Niger Desertification Case Study

Consistent with Cooke et al. (2008), the dire scarcity of trees and tree products changed the community’s perception from tree cutting to clear land to tree planting and protection. The tree scarcity also affected the livestock sector, especially in the central part of Niger, where trees are used as fodder during the dry season. The government also responded to this land degradation by promoting tree planting. As part of the decentralization process in the 1990s (Mohamadou 2009), the Nigerien government passed the Rural Code (Principe d’Orientational du Code Rural Ordinance) in 1993. This law was developed after a consultative process initiated in 1986, and was intended to establish a framework for synthesizing and ultimately replacing the complex and sometimes overlapping set of tenure rights existing under customary, Islamic, colonial and state laws and rules (Toulmin and Quan 2000). The goal of the Rural Code was to integrate customary systems into formal law, drawing upon in-depth studies of local farming, pastoral and forestry practices (Lavigne et al. 2002). It sought to provide land tenure security, to organize and manage rural lands, and to plan and manage natural resources (Gnoumou and Bloch 2003). The Rural Code recognized private land rights only when they are acquired through customary law or written contracts (République du Niger 2003). The Rural Code also gives customary leaders the role of resolving land conflicts and enacting natural resource management (NRM) by-laws (Toulmin and Quan 2000; Lavigne and Delville 2002).

The Rural Code addressed four main issues: protection of the rights of rural operators, conservation and management of natural resources, organization of rural peoples (farmers, herders) and regional land use planning. To complement the Rural Code, the 2004 forestry law also gave tree tenure—i.e., a farmer who plants trees or protects trees on her farm owns it and could use it in any way she wanted (Adam et al. 2006; Stickler 2012).

The Nigerien institutional changes implemented in the 1990s to 2011 had a favorable impact of government effectiveness—quality of public services, civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies (Kaufman et al. 2010). Figure 17.1 shows that the government effectiveness (GE) index rose in Niger by about 43 % while it fell in SSA and Western Africa sub-region. The Nigerien GE index in 2009–12 period was greater than the corresponding average in both SSA and Western Africa. This reveals the significant progress the country made in the two decades.

Improvement in government effectiveness and community perception of natural resources showed a significant impact on natural resources. In addition to allowing communities to own and benefit from trees—thus incentivizing them to plant and protect trees—the Rural Code and other institutional reforms received strong support of civil society that provided significant technical support (Sendzimir et al. 2011). In collaboration with NGOs and international donors, the government initiated tree planting and protection (Reij et al. 2009). Since then, communities and farmers felt much greater ownership over the trees on their land. It is estimated that at least 3 million hectares of land has been reforested since the early 1980s in Niger, largely as a result of community tree planting and natural regeneration of trees (Adam et al. 2006). This is about 2.5 times the forest area of 1.2 million ha in 2012 (FAOSTAT 2014). The tree planting and protection programs contributed to what is known as the regreening of the Sahel (Anyamba et al. 2014; Sendzimir et al. 2011). There was significant increase in rainfall in the Sahelian region that explained the increased vegetation from 1994 to 2012 (Anyamba et al. 2014). However, after controlling for wetter conditions, Herrmann et al. (2005) observed residual increase in greenness that was not explained by increased precipitation. The residual greenness was concentrated in the Projet Intégré Keita (PIK), and where other tree planting and protection programs operated (Reij et al. 2009; Pender et al. 2009).

As Fig. 17.2 shows, the Nigerien forest area declined rapidly in the 1990s, but the rate of loss slowed down beginning in 2001. Such a slowdown could be linked to the lagged impact of the policy changes discussed above.
Illustrating the Nigerien success story that resulted from policy and institutional changes that provided incentives for land operators to plant and protect trees, the area of planted forest as a percent of the total forest area in Niger was greater than the corresponding percent in three other countries (Fig. 17.3).

A large area of degraded land has been rehabilitated through a presidential program on land rehabilitation and several donor funded projects. According to Adam et al. (2006), at least 250,000 ha of land have been rehabilitated using tree planting and soil and water conservation (SWC) measures since the mid-1980s. The rehabilitated land is about 16 % of the 16 million ha cropland in 2012 (FAOSTAT 2014).

The 1997 Memorandum for Orientation for Livestock Policy, and the 1998 Strategic Orientation Document (DOS) for the agricultural sector specify that sustainable land management (SLM) is a precondition for sustainable agricultural development. This policy framework gives a clear mandate for mainstreaming SLM in all ministries that affect land management significantly. Niger is also one of the 37 countries in the world that have revised their national forest policy (NFP) to include sustainable forest management (SFM) (FAO 2014). Niger’s NFP also specifically links SFM and ecosystem services (Ibid).

Consistent with DOS, Niger formulated its Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) in 2002, in which SLM is one of the key strategies for poverty reduction. To address risky production in the mainly rainfed agriculture, the PRS promotes diversification and intensification as key elements of agricultural development. The PRS is supported by the 2003 Rural Development Strategy (RDS), in which promotion of sustainable natural resource management, profitable agricultural production and food security are among its main objectives (République du Niger 2003). To achieve its goals sustainably, the RDS aims at decentralization of natural resource management (NRM) by building the capacity of the rural institutions to manage natural resources and rural development in general.

Niger has ratified all three Earth Summit conventions—United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Accordingly, Niger created Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature and Cultural Reserve in 2007, which covers 97,000 km2 or 14 % of the land area (Sahara Conservation Fund 2007). To address desertification and land degradation in general, the government adopted the UNCCD convention in 2000 and prepared its national Action Plan (NAP). The NAP sets short-term and long-term plans to address land degradation through promotion of sustainable pasture management, water harvesting, tree planting, developing livestock markets, and other strategies.

Niger designed the national adaptation plan of action (NAPA) in 2006, which identified 14 climate change adaptation action strategies with the broad objectives of food security, sustainable resource management, and poverty reduction. The 14 strategic activities are achieved through the following broad activities: (1) pasture and rangeland improvement; (2) increasing livestock productivity by improving local livestock breeds; (3) development and protection of water resources for domestic use, irrigation, and livestock; (4) promotion of sustainable land and water management (SLWM) practices that enhance adaptation to climate change; (5) promoting peri-urban agriculture and nonfarm activities; (6) building the capacity and organizational skills of rural community development groups; (7) preventing and fighting against climate-related pests and diseases; and (8) dissemination of climate information.

As is the case in other countries however, the total budget set for Niger’s NAPA is small and its implementation is short-term (two to three years). Investment in the NAPA has also been largely funded by donors, with limited contribution by the government. This reveals the weak political will of the government to put the NAPA into the sustainable and long-term operation required for effectiveness. However, NAPA has spurred country-level policy awareness of climate change and the need to design policies and strategies to enhance adaptation and mitigation.

Niger has formulated a national plan on soil fertility and water management, whose objective is to promote the use of appropriate technologies for SLWM (RoN 2006). This policy further shows government’s sustainable development and its commitment to SLWM. In 2006, the government also adopted a national strategy for sustainable input supply to farmers (SIAD). The inputs being promoted under the SIAD include seed, fertilizers, pesticides, feed, and others. The objectives of SIAD are to ensure regular access to agricultural inputs at a competitive price; to regulate production, marketing and use of agricultural inputs and to strengthen the capacity of farmer organizations to produce and market their products. It is too early to evaluate the SIAD performance. However, if fully implemented SIAD will help in increasing agricultural productivity and will support the national plan on soil fertility and water management and other NRM and agricultural policies. The policy also sets a stage for supporting the growth of the private input sector, which is weak.

Niger subsidizes fertilizer and some donors distribute fertilizer as part of the emergency aid. The government does not involve the private sector in the distribution of donor fertilizer. Instead, it distributes the donated fertilizer through the “central d’approvisionement”, the National government agency for input distribution. The government has justified its participation in input distribution as necessary because of the weak private input marketing sector and to ensure regional equity.3 However, this approach works against other efforts to promote growth of the private sector. For example, the “IARBIC project” and other projects are helping to establish a private sector for fertilizers and other input distribution. These efforts are being undermined by the free fertilizer distribution.

After trade liberalization in Niger, the government removed most imports and exports taxes on agricultural input and output. The move was aimed at facilitating food imports to address the food deficiency that affects the country frequently.4 The move was also aimed at increasing domestic production. This made Niger one of the most liberalized economies in West Africa. Niger is also one of the West African Monetary and Economic Union (UMEOA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The objective of both economic unions is to remove all tax and barriers among member states. Niger agricultural exports go mainly within the region (ECOWAS and UMEOA).

The discussion reveals that Niger has designed a number of policies aimed at correcting the old programs that contributed to land degradation and to respond to new global and national changes. The section below discusses the trends and patterns of human welfare in order to understand the potential impact which such changes could have made. The discussion is not meant to attribute the changes directly to policy changes, but rather to establish an association that could help to better understand the environment-human welfare linkage (Reynolds et al. 2011).

Case study: drought in the Sahel

Map showing location of Sahel

Food for distribution Yabelo area, Southwest Ethiopia

The Sahel region of Africa has been suffering from drought on a regular basis since the early 1980s. The area naturally experiences alternating wet and dry seasons. If the rains fail it can cause drought.

In addition to natural factors, the land is marginal. Human activities such as overgrazing, overcultivation and the collection of firewood can lead to desertification [desertification: The spread of desert conditions in arid regions due to human activities, drought or climate change. ], particularly when combined with drought conditions.

The result is crop failure, soil erosion [soil erosion: Loss of topsoil due to wind, water or deforestation. ], famine and hunger: people are then less able to work when their need is greatest. It becomes a vicious circle and can result in many deaths, especially among infants and the elderly. In Niger in 2004, the situation was made worse when a plague of locusts consumed any remaining crops. In these cases, people rely on food aid from the international community.

On its own, food aid is unsustainable in the long term. What is really needed is development aid, which involves educating the local community in farming practices.

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