University Amsterdam and the Web Foundation of Sir Tim Berners-Lee is increasing.

Media attention for re-greening

An article in the September issue of UNEP’s flagship publication….One Planet. This issue of One Planet was published just before a special session on September 20 of the UN General Assembly about desertification.

The German science magazine “Bild der Wissenschaft” published an article in its August issue.

It should also be mentioned here that all African Ministers of Agriculture met in South Africa in the week of September 12….about Climate Smart Agriculture. The document specifically prepared for this meeting contains a case study about re-greening in Niger and its cover page shows a Faidherbia albida parkland in Tanzania with a beautiful stand of crops under the trees. The message is increasingly getting across that agroforestry is a vital pillar in improving food security, increasing drought resilience of production systems and reducing rural poverty.

Tony Rinaudo of World Vision Australia and his partners

Tony is relentlessly promoting farmer managed natural regeneration and he is organizing training workshops from Ethiopia to Ghana and from Sumba (Indonesia) and East Timor to Senegal. More attention will be paid to his work in the next updates. Below some pictures of a training workshop in Tigray (Ethiopia) earlier this year, which included practical as well as theoretical training.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Advocacy and networking on regreening

On the right Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and on the left Yacouba Sawadogo, farmer innovator from Burkina Faso, who is the key person in the documentary “The man who stopped the desert”. They met in Caux (Switzerland) on July 15 during a full day special event on “restoring Earth’s degraded land reversing man-made deserts, reviving agricultural land”

Special event at the 4th Caux Forum on Human Security in Switzerland.
On July 15 about 250 participants from 50 countries attended a full day special event during the Caux Forum on Human Security in Switzerland. Clare Short, former UK Secretary of State for International Cooperation introduced the day and Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification made a challenging presentation about reversing man-made deserts using as title: “Soil, so much depends on so little”. The presentation can be found at under a section about the Caux Forum.

Since 1980 Yacouba Sawadogo improved traditional planting pits or zaï, a technique that has since then been used to rehabilitate tens of thousands of hectares of strongly degraded land in the Sahel. He is the key person in the multiple award winning documentary “The man who stopped the desert”. The French and the English version of this documentary were shown simultaneously and deeply impressed and moved all participants.

The question and answer session at the Caux Forum after the documentary was shown. On the left Yacouba Sawadogo and on the right Mathieu Ouedraogo, coordinator of the re-greening initiative in Burkina Faso.

Among the participants were not only farmers, development specialists, human rights lawyers and activists, energy specialists, documentary makers, diplomats and politicians, but also two distinguished journalists: Mr. Prem Shankar Jha from India and Mr. Geoffrey Lean from the United Kingdom. Mr. Jha is a prolific author and continues to publish frequently in the Hindustan Times and other journals. Mr. Geoffrey Lean is the UK’s most senior environmental journalist. During the Caux Forum he produced an article, which was published in the business section of the Daily Telegraph on Saturday 16 July entitled: “The earth can’t afford to lose any more ground”. This article mentions re-greening in Niger.

On the left Mrs. Chau Duncan, Australia’s Trade Commissioner for Clean Energy and Environment. In the middle Mr. Prem Shankar Jha and on the right Mr. Geoffrey Lean.

During an informal meeting of a small group of environmental specialists, Mr. Jha described how millions of hectares of degraded areas in India still have underground root systems which offer possibilities for natural regeneration. His analysis showed striking similarities with the analysis by Tony Rinaudo of World Vision Australia for parts of Niger where underground root systems were an important source of re-greening.

Participation in this special event generated many new contacts as well as invitations to expand ARI to Tchad, Rwanda, Uganda and other countries. As a starter all new contacts will receive the ARI updates.

Advocacy in Mali
From 19 – 22 June, a small delegation of representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, farmer organisations and NGOs, led by the Vice President of the “Haut Conseil des Collectivités Locales” visited six field sites to get first hand information from farmers about their experience with the protection and management of natural regeneration. They were impressed by the transformation that has occurred and by the multiple impacts generated by the increasing number of on-farm trees. The delegation was accompanied by radio, TV and press.

The Vice-President of Mali’s « Haut Conseil des Collectivités Locales « presents a gift to Mr. Zié Diakité, a farmer from the village of Diénina, who distinguished himself in the 2010 agroforestry competition. On the right, Mr. Mamadou Diakite of SahelECO and in the middle (with camera) Mr. Mamadou Lamine Coulibaly of the national coordinating body of Mali’s farmer organisations (CNOP)

Interesting news from Ethiopia is that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi seems to have stated recently that the re-greening of Ethiopia will form one of the three key pillars for Ethiopia to achieve a Green Economy. PM Meles Zenawi represented Africa during the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. It is highly significant that he specifically mentions re-greening as a key pillar. We hope to provide more details in one of the next updates.

Building drought resilient production systems in the Horn of Africa: a key challenge

All media are now reporting on an almost daily basis about the drought and famine in Somalia and parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. The articles highlight human suffering on an increasing scale. The costs of food aid are estimated to be more than one billion euro. Slowly but surely awareness is emerging that it may cost less to develop more drought resilient production systems at scale than to cope with famine and its impacts.

The Government of Kenya is taking steps to implement a policy that requires all farmers in Kenya to grow trees on ten percent of their cultivated land, which may be easier in Kenya’s highlands than in its drylands. A major challenge will be to improve range management to make livestock systems more drought resilient and to reduce conflicts between herders as well as between herders and farmers.

The IFAD-funded project on “Support to Re-greening in the Sahel”
As mentioned in the previous update, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) organized a workshop in Bamako early June about the methodology of a study on the economics of agroforestry in the Sahel. Filming 12 cases of successes in adaptation to climate change has begun and contracts are established with partners in four Sahel countries: Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, who will be responsible for developing national policy dialogues around re-greening.

Web Alliance for Re-greening Africa (W4RA)
Here you can find a 6 minute clip posted on July 8 on Youtube, which explains the work of the Web Alliance for Re-greening Africa.

Some next steps
1. A visit to Kenya is planned for early September to present the IFAD-funded project “Support to Re-greening in the Sahel” and to explore possibilities for developing a re-greening initiative in Kenya.

2. As soon as possible, but certainly before the end of 2011, a discussion note will be produced about the development of national strategies for re-greening. The target group for this note will be national and international policymakers. It should give them a set of practical steps to quickly expand the scale of re-greening in drylands and sub-humid regions, which will help build more productive and drought-resilient farming systems.

The next update will appear by the end of September … unless there is a reason to share information earlier.

Monday, 27 June 2011

ARI Update 5 June 2011

Farmer-Managed Re-greening in Kaffrine (Senegal) began in 2008

This field is adjacent to the one above; most cultivated land in the Saloum region of Senegal is barren or has low on-farm tree densities (see point 2)

1. World Desertification Day (June 17)
On the occasion of World Desertification Day (June 17), the Secretary General of the United Nations formulated a message, which contained the following paragraph:

“The management, conservation and sustainable development of dry forests are central to combating desertification. The ongoing greening of the Sahel and other success stories around the world show that degraded lands can be reclaimed by agroforestry and other sustainable practices. We need to scale up these interventions and disseminate their results widely”.

This is exactly what African Re-greening Initiatives tries to do and the message of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon encourages all involved to persevere and expand activities.

2. Farmer-managed re-greening in the Kaffrine area (Senegal)
The Kaffrine area is part of Senegal’s Saloum region (Southeast of Dakar), which has low on-farm tree densities. This is the heritage of policies in the 1960s and 1970s to expand mechanized cultivation in Senegal’s peanut basin. The removal of trees and their stumps was subsidized in those days in order to create large treeless fields. In combination with cutting trees for charcoal production, this caused a large-scale degradation of vegetation. World Vision Senegal began doing so in 2008. The number of species protected and managed by farmers is limited. The main species concern Piliostigma reticulatum (for fodder and improvement of soil fertility) and Guiera senegalensis (firewood and fodder).

Every year World Vision Senegal sends a delegation of 22 farmers and staff to Niger to look at and learn from farmer-managed natural regeneration in that country. During the field visit it became quite obvious that farmers who participated in those study visits behave differently. They don’t burn Guiera senegalensis to enrich the soils, but they prune it and use the leaves as mulch, which attracts termites and improves soil structure (see picture below).

The scale of on-farm natural regeneration, which is still in its early stages, now concerns about 30,000 ha, but this includes some areas where densities are still low. However, some key conditions are united for rapid expansion of agroforestry in this region. These include high population densities, sandy soils, low on-farm tree densities and fairly good rainfall (about 700 mm) compared to areas in Niger and Mali where farmer-managed re-greening has already taken place on a large scale (about 500 mm).

The indications are that in 2010, cereal yields were significantly higher on cultivated land with young agroforestry systems than on fields without. This needs to be confirmed by longer-term monitioring.

3. Agroforestry systems in Europe
It can be argued that agroforestry represents the agriculture of the future as it produces “multiple wins”: enhancing food security, adapting to climate change, improving drought resilience, sequestering carbon, increasing biodiversity, etc.

It is interesting to note that agoforestry systems are also found in Europe. For instance in Spain and Portugal millions of hectares are covered by centuries old agroforestry systems, which continue to be maintained. They are largely based on two species of oak, including cork oak, but also on olive trees. Tree densities are often 40 trees per ha or more and under these trees farmers grow cereals or fodder grass. Extensive livestock grazing, which produces high quality meat, is part of this production system. The two photos below show a valley and hills in Spain’s Extremadura region with dense agroforestry and cattle grazing under the trees,where they benefit from fodder and from shade in this warm climate.

4. World Agroforestry Center workshop in Bamako
From June 6 – 8, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) organized a workshop in Bamako about the research methodologies that will be used to study the socioeconomic impacts as well as the costs and benefits of agroforestry systems in the Sahel. This is one of the three components of an IFAD grant to support re-greening in the Sahel. The workshop also identified research partners and made a first selection of potential research sites.

5. First Africa Drylands Week in Dakar
From June 13 – 17, the first Africa Drylands Week was held in Dakar. This Drylands Week (about 150 participants) was organized by a wide range of organizations: FAO,the Great Green Wall, the Earth Institute of Columbia University, etc. Many presentations were made on a wide range of themes relevant to dryland development. One aspect that transpired during the presentations and discussions is that the interest in farmer-managed re-greening and evergreen agriculture is increasing strongly. This is partly due to the fact that conventional tree planting has often produced disappointing results. A next update will provide a link to the report as soon as it becomes available.

6. Preparation of field visit by a delegation from Nigeria to Niger
During the workshop on agroforestry in Niger held in January 2011, the idea emerged to organize a field visit by a delegation from (Northern) Nigeria, which has in quite a few places low on-farm tree densities, to the new dense agroforestry parkland of Southern Niger. The partners in Niger are willing to organize a workshop and a field visit. Dr. Chinwe Ifejika Speranza, a Nigerian climate scientist, is a driving force behind this initiative. She has contacted the Heinrich Böll Stftung in Germany, which is willing to fund the cost of the Nigerian delegation. This workshop is likely to take place at the end of 2011.

Our hope is that it will lead to a re-greening initiative in parts of Northern Nigeria, which is urgent for many reasons.

7. Advocacy
Many opportunities emerged during the last two months to present farmer-managed re-greening in Africa’s drylands and its multiple impacts. These included presentations at the First Africa Drylands Workshop (June 13), at USAID Dakar (June 16) on “how can USAID contribute to feed the future in Africa’s drylands?, at the occasion of a workshop of the Dutch Knowledge Network “ Sustainability, Climate and Energy” (June 23) on Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa’s Drylands: from research to action; at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam (June 23) on Sustainable Innovations and Climate Change in Africa’s Drylands.

8. Expansion of African Re-greening Initiatives: how can you contribute?Both in Burkina Faso and in Mali, the re-greening partners are receiving requests to expand their activities to other regions or provinces. At present the partners in Burkina Faso are working in 6 provinces and their plans are to expand to 10 provinces. The partners in Mali receive similar requests for expansion. They just organized a so-called caravane with national decision makers to the large-scale re-greening in the Seno Plains.

The partners in Niger have just organized study visits for farmers in the Dogon Doutchi region to Maradi.

Besides expansion within the existing countries, possibilities to expand ARI to Kenya will be explored. More about this as well as about Niger and Ethiopia in the next update.

9. Web Alliance for Re-greening in Africa (W4RA)
W4RA is developing and testing its tools. Below you’ll find the link to a short trailer about their field visit in January 2011.

10.Final remark
This update began with a quote from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and it ends with a quote from a woman farmer in Senegal, which was on June 21 shared by Tony Rinaudo:

Female lead farmer from Kaffrine (Senegal) who went to Niger Thousands of projects have come through here but this SFLEI ( Senegal Food and Livelihood Enhancement Initiative) there is no comparison, if we are the judges. We have nothing but our environment. Since we started working with Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration we have already started seeing the benefits that we have not seen with any other project. The type of benefits we see pushes me sometimes to leave my home and just walk through my field to appreciate the trees and environment. When things get to where they need to be, we will see more yields and the path will be clear.

The next update will be produced around end July.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Update nr. 4

This update begins with a story about the scale of re-greening on Mali’s Seno Plains between the escarpment of the Dogon Plateau and the border with Burkina Faso. This picture shows high tree densities and older trees close to the escarpment. When we look beyond a band with low tree density, a sea of trees can be seen in the distance stretching across the plains. Gray Tappan of USGS-EROS has now uncovered the scale of re-greening.

How did this agroforestry parkland emerge?Just a few remarks and observations:

a. SahelECO and its predecessor SOS Sahel UK have promoted farmer-managed re-greening since the middle of the 1990s.

b. The radio station of Bankass was used to spread the information about the new forestry law of 1995.

c. An increase in rainfall since the middle of the 1990s probably supported the process of regeneration, but as we know from Niger….human management is a more decisive factor in re-greening than rainfall. The process of re-greening in Niger began a decade before the increase in average rainfall and Northern Nigeria has much lower tree densities than Southern Niger despite higher rainfall.

d. Traditional institutions responsible for the management of trees (Barahogon and others) have been successfully revived in this region.

e. SahelECO staff report that about 5% of the trees on the Seno Plains are older than 15 – 20 years and the large bulk of trees is younger.

Source: Gray Tapan USGS-EROS

f. Gray Tappan notes that (1) one finds low densities of on-farm trees on another 175,000 ha; (2) the Seno Plains had high tree densities in the 1960s….they probably dwindled in the 1960s and 1970s and this U curve now shows an upward trend; (3) on the Plateau Dogon itself…interesting examples of high tree densities are found….but this was not part of the analysis.

On the Dogon Plateau one finds cultivated fields with high densities of young Combretum not included in the data for the Seno Plains. It is not only good firewood, but women also gather the leaves and use it as manure in irrigated gardens.

Conclusion: a major agro-environmental transformation has occurred during the last 15 – 20 years on the Seno Plains…its scale was unknown until now….Gray Tappan used high resolution satellite images to uncover the scale…more research needs to be done about the history, evolution and dynamics of this young agroforestry parkland. SahelECO and its partners continue to promote farmer-managed re-greening in this region and elsewhere in Mali. Where a set of conditions are united…it is possible to induce farmers to invest in on-farm trees and transform landscapes and production systems at scale.

There is more good news to report.

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
The IFAD project about “support to re-greening in the Sahel” has now been signed by IFAD and by VU University Amsterdam and activities will now be started up (see ARI update 2011 no. ).

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
Dr. Dennis Garrity, DG of the World Agroforestry Centre, visited Amsterdam on May 1 and 2. Points on the agenda included: closer cooperation between ICRAF’s Evergreen Agriculture Initiative and African Re-greening Initiatives, which s likely to take shape in 2011; building a movement around Evergreen Agriculture and Farmer-Managed Re-greening; joint advocacy and research on impacts of re-greening.

One of the immediate impacts of the visit by Dennis Garrity is that the Centre for World Food Studies of VU University Amsterdam will develop a research proposal on “ the impact of re-greening in Niger on food security” and the department of hydrology will develop a research proposal on “the impact of re-greening on surface and groundwater hydrology”.

Dennis Garrity also mentioned that Evergreen Agriculture rapdly gets a higher profile in India. Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, the highly-respected father of the Green Revolution in India, published a book in 2010 “ From Green to Evergreen Revolution”. This book was officially launched by India’s PM. Under a new Evergreen Agriculture Initiative India plans to plant large numbers of “fertilizer trees”. More about this in future updates. It is quite likely that the protection and management of natural regeneration also has a potential for India.

The Environmental Protection Agency seems interested in funding a project to protect and expand “church forests” or “belief system forests”, which are centuries old remnants of forests. They show what is called the climax vegetation. These small forests, which have a high biodiversity, risk to disappear due to gradual encroachment by farmers. The amount of funding is not yet known.

Media attention
The Voice of America recently had an excellent story about farmer-managed re-greening, which integrates different messages.

Upcoming events
From 6 – 8 June a workshop will be held in Bamako to discuss the methodology for the ICRAF study about the socioeconomic impact in the Sahel.

From 10 – 16 June, the First African Drylands Week will be held in Dakar. It is a contribution to the International Year of the Forests. One of its objectives is to exploit the knowledge developed in 3 decades of combating desertification and implementing sustainable land management to adapt to climate change and ensure sustainable development.

On April 23, the French TV station France 5 showed a 50 minute french version of the documentary “The man who stopped the desert”. It will be shown again on May 9.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Update April 2011

The first picture shows an example of large-scale mechanized commercial
agriculture in Hawassa in Ethiopia’s Rift valley. In the distance on the right
hand side of the picture a tractor is ploughing the bare land. Two hours later
strong gusts of wind blew tons of topsoil from this ploughed field over lake
Hawassa (February 24, 2011). The owner of the land will have to apply
tons of fertilizers to compensate for the loss of fertile topsoil. No on-farm trees
to protect the land against wind and sun. It’s a clear example of unsustainable

During my visit to Mali in the first week of April, I was told that the demographic growth rates for Mali had been revised upwards on the basis of a recent study. The assumption was that the growth rate was 2.2%, but the study showed that it is 3.6%. This means that Mali’s population will double in 20 years. Niger has a similar growth rate. The fact is that the population of many African countries will double in the next 20 to 25 years.

At the same time rainfall is becoming more irregular and soil fertility is depleting in many areas because traditional soil fertility restoration techniques (fallow) can no longer be used. Fertilizer prices are soaring, world market prices for cereals are increasing, food security stocks are declining. The macro picture for the next 20 years is quite gloomy. It’s obvious that major action is urgently required to sustainably intensify African agriculture .

Experience shows that farmers who have increased the number of on-farm (and sometimes off-farm) trees have not only improved household food security, but also adapted to climate change, maintained or improved soil fertility through nitrogen fixation and increased soil organic matter content, sequestered carbon in trees and soils, not only produced more food, but also more fodder and fuel . Agroforestry is not a silver bullet, other action is also required , but it is to all farmers the lowest cost pathway to sustainably intensify agriculture and the recurrent costs to governments and donor agencies are zero.

Experience in Niger shows that it is possible to build new agroforestry systems at scale. The 5 million ha of re-greened land produces more food, fodder, fuel and many other benefits. It is estimated that the impacts of re-greening feeds an additional 2.5 million people .

Many smaller and bigger examples in agriculture and in agroforestry in and outside the Sahel show that it is possible to expand the scale of existing successes . African Re-greening Initiatives has developed a strategy for building on existing successes, which it is trying to implement. The first indications are promising.

Although the macro picture is gloomy and we seem to be heading into what Roland Bunch calls “a perfect storm” , it is not a fatality, but we can’t afford to delay substantive action, because climate change is already aggravating the problem .

Re-greening in Burkina Faso
During its first year the re-greening initiative involved 106 villages in 6 provinces. What we see happening in the second year is a ripple effect. Neighbouring villages request to be also involved. For instance, in Gnagna Province 6 villages have joined and in Sanmatenga province the number of villages increased from 12 to 22. The total number of villages involved now stands at 125. In addition to this there is growing pressure to expand to other provinces. After the official launch of the re-greening initiative on January 25, 2011, two provinces have officially requested to also be included.

During meetings end March with key partners (Reseau MARP, Tree Aid, World Neighbours and representatives from local NGOs who operate as extension agents for re-greening at provincial level), it was decided to:

1. now start a process of monitoring and evaluation and develop tools for self-monitoring and self-evaluation by resource users and a small team has already been created to undertake this work;

2. intensify exchange and study visits by farmers and herders before the rainy season.

The exchange and study visits will concentrate on villages within the same “commune” in order to maximize the number of participants and reduce costs. Nevertheless, it was deemed important urgent to organize a visit by farmers and herders from Soum province (the region around Dori) to the Seno plains in Mali where significant re-greening has occurred…and farmers from the Seno Plains could be invited to train farmers and herders in Soum province.

The launch of “The man who stopped the desert” in Burkina Faso.

On March 27 the documentary about the life and work of Yacouba Savadogo was shown in his village. About 500 villagers joined the event. The next evening it was shown in the open air cinema of Ouahigouya, the regional capital. Even more people attended that event. After the showing Yacouba was almost overrun by those who wanted to congratulate him.

The link below is a 10 minute film which shows the events in the village and in the cinema.

Re-greening in Mali
During a short visit to the Seno Plains around Bankass on March 29 my impression was that the scale of on-farm re-greening in this region is under-estimated. The numbers used tend be around 15,000 ha, but it is obviously much more. Gray Tappan of the US Geological Survey is now using satellite images to get to grips with the scale. The first results will be known within a few weeks. The pictures on the next page give some impression about the diversity of situations in the area around Bankass.

This field close to Endé has a young high-density stand of Combretum Glutinosum, which provides high quality firewood. Densities are up to 270 trees/ha. Farmers prune the trees in June in such a way that competition with crops is minimized. The trees also produce several tons of litter/ha as can be seen on this picture. The picture below shows a stand of high-density young Faidherbia albida.

Like in Burkina Faso, a ripple effect is taking place. In all areas that the re-greening initiative is working, new villages want to join. The initiative is now active in the regions of Mopti, Tominian and Segou and will soon expand to Koulikoro. In the Mopti region 300 farmers participated in a re-greening competition and the fields of all these farmers were visited and demarcated by a committee of composed of representatives of the technical services (agriculture, forestry…..).

From the point of view of the promotion of farmer-managed re-greening, several positive, but also one negative development can be reported in Mali. The negative development is that Mali adopted a new forestry law in 2010, which does not mention agroforestry systems and natural regeneration. The new law is about repression and not about education. It is about deterring farmers to invest in on-farm trees rather than about inducing them to invest. The authorities recently decided to temporarily put the law on hold….as some protests against it turned violent. It is not unlikely that the new law will be adapted.

A very positive development is that the new Strategic Investment Plan for Sustainable Land Management in Mali specifically mentions farmer-managed re-greening as a high priority. This certainly offers opportunities for developing a national strategy for re-greening and for increased investments in agroforestry.

Re-greening in Tigray (Ethiopia)

Tony Rinaudo and Rob Francis of World Vision Australia were in Tigray in March as a follow-up to a training workshop on farmer managed natural regeneration by Tony 8 months ago. Tony’s report mentions that the Bureau of Agriculture has decided to institutionalize famer-managed natural regeneration and integrate it into their normal programming. This is highly relevant as the Bureau is the driving force behind the large-scale re-greening in Tigray. This may ultimately lead to the sustainable management and exploitation of natural regeneration as well as planted trees in what is called enclosures (over one million hectares). If you want more info, please contact:

The Web Alliance for Re-greening in Africa (W4RA)

See previous update. The website for African Re-greening Initiatives is still under construction. A number of colleagues of VU University, World Wide Web Foundation and SahelECO will present a paper at the Web Science Conference in Koblenz (Germany) in June.

Is (Web) Science Ready for Empowerment?
Issues of Scientific Method – Illustrated by a Demo Roadshow in West Africa
Hans Akkermans, Nana Baah Gyan, The Network Institute, VU University Amsterdam
Anna Bon, Wendelien Tuyp, CIS, VU University Amsterdam, Aman Grewal, Stéphane Boyera, World Wide Web Foundation, London/Toulouse, Mary Allen, SahelEco, Bamako, Mali
Extended Abstract Submission ACM Web Science Conference 2011, Koblenz, D, 14-17 June 2011
Abstract. The World Wide Web opens up many avenues for new research. Some of them (Web as observable phenomenon, Web as engineered technology) fall quite well within mainstream academic notions of research. This is much less so if we position the Web as an instrument for empowerment. Informed by our W4RA field research experiences in West Africa, we review issues of scientific research and methodology if it is to be relevant to issues of empowerment. Keywords: The pro-human Web, evolving technologies, knowledge production, Web futures


Below you see the picture of Adama Kindo taken on March 28. He recently returned from Ivory Coast to the village of Bogoya (Burkina Faso). Adama lost an arm in a road accident in Ivory Coast, but using his left arm he just dug zaï on about a hectare and filled them with compost. Adama is determined to develop a diverse agroforestry system just as his cousin Ousséni Kindo has done since 1985 on an adjacent field of 4.5 ha. Ousséni Kindo and his family have been food secure since 1985.

Media attention

Below you’ll find a link to an article in major German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, which is about the Great Green Wall, but it also pays attention to farmer managed re-greening in Senegal and in Niger.

In about two months, the New Yorker ( a US weekly with 1.2 million subscribers) will have a substantial article about re-greening. We’ll come back to it when published.

Upcoming events

On May 2, Dr. Dennis Garrity, DG of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi, will visit Amsterdam. That will be a new opportunity to discuss how to build linkages between ICRAF’s Evergreen Agriculture initiative and African Re-greening Initiatives.

Next update
The next update will be produced around mid May.

For more information about ARI please contact:

Chris Reij
or Wendelien Tuyp (

For more information about the Web Alliance for Re-greening in Africa (W4RA), please contact:
Anna Bon, ICT Consultant (

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

UPDATE 2011 no.2

An agroforest of Moringa stenotepala close to Konso, Ethiopia (February 28, 2011)

This second update of African re-greening Initiatives in 2011 begins with a brief overview of some of the re-greening activities by World Vision Australia. It shows how farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) is spreading to other countries and regions. Within World Vision Australia re-greening has at least two formidable champions: Tony Rinaudo ( and Peter Weston ( In the mid-1980s Tony catalyzed the process of re-greening in Niger’s Maradi Region and he now travels to Ghana, Niger, Ethiopia, Cambodia and many other countries to train farmers and technicians in how to do it…If you want to know how farmer managed natural regeneration works in practice….then just google on “you tube Tony Rinaudo FMNR”
Peter Weston is program coordinator for Tchad, Senegal as well as for West Africa regional initiatives. He recently presented FMNR to an Australian Parliamentary Committee that advises and oversees Australia’s foreign policy.
This brief overview of World Vision’s re-greening activities is followed by information about several recent activities and developments.
Some examples of World Vision Australia supported re-greening

World Vision Senegal is currently conducting two, well resourced sister-projects in 10 districts around Kaffrine region, which is in the Senegal’s densely populated peanut basin. These followed on from a number of small pilot projects that built a body of experience in engaging farmers in the adoption of new agroforestry techniques. The projects combine promotion of FMNR, jatropha hedges and fruit trees with short-term food production 'accompaniments' and food for work programs. As a result of the previous lessons learned, interest and adoption of farmer-managed natural regeneration in particular and field hedging is spreading rapidly throughout the region. Within two years farmers have protected and managed FMNR on about 25,000 ha and they have hedged 612 ha with jatropha. A great emphasis has been placed on facilitating discussions about environmental sustainability with wider community groups beyond the farmer household heads, and mediating land user rights within and between communities and the Forestry Service to eliminate tree poaching.

World Vision Niger is long acquainted with FMNR due to its working relationship with agricultural missionary organisation: Serving-In-Mission (SIM). This small project is one addition to a long history of NRM projects for World Vision Niger. This small project intends to work with 5 districts in Zinder and Tahoua regions. The current project that commenced activities late in 2009 intends to complement existing FMNR activities with other agroforestry activities, namely to support local demand for moringa oleifera and ziziphus mauritiana, and to promote SIM's technique of 'Farmer-Managed Agroforestry System' (FMAFS) that delimits farmer fields with acacia colei to act as wind barriers, to fix nitrogen and provide a protein food supplement. This project is drawing on media promotion via radio emissions and the participatory development of agroforesty manuals in French, Hausa and Kanuri.

Rows of fast growing Australian Acacia colei close to Maradi (Niger). November 8, 2010.

A separate World Vision research project in Niger recently studied the potential market demand and value chain linkages for acacia colei seeds. A.colei is extremely dryland tolerant and its seeds are high in protein and micronutrients. The project found that market demand is still localised around areas already having a history of growing and consuming the seeds. Potential exists for wider market acceptance but would primarily be via pre-processed foods such as weaning foods, snack foods and the like, rather than unprocessed seeds. Increased acacia colei production is desirable from both a soil restoration and human nutrition perspective. But further adoption is constrained by the lack of market promotion presently, despite many market opportunities being identified.

Recently, World Vision Chad completed a pilot project that attempted to establish model farmers in 12 districts experiencing deteriorating forest cover and soil quality across Southern Chad. The project promoted FMNR, SIM's Farmer-Managed Agroforestry System (FMAFS), as well as well-known dryland fruit trees such as mangoes. Whilst the project did gain some local practitioner advocates, it also found that spreading such a project across 12 districts with limited staffing and budget was overly optimistic, and unable to gain any real traction in most locations. Consequently, a recently commenced follow-on project is intensifying the initiative in just two locations: one near Guelendeng and one near Doba.

In 2010 a farmer delegation from Ghana visited re-greening in Burkina Faso and Mali. Building on the lessons from the projects in francophone West Africa, World Vision Ghana has commenced a FMNR project in the Upper East Region of Northern Ghana. Though only recently commenced, early indications are that farmers and authorities are enthusiastic about applying the technique, and appreciate the opportunity it presents to recover some of their lost local tree species and soil deficits.

World Vision Mauritania has started a small project in two districts of Brakna region that aims to work with 100 households to promote NRM techniques into household farming systems. It aims to reduce their climatic vulnerability by halting agricultural land degradation and biodiversity loss, and ultimately, increase household nutrition and incomes. The main techniques being shared are FMNR, hedging fields, and multi-purpose perennials.

World Vision Mali has started a small project working with 20 village communities around Kolokani. The project is trialling the use of various multipurpose agroforestry species including acacia colei, moringa oleifera, jatropha curcus, ziziphus mauritiana and citrus. The project also promotes FMNR in crop fields, and intends to work with communities and the Water and Forestry Service to review laws and practices that restrict the application of agroforestry.

The focus of this brief overview is on what World Vision does across the Sahel to promote FMNR, but World Vision is also actively promoting re-greening in Ethiopia, Tanzania and several other countries. In Ethiopia the Humbo project is the first project in Ethiopia that is financed by the Carbon Development Mechanism. The Humbo project is about the promotion of natural regeneration of degraded forests (3,000 ha). If you google on Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration you will find all info. World Vision partners from Tanzania visited Humbo, got inspired and began protecting natural regeneration of degraded forests on 18,000 ha.
More about World Vision’s activities in future updates.

Re-greening in Mali and Burkina FasoIn Mali many meetings were held locally by all partners at the end last year (in Djenné, Koro, Bandiagara, Mopti) to discuss the results of farmer competitions for best performance in the protection and management of natural regeneration and to plan activities for 2011. Farmers, NGO partners and elected officials participated in those meetings. Looking at the reports they all proposed expanding activities to other areas.
The partners in Burkina Faso met mid-March for stocktaking and planning. More details about the activities in both countries in the next update after my visit to both countries (March 26 – April 8).

Re-greening in NigerAs mentioned in the first update, an international workshop was organized in Niamey in January 2011. It was co-organized by the World Agroforestry Centre and African Forest Forum. A key objective was to develop a national strategy for re-greening in Niger. The 100+ participants had lively debates and those who visited re-greening in Maradi and Zinder before the workshop began, were impressed by the scale of re-greening. A report will soon be available.
One immediate spinoff of this workshop was that participants from Nigeria wanted to know more about Niger’s re-greening and it is likely that a delegation from Nigeria will visit Southern Niger in 2011 to draw lessons from Niger’s experience.

Re-greening in EthiopiaAs mentioned in update no. 1, the mobilisation of funding for the Ethiopia Re-greening Initiative is a key priority in 2011. A visit to Southern Ethiopia confirmed the importance of agroforestry. Just one example. Travelling the 90 km from Arba Minch to Konso, the importance of Moringa Stenotepala becomes evident and the closer one gets to densely populated Konso with its traditional terraces, the higher the densities of Moringa. Many families depend on this tree for their survival (household consumption and cash income from sale). The fresh leaves are sold in the market for about 4 Birr/kilo (0.18 euro/kilo). Developing a value chain around Moringa offers perspectives.

The Great Green Wall through the Sahara and the Sahel (GGW)During a meeting in Bonn in the second half of February donor agencies pledged 3 billion $ for the GGW. That’s a major achievement. However, it should be noticed that experience shows that there’s a discrepancy between pledges and disbursements. Farmer-managed re-greening is quickly becoming part of the GGW approach, which is a positive development.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)See update 2011 no.1. IFAD’s legal department is expected to soon sign the project.

“The man who stopped the desert”The documentary won the special jury prize of the International Forest Film festival in the USA ( On March 28, Mark Dodd, who made the documentary about the life of Yacouba Sawadogo, his innovations and impact, will be shown in Ouahigouya (Burkina Faso) to all who participated in the making of the documentary as well as to city officials.

The Web Alliance for Re-greening in AfricaIn January/February, researchers from VU University Amsterdam, together with partners from World Wide Web Foundation and Sahel Eco – Mali, travelled sixteen days through the Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and North Ghana, exploring local information needs in remote rural areas. The outcomes will be used for development of innovative web services based on voice technologies.

Meetings were held with farmers and herders, local radio stations were visited and meetings were held with farmer organisations. Community radio and mobile telephone, apart from word of mouth, are the only sources of information in these remote villages, devoid of electricity, TV or Internet. Radio programs are created in local studios, and continuously broadcasted in various languages. Radio listeners often travel from a distant village, and bring a handwritten message to have it broadcasted for their friends and family. They are ready to pay the radio a fee of 500 francs CFA (less then one euro), a considerable amount in this region. Is the desire to Twitter a universal human trait?

Farmers, herders and radio staff shared their thoughts on innovative voice-based information services. It led to a vivid discussion and many original ideas emerged for voice-based services. One farmer suggested some sort of voice "yellow pages" service, which can provide contact details of an expert who will give him tips on how to grow shea trees.

Voice-based services may bring new opportunities for people to exchange information about re-greening activities, about prices on the local market, health or legal issues, music and entertainment, local news or anything one can imagine…!!

Next update

The next update will be produced around mid April.

For more information about ARI please contact:

Chris Reij
Center for Intenational Cooperation
VU University Amsterdam
Tel.: + 31 20 5989097
For more information about the Web Alliance for Re-greening in Africa (W4RA), please contact:
Anna Bon, ICT Consultant
VU University amsterdam
Centre for International Cooperation
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
The Netherlands
t + 31 20 5989074
f + 31 20 5989095