Since the seventeenth century, the Sahel drought has periodically devastated a band of countries in West and Central Africa known as the Sahel region. In 2012, the drought struck again, leaving millions without food or water. During this drought and droughts in the 1970s and 1980s, native vegetation was decimated, turning once fertile soil into cracked, packed earth. Farmers in countries like Mali, Senegal, and Burkina Faso are still struggling to recover from the crop and livestock failures brought on by erratic rain and arid soil.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food security in Mali and other Sahelian countries is markedly influenced by climate change. Because a majority of the rural population in Mali relies on agriculture for their livelihood, climate change has the potential to push more than one million people below the poverty line.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) believes that a regional resource conservation and management initiative can help restore vegetation and revive the farming industry in the face of ongoing climate change. Thus, in 1999, they launched Sahelian Areas Development Fund Programme (FODESA), which works with farmers in Mali to regenerate endangered native species and introduce plant varieties that are drought resistant through a variety of programs. The initiative aims to develop a support system that will enable local municipalities and village associations to maitain these resource management programs over time.
In partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), FODESA has launched a parkland agroforestry initiative that grows native trees with staple food crops, such as millet and sorghum. The initiative promotes soil fertility and water conservation, while increasing access to native tree species that provide food, medicine, fuel, and building materials to locals. The initiative has made one of its greatest impacts by planting bourgou, a native, nutritious grass used to feed livestock.
FODESA has also established village nurseries that aim to cultivate more drought-resistant native species to address deforestation in Mali. The nurseries function both as a lab where plant species are tested for their suitability and as an education center where locals can learn and apply conservation practices for soil and water management. ICRAF will contribute by helping locals track the disappearance of plant species and archive local knowledge about the uses and management of native plants.
So far, FODESA has planted 4,562 kilometers of hedges and 36 hectares of eucalyptus and other trees. They have also established 23 village nurseries in the Mopti region of Mali.
“The disappearance of species requires a concerted effort on the part of local populations to break the habit of exploitation and overuse and introduce a new one: regeneration and projection,” says Joseph Dakouo, coordinator of the Institut d’Economie Rurale/ICRAF program based in Ségou in central Mali. “Overall, we want to encourage a culture of nurturing plant and tree species and relieve pressure on natural resources.”