Sahel communities equipped to weather climate change

climate change
Climate change

FAO targets local resilience-building solutions for climate-driven challenges

A well-targeted, efficiently-crafted, and locally-driven climate change adaptation and mitigation measures can improve social and economic conditions, and protect the livelihood of communities of the fragile ecosystems of the Sahel.
This was the message conveyed by experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) during a panel session on land restoration at the Beating Famine Conference in Bamako, Mali.
Sahel is ground zero for climate change. As climate-related issues bring in insecurity and uncertainties in agriculture, forestry, pastoral production and food systems, communities in the region look for innovative ways to cope with these challenges. Crop and forest producers, tree growers, users, and herders are now facing increasing climate-related problems from drought to erratic rains, floods, heat, crop, and animal disease outbreaks. Such issues debilitate productivity and livelihoods of local communities, severely affecting the social, environmental, and economic conditions of the local population. All these conditions create a negative domino effect that propels the rise of rural unemployment, increase the number of people living in poverty, and spike up uncontrolled migration.
Against this backdrop, FAO and partners in the Sahelian region came together during the Beating Famine Conference to reflect on the insights from existing approaches and practices. During the discussion, FAO focused on large-scale land restoration for small-scale farming, and highlighted how science when combined with local knowledge, can bring successful innovation on the ground.
Moctar Sacande, International Project Coordinator of FAO, presented key updates on Action Against Desertification in support of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, funded by the European Union. In his presentation, Sacande said, “Communities are at the heart of dryland forest restoration governance. We consult with communities and assess their commitment, motivation and needs, which leads to our understanding of their local requirements for restoration. This also gives us the opportunity to gather detailed information on seed species and their quality, adaptability, and their uses.”
Sacande further added that successful initiatives essentially look for local solutions to big problems. In the context of Sahel re-greening efforts, FAO works with local communities in identifying quality seeds of appropriate local woody and herbaceous species in a bid to ramp up large-scale restoration and promote small scale-farming. Sacande said, “In identifying quality seeds, we prioritize species by authenticating them, and proving that they have the ability to survive long-term in a changing environment such as the Sahel. Additionally with quality seeds, we make sure that we have adequate knowledge, expertise and quality material available for propagation as seeds (direct sowing) and seedlings.”

Communities are at the core of land restoration, and initiatives require adaptability and economic viability to local communities. Such practicality, Sacande added, is the key in fortifying the communities’ efforts in combating the threats posed by climate change.

Nora Berrahmouni, Senior Forestry Officer of FAO, also pointed out the critical importance particularly in the Sahel, of the sustainable use of water resources such as water harvesting and water storage using rainwater cisterns. Berrahmouni said that under the FAO initiative 1 Million Cisterns in the Sahel, vulnerable communities, especially women, now have a mechanism for simple and cost-effective rainwater harvesting and storage systems. “We are looking at enabling millions of people in the Sahel to access safe drinking water and to have a sufficient water for household agricultural production in order to improve their food security and nutrition and strengthen their resilience.”

Additionally, FAO highlighted ground water projects such as the Water Scarcity Initiative for small-scale irrigation, and the use of renewable energy based technologies for agriculture development, restoration, and efficient water use.
Restoring degraded drylands for small-scale farming
The successful approach of FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme to large-scale restoration is making degraded drylands productive again for small-scale farming, and providing economic opportunities in the Sahel region where migration has become a tradition.
Key elements of the approach and practice include consultation with village communities for their selection of species, objectives and needs for restoration, and planting the right species in the right place and at the right period in the rainy season.
FAO also promotes the use of quality native woody and herbaceous fodder seeds; managing natural regeneration of species and planted areas through village management committees; and updating a species database for gene pool traceability, monitoring, and for future uses of data and information.
These efforts are now being expanded to all Great Green Wall countries. This restoration success shows that land degradation around the Sahara is not yet irreversible.
About Beating Famine
World Vision, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Evergreen Agriculture Alliance with the support of numerous collaborating organizations, including the FAO, hosted the Beating Famine Conference in Bamako, Mali.

About 500 representatives from national governments, international NGOs, United Nations agencies, regional institutions, research institutions, financial and technical partners, private sector and international specialist organizations attended the event.

The multi-partner event highlighted the African Forest Landscapes Restoration Initiative (AFR100) and its goal of restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land, as well as the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, the 1 million cisterns for the Sahel Initiative and the UN Action Plan for the Sahel.

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