Interventions & adaptive management
Around the world, and particularly in Niger, engaging communities through decentralization and participatory approaches, has been more successful than “embattled policing of diminishing forest resources by the State” (Mortimore, 2009: 31). In this component of our case, we focus on how inclusive governance led to widespread adoption of FMNR practices in Niger, as well as the re-greening movement it inspired across the Sahel’s belt.
Agrarian systems in Niger: risk and livelihoods
Past adaptive management approaches involved annual grass mulching (Léonard & Ragot,1998) and managing savannah fallows with fire and other clearing techniques. Fallows were subsequently left alone for significant amounts of time (1-2 years) to rejuvenate the soil (Banoin et al. 1998). Yet the capacity to rejuvenate soil fertility has been drastically undermined with increasing population demands on food production over the last three decades (Archard & Banoin 2003). With one of the highest population growth rates in the world—3.8%, women bearing on average 7.6 children (Sendzimir, Reija, & Magnuszewski, 2011), new methods were needed to increase soil fertility whilst optimizing farmers’ yields to provide for critical livelihoods.
During French colonial rule, forestry laws were extremely rigid. To “protect forests”, all trees were deemed state property and farmers (or other) who pruned or felled trees were punished (Pye-Smith 2013: 26). When Niger gained independence in 1960, the code forestière remained in place and quickly became a source of government corruption and tension between forestry agents and farmers (ibid). The Niger government continued to intervene directly in agriculture until the mid-1980s (Boureima, 2006), implementing Western reforestation models that systematically failed (Tougiani et al., 2009).
NGO and Stakeholder Intervention
Around the same time, a first wave of development intervention arrived on Maradi’s doorstep in wake of severe famine. The Maradi Integrated Development Project first introduced Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) in the mid-1980s to 95 villages in the Maradi region (Dalrymple, 2008). While most farmers expressed exposure to the FMNR technique (sassabin zamani in the local Haussa dialect) from their grandparents who “always left a few shoots to grow on their land” (Joet et al. 1998: 37), a real integration of trees into the agricultural landscape was encouraged for the first time. Tony Rinaudo, a charismatic figure in propagating FMNR practices (Reij, 2009), encouraged farmers to regenerate trees by letting shoots grow from existing underground root systems (and later selectively prune) in exchange for food aid (ibid). Initially quick to seize this opportunity, many famers cut down their trees when food aid ceased (Tougiani et al. 2009).
A small minority of farmers did maintain the regrowth, and trees grew on their land within two years. Contrary to popular cultural belief at the time, trees did not impede agriculture yields—they directly enhanced food security (Tougiani et al., 2009) and the practice quickly spread by word of mouth. FMNR remained central to NGO and stakeholders’ land management strategies (with international funding support (World Bank 2009)), further facilitated farmer-to-farmer learning (CARE, 1998).
Courtesy Francesco Fiondella
Seedlings at a nursery, Maradi Courtesy Ruth Huey