Since its inception in 1983 with twelve farmers, 10,000 farmer households have now participated in the “farmer-led agroenvironmental transformation”. The FMNR movement has regenerated 200 million trees across 5 million ha of arid farmland in the Maradi and Zinder regions, offering a light of hope in times of intensifying desertification and ongoing food crisis. Tree density in the neighboring Zinder region has increased by 20 to 120 stems per hectare (Reij et al., 2009; Rinaudo, 2012; Sendzimir et al., 2011). Wood markets have been established in rural farm areas, and the farmers in FMNR areas no longer have to go to city markets to buy imported wood. During recent droughts, FMNR farmers were less affected than non-FMNR farmers (Rinaudo, 2011).
FMNR: knowledge-and-people driven restoration
Restoration scholar Eric Higgs differentiates focal restoration (restoration that engages the community for long term success from technological restoration (connected to the patterns of technological culture (Higgs, 2003). A wide spectrum of restoration exists today. Cheonggyecheon stream restoration in South Korea (Temperton et al. 2013) provides a good example of Higgs’s technological restoration, which is led by professionals and highly managed, but draws little community involvement. FMNR practices sit on the other end of the spectrum, with strong community engagement where practices and subsequent knowledge are developed within the community. FMNR highlights the power of learning and knowledge- sharing between farmers. Through talking to each other and learning from one and another, farmers form the backbone of the restoration process, where in other cases technology would play a much larger role. Thus the degree of intervention is different.
In addition to restoring degraded lands, FMNR ultimately changes how people engage with nature through pruning, mulching, harvesting, and playing (Rinaudo, 2011). It also revitalizes forgotten values and practices surrounding native trees that are carried into the future with FMNR practices, farmers and their lands. In this sense, FMNR can be considered holistic restoration where human and natural communities mutually reinforce a sustainable system. Positive political, social and, consequently, ecological changes may continue to drive changing nature in Maradi and Niger (C. Pye-Smith, 2013).
Uncertainties: climate variability, population growth, and exotic species
The average temperature of Niger has increased by 0.6 Celsius degrees since 1975, and the warming trend is likely to persist because of increased climate warming (Van Duivenbooden et al., 2002). Meanwhile, over the past 20 years, areas that receive 500 mm annually in Maradi have expanded. At 500 mm, rainfall usually provides enough water for agriculture and livestock. However, the average rainfall in Niger is still lower than its 1920-1969 mean by 8 percent (Funk et al., 2012), and Niger’s annual rainfall variability has been significant over the last three decades (IPCC 2007). Without appropriate soil management, erratic rainfall can increase soil erosion and flooding (Walsum & Berg, 2014).
After an already significant population boom over the past two decades, Niger’s population is expected to double in 15 years (Funk et al., 2012), while half of its population depends on food aid (Loewenberg, 2010). Such a rapid population growth will increase demand in productivity (Pye-Smith, 2013), which may increase the conversion of conventional farmlands to savannahs, potentially intensifying deforestation (Issiaka et al, 2012). However, Mortimore and Turner (2005) show that some areas with higher rural population density tend to have higher tree densities. Even during the severe famine, trees were actively managed in FMNR areas (Reij, 2009). It is uncertain, how population growth will affect the FMNR movement and practices in restored lands.
An extension of FMNR, Farmer Managed Agroforestry System (FMAFS), is promoting the use of exotic tree species such as Australian acacia (Acacia colei, A. torulosa, A. tumida) (Tougiani et al., 2009). These species have not shown invasiveness yet (Wilson et al., 2011); however, 16 cases of invasive Australian acacias in other areas of Africa have altered fire regimes and plant community dynamics (Le Maitre et al., 2011). Therefore, proactive management and longer-term monitoring will be crucial to ensure the biodiversity in Maradi (Wilson et al., 2011).
Source: World Vision Australia.
Courtesy Rink De Lange. Added trees on the landscape also provide a well-being factor to locals. Courtesy Rink De Lange
FMNR revitalizes forgotten values and practices surrounding native trees that are carried into the future with FMNR practices, farmers, children and their lands Source: lca.usgs.gov-lca-sahel.