For centuries, farmers in the Sahel grew their crops in fields scattered with trees that were selected and nurtured (Joet et al. 1998), managing woodlands to produce continuous harvests of trees (Reij, Tappan, & Smale, 2009). In the wake of severe droughts in the 1970s and 1980s, in addition to increasing population pressures for firewood and tree products (ibid), almost all trees had been cleared from the landscape. In response, the government and international development organizations sought reforestation as a means to halt human and ecologically induced deforestation and restore agricultural yields (Dalrymple, 2008).
Government led conventional reforestation models, both during French colonial rule (1922-1960) and following independence in the 1980s-1990s, involved the introduction of exotic species seedlings (primarily Eucalyptus camaldulensis), thought to grow faster and introduced to other parts of Africa in desperate need of firewood for cooking. Seedlings were started in nurseries and subsequently planted in the ground, but this proved to be a consistent challenge (Tougiani et al., 2009). The cost of replanting was significant and planting conditions harsh; with high air temperatures of 40 degrees, seedlings required watering every day, while access to water was, and is, extremely difficult in the region (Ibid). While eucalyptus were planted because they’re fast growing, and so would provide a quick source of firewood to local populations, it also begs the question of why eucalyptus, a known “thirsty” species, was introduced. Failing to improve drought conditions (Cunningham & Abasse. 2005; Tougiani et al. 2009; Rinaudo 2012), alternative ways to manage farmlands were sought.
Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), known locally as défrichement amelioré (Banoin 1998), first emerged in Maradi, Niger, in the mid-1980s as a pragmatic response to desertification, and where the practice has been most successful (Haglund et al., 2011). FMNR is the practice of actively managing and protecting existing native trees (Tougiani et al., 2009) by selecting the stumps of previously felled trees, shoots from underground roots or seedlings growing in the ground to regenerate based on species’ usefulness (Rinaudo, 2012). Stems are selected to prune and others left to grow. Usually the tallest and straightest stems are left to grow (amount can be decided by the farmers), and all other stems are continuously pruned, especially side branches (World Bank 2009).
Building upon local historical knowledge
Historical knowledge is complex and encapsulates many different ways of knowing about, and working with, history (Higgs et al., 2014). The case of Maradi is no exception. Different ways of knowing (government, farmers, and international development agencies) influenced the adoption of FMNR practices in its initial phases. Natural regeneration was a long held practice by farmers through burning of their fields before planting new crops (de Rouw, 1993). FMNR practices built upon this historical regeneration base by adding an “assisted” component through selective pruning techniques.
Historical practices of rain-fed farming and livestock herding (Na, Mamouda, Tm, & Diop, 2010), Tougiani et al., 2009), alongside FMNR, binds farmers of the predominantly Hausa ethnic group to place, where they have lived with nomadic Fulani herders and adapted to harsh environmental conditions for centuries. As we continue to explore the relationship between natural regeneration, changing natures and ecologically minded food production, we ask how might FMNR practices be understood as history as experiment (Higgs et al. 2014) and offer insight into effective intervention in new natures (Hobbs, Higgs, & Hall, 2013)?
Source: Sendzimir et al. (2011) In the more recent 2005 and 2010 famines, locust invasions played a significant role diminished crop yields.
Courtesy Rink de Lange. Livestock Herding on the Landscape