Setting the Foundation to Continue to Scale Up: The Progress of Re-Greening Initiatives

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By Amanda Strickler

In the twenty-first century, large scale tree-planting and reforestation programs have become popular in Africa. After all, trees provide many social and environmental benefits and also give tree-planters an immediate and tangible sense of achievement. The benefits of trees are especially important for the farmers who rely on trees for services such as enhanced soil fertility through nitrogen fixing properties, combating erosion, firewood and increased biodiversity. But are all reforestation programs created equal?


ARI is unique in its mission because the program places the management and responsibility of re-greening—the practice of protecting and managing natural regeneration of woody species—in the hands of farmers who work the land. (Photo credit: Chris Reij)

Chris Reij, author of “Investing in Trees to Mitigate Climate Change” featured in State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet works as part of the African Re-Greening Initiatives (ARI) at the Centre for International Co-operation in Amsterdam. ARI is unique in its mission because the program places the management and responsibility of re-greening—the practice of protecting and managing natural regeneration of woody species—in the hands of farmers who work the land. By operating ARI this way, farmers take ownership of their roles and become invested in the ultimate success of local re-greening efforts.

Inspired by the re-greening of 500 million hectares of land initiated by farmers in Niger, ARI has worked since 2007 to create a re-greening movement across the Sahel. Programs in Burkina Faso and Mali in 2009 were the first ARI endeavors. In 2010, ARI began expanding into Ethiopia and into areas of Niger not yet exposed to the ongoing re-greening occurring in other parts of the country. In the ARI January 2011 progress report, Reij wrote; “The goal of all involved in ARI is to reduce rural poverty by re-greening millions of hectares in Africa’s drylands as quickly as possible. Experience in Niger shows that it is possible if large numbers of farmers protect and manage natural regeneration of woody species on-farm.  This produces multiple benefits at minimum cost.”

Rapid expansion of ARI’s success is critical especially as both population and poverty continue to grow in sub-Saharan Africa. From past and recent experiences, ARI has developed sixteen tools critical in achieving this “scaling-up” of re-greening initiatives. Tools include things such as farmer-to-farmer education, dissemination of re-greening messages through rural and regional radio, the development of information communication technology (ICT) around re-greening and technical training for land-users. In 2010, ARI used many of the sixteen tools to achieve re-greening goals. This past year brought success in current ARI programs in Burkina Faso and Mali. Additionally, ARI set the foundation for programs in Ethiopia and new areas in Niger.

ARI achieved great program progress in securing a two-year project funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Through the program, ARI will develop a national policy dialogue across Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali and Niger. Expected to launch February 1, 2011 the project will also include evaluation of agroforestry in the Sahel and the creation of documentaries focused on best practices in adapting to climate change. In further partnership work in 2011, ARI hopes to develop relationships with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Web Alliance for Re-greening Africa (W4RA).

In 2010, international media attention—one of the sixteen ARI tools—provided positive exposure on the topic of re-greening in Africa. US environmental journalist Mark Hertsgaard wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique on re-greening success in the Sahel and in Ethiopia in an article entitled, “Comment le Sahel reverdit”. In December, TIME Africa Bureau Chief Alex Perry published “Land of Hope”, an article on climate change and re-greening. The past year also brought the creation of two documentaries highly-relevant to ARI’s re-greening work. Mark Dodd’s “The man who stopped the desert” focuses on one man’s tree-planting efforts in Burkina Faso. Will Critchley’s documentary “More people more trees” offers insight into long-term reforestation projects in Burkina-Faso and Kenya. ARI also spread the message of re-greening through presentations for many interested organizations including IFAD and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

ARI is looking to meet many goals in 2011 including securing long-term funding for the Ethiopian unit of ARI, the Ethiopian Re-greening Initiative, building international partnerships, and expanding the ARI agenda. In moving forward, ARI will continue to focus on re-greening as affordable option in achieving reforestation, combating poverty and empowering local people.

To read more about re-greening initiatives in Africa, see: Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group: Chris Reij, The Man Who Stopped the Desert, Turning the Threat of Climate Change into an Opportunity to Build a More Sustainable Future,  and Re-Greening the Sahel Through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration.

Amanda Strickler is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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