Desertification in Niger

With their own hands

Every year, Niger loses 100,000 hectares of fertile soil. The Robert Bosch Stiftung supports NGOs in the region that empower farmers to restore the land.

Katharina Mau
Ali Tondi Moctar (Afroto)
April 29, 2022

Mariama Aboubacar has seen her country change. "There used to be more trees," she says. And there used to be more rain in Illéla, a small community in southwestern Niger, than there is today. Aboubacar is 65, old enough to remember a time when the soil was not so badly impaired by the effects of climate change. But then came the time when the people of Illéla could barely grow anything on their land. "We got together and went to the village chief and he talked to the local authorities," Aboubacar says. The NGO World Resources Institute (WRI) organized meetings to share their experiences with other farmers and the local government, and Aboubacar and her neighbors learned about new and proven methods to regenerate their land.

Mariama Aboubacar
Mariama Aboubacar (65) with her most important tool.

More than 80 percent of the people in Niger live off farming, which is becoming increasingly difficult. Every year, the country loses about 100,000 hectares of fertile soil – and its inhabitants the ability to grow enough food. There are various reasons for this: first, extreme weather events such as droughts are becoming more frequent because of climate change; second, agriculture, livestock farming, and deforestation are depleting the soil. And with less and less fallow land, the soil can no longer recover.

To halt this negative development, in 2015 Niger pledged to make 3.2 million hectares of land fertile again by 2029. This was part of the African Forest Restoration Initiative (AFR100), in which 32 countries have pledged by 2030 to regenerate a total of 128 million hectares of land, an area more than three times the size of Germany.

Ditches in Niger
Grasses in Niger
With the ditches collecting rainwater, it is possible to farm the land again.

Everyone’s participation needed

In Illéla the Robert Bosch Stiftung is supporting a project run by WRI, one of AFR100's main partners. The organization is working on the ground with the local population, administrative officials, and scientists who know the region. The project is based on techniques people in their homeland have always used to protect the soil from further degradation (loss of fertility and productivity) and to restore degraded soil. For example, farmers use plows to dig small ditches in the ground to collect rainwater. Stone borders prevent the fertile topsoil from being washed away with the rainwater runoff.

Community meeting in Niger
Communication and participation are just as important as fieldwork: Here, a WRI expert and a village community near Illéla discuss how to proceed.

For the next generation

Kamayé de Batodi picked up his uncles' techniques as a child. "We worked together in the field, and all day we younger ones watched what the older ones were doing." Today, de Batodi has his own field. When little trees sprout on it, he digs holes in the ground around them – just as he once saw his relatives do. The holes fill with rainwater, which the trees can gradually absorb. The trees protect his fields from wind and weather, and provide shade where they can rest from their fieldwork. Sometimes after school, the older of de Batodi's two children accompanies him to the field so that his knowledge is not lost in the next generation.

Local solutions for global problems

Although the Global North is primarily responsible for climate change, people in the Global South are suffering most. In countries like Niger, people are already having to adapt more to changing conditions. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes how important it is to include the knowledge and the experiences of local populations in the adaptation process. This is the only way to prevent governments, for example, from planning measures that are of no benefit to local people or vulnerable groups.

View to the sky, Niger
Ibrahim Abdoulaye in Niger
What does the future hold? Farmer Ibrahim Abdoulaye (right) can now feed his family from his own land.

In Illéla, it was the people themselves who observed the changes in the environment and wanted to learn how to adapt the management of the land to the consequences of climate change. Through the project they saw rapid improvements. The results are encouraging: Tahirou Amadou, the leader of the renaturation work in Beidi, in the district of Illéla, reports that the people in Illéla have been able to double or even triple their millet yields. "I have more yield than before the project," says local farmer Ibrahim Abdoulaye. He grows cotton, cabbages, watermelons, and onions. "I no longer need to move away to feed my family," says Abdoulaye. "By working in my field, I can now provide for my family."

"It's the local people who are directly affected by the consequences of land degradation," says Yacoubou Seybou from the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Desertification in Niger. "That's why, right from the beginning, it was important to us that the population is able to take charge of the reconstruction and revitalization of the soil."

For orientation

Westen Africa

Illéla is located in southwest Niger. In two jeeps of the forestry office the team of reporters from the Robert Bosch Stiftung drove more than ten hours from the capital Niamey. Spring is one of the hottest seasons of the year with daytime temperatures rarely under 45° Celsius.

Map of Western Africa
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About the project

African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative

Read more

Restoring forest landscapes as one of our planet’s most important carbon sinks is crucial to fight climate change and improve resilience. Political momentum for these efforts is rising: The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) involves 32 countries, which have pledged to restore 128 million hectares of land by 2030 – more than three times the size of Germany. Now these national commitments have to be translated into restoration successes on the ground. We support the World Resources Institute (WRI), one of the key partners of AFR100, in accelerating restoration in two key landscapes – Makueni in Kenya and Illéla in Niger – and to reimagine restoration by integrating equity principles. 

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