Posts Tagged ‘Sahel’


Innovation of the Month: Cereal Banks Protect Against Famine and Empower Women Across the Sahel

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By Caitlin Aylward

Drought and high food prices in 2012 threatened the food security of over 18 million people in the Sahel Region of Africa, which includes parts of Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, and northern Nigeria. The Sahel is prone to drought, and is becoming increasingly so with climate change. Consequently the people in this region are experiencing more frequent bouts of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Women-led cereal banks help reduce hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel. (Photo credit: World Food Programme)

Fortunately, organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) and Care are joining forces to create all-women-managed cereal banks in villages throughout the Sahel that not only help protect against seasonal famine, but also empower women as agents of food security in their communities.

Cereal banks are community-led grain distribution projects that store grain after harvests, and then loan grain when food is scarce during what is known as the ‘lean season.’

In 2009, WFP and Care established exclusively women-operated cereal banks to help ensure the availability of grain supplies year round. These community cereal banks loan grain below market price, helping protect against market speculation, and enabling even the poorest women to purchase food for their families during times of scarcity. The women are expected to repay the loans, but at very low interest rates and only after they have harvested their own crops.



“The Man Who Stopped the Desert”: What Yacouba Did Next

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By Devon Ericksen

In the documentary film, “The Man Who Stopped the Desert,” a farmer named Yacouba Sawadogo struggles to maintain his livelihood in the increasingly harsh land of northern Burkina Faso. Part of Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region, Burkina Faso has suffered from desertification as over-farming, overgrazing, and overpopulation resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying. Desertification has affected many countries in the Sahel, including Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Chad.

Yacouba Sawadogo has worked for more than 30 years to reverse desertification in the Sahel. (Photo credit: 1080 Film)

In 1980, Yacouba decided to fight the desert’s spread by reviving an ancient farming technique called zai, which led to forest growth and increased soil quality. Zai is a very simple and low-cost method, involving using a shovel or axe to break up the ground and dig small holes, which are then filled with compost and planted with seeds of trees, millet, or sorghum. The holes or pits catch water during the rainy season and, when filled with compost, retain moisture and nutrients through the dry season.

Yacouba’s story attracted international attention when Mark Dodd of 1080 Films created the documentary in 2010, and the African farmer has since told his story around the world, including at an October 2012 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) meeting in South Korea. 1080 Films recently released a short follow-up film about Yacouba’s life since the original film, called “What Yacouba Did Next…,” describing what Yacouba has done since the film’s release and giving an idea of the respect he has received from the international community.



Drought in West Africa Threatens Food Security

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By Eleanor Fausold

In the Sahel region of West Africa, where people have suffered from an increased frequency and severity of food crises over the past decade and are still recovering from a food crisis back in 2010, a severe drought is threatening the food security of millions of people.

Severe drought is threatening the food supply in western Africa. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The crisis has been brought on by unreliable rains that have led to a poor harvest, particularly in Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, and Burkina Faso. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), international agency Oxfam International states, agricultural production in the Sahel region has decreased 25 percent since 2010, with the grain harvest down by 1.4 million metric tons. Mauritania has been hit hardest, suffering a 52 percent drop in crop production from last year.

Harvests in nearby countries such as Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana have had more success, but it is unlikely that their surpluses will be enough to meet the desperate need in the Sahel region. Food aid bought locally is currently 15 to 20 percent cheaper than on the international market, but high prices and uncertainty of supply will likely result in the cost of supplying food being much higher than it was in the 2010 crisis.

Food prices in the region are 20 to 25 percent higher than they have been, on average, over the past five years. These numbers could rise another 25 to 30 percent by July and August, the months at the peak of the hunger season, putting struggling families at an even greater risk.

Violence in the region is also adding to the strain placed on countries suffering from the crisis. The conflict in northern Mali has forced 160,000 people to flee their homes. These people have fled to neighboring Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, putting even more pressure on nations with an already-limited food supply.



Internet and Mobile Phone Access Help Farmers Help Each Other

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By Graham Salinger 

For 25 years Yacouba Sawadogo, a small-scale farmer in Mali, has been working to stop the process of desertification in the Sahel region of western Africa. During  the 1970s and 1980s the Sahel, a semi-arid area along the southern edge of the Sahara desert that stretches from Senegal’s Atlantic coast to the Ethiopian highlands, experienced severe droughts that left the land baron.

For years farmers have been adapting numerous innovations to re-green the Sahel. (Photo credit: W4RA)

For years farmers like Sawadogo have been adapting numerous innovations to re-green the Sahel. In 2010 the Web Alliance for Regreening in Africa (W4RA) was established to increase access to communication technology so that farmers in the region can share their innovations with one another.

The program, which lasts through 2012, partners with Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam  and the Africa Regreening Initiative to increase the means of communication between farmers. With only 5.7 percent of the population in Africa having internet access, the program helps provide web based and mobile phone based communication technology to small scale farmers in the Sahel.



Pomme du Sahel: Hardy, Yet Delicious

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By Jeffrey Lamoureux

La Pomme du Sahel, or Apple of the Sahel, is a fairly simple solution to a complex problem. The tree is native to the western Sahel desert, throughout Niger and Burkina Faso. On the windswept and heavily degraded soils of the Sahel, it is one of the few hardy trees that can survive and produce fruit. That makes it a crucial part of initiatives underway across the region to use trees to help restore the health of soil damaged by overgrazing and the clearing of perennial vegetation.

Pomme du Sahel is providing nutrition, while replenishing the soil, in the Sahel. (Photo credit: ICRISAT)

Often called Jujube, the wild tree produces a fruit that is small and difficult to eat, and tastes similar to a pineapple. Farmers, however, have largely overlooked the trees growing on their land because they consider its fruit fit only for consumption by goats. But the Jujube has been domesticated in India and the trees there produce a fruit ten times as big and much sweeter.

Sensing a possibility to combine the wild variety’s adaptation to the soil with the domesticated variety’s preferable fruit, Dov Pasternak formerly of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) began grafting the two varieties together. Grafting is done by splicing the top of one plant onto the roots of another. The resulting plants cannot reproduce, however, so each tree must be spliced individually (video in French).



Shea: For people and planet

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By Kim Kido 

Shea (Vitellaria paradoxa, nilotica) is one of few trees that can withstand the harsh, semi-arid climate of the Sudan and Guinean savannas and the Sahel. Hardy, drought-resistant, and with fireproof bark, the uses of the shea tree are numerous and ancient, dating back to the 1300s.

Woman processing shea kernels into butter. (Photo credit: TREE AID)

Tools and coffins are made out of the wood, while the wastewater from processing seeds acts as a pesticide against weevils. The tree provides forage for sheep and goats as well as food for people. The sweet pulp of the fruit, similar to an avocado, is eaten fresh, providing a valuable source of nutrition early in the rainy season when food can be scarce. And, the tree’s flowers can be added to salads.

The shea tree also provides many environmental benefits. Farmers often intercrop the shea tree with cereal grains where they help to prevent wind erosion, provide shade, and contribute organic matter to the soil.

The uses of the shea nut are most widely known and offer the highest economic value. The seed contains a kernel that is eaten fresh, roasted like almonds, or processed to extract shea butter. Shea butter is traditionally used as a waterproofing material for houses, a cosmetic, a primary source of vegetable fat in cooking, and as a medicine for treating various skin diseases, arthritis, and other ailments.



Nourishing the Planet TV: “Re-Greening” the Sahel through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

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In this week’s episode, research intern Graham Salinger discusses the natural regeneration methods being used in the Sahel region of Africa to bring back indigenous trees and improve the livelihoods of traditional farmers.


To read more about farmer-managed natural regeneration, see: Innovation of the Week: “Re-Greening” the Sahel through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


IFPRI Millions Fed Technical Compendium

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By Amanda Strickler

In 2009, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), published Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Millions Fed project analyzed over 250 agricultural success stories from developing countries over the past 50 years. Based on a set of criteria focused on agriculture including scale, proven impact and sustainability, the success stories of 20 countries were selected and presented in the final Millions Fed report.

Intercropping of fodder along contour lines in Ibumila village, Njombe, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

As follow-on, IFPRI published a second volume to Millions Fed. Proven Successes in Agricultural Development: A Compendium to Millions Fed provides readers with technical insight into the pros and cons of each agricultural success story featured in the original publication. The book also features a chapter on measuring overall gains or losses when carrying out projects in the field-a term known as impact assessment. Using impact assessment is especially important in agricultural projects to determine positive and negative relationships between farming and the environment. Many of the case studies reviewed in Proven Successes in Agricultural Development: A Compendium to Millions Fed are success stories in this way. The studies prove that agriculture, development and the environment really can work hand-in-hand.



The smart way to combat desertification

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By Dennis Garrity

In re-greening the drylands of Africa, we should make use of trees that will provide multiple long-term benefits to poor farmers, writes Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre.

The importance of trees in combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought was high on the agenda last week when organizations from the around the world gathered in Dakar, Senegal to observe the World Day to Combat Desertification.

Agroforestry has the potential to not only increase crop yields, but also to heal the land. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

For any re-greening effort to be successful, it must of course target desertification and drought, but also be geared towards ensuring food security and improving the livelihoods of people in the drylands who struggle every year to survive.

Drylands make up 40% of the world’s land area, cover more than 100 countries and are the basis for the livelihoods of 2 billion people.

As 2011 is the International Year of Forests it was fitting that the theme for this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification – celebrated on 17 June every year since 1995 – was Forests keep drylands working.

Take for example, the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative. This bold programme, backed by the African Union, is evolving into a massive effort to regreen the Sahelian countries that adjoin the desert through revegetation efforts that build on grassroots participatory approaches. All 11 Sahelian countries are participating, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. These include Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania. It is believed this massive re-greening effort will halt desertification and mitigate the impacts of climate change. (more…)


Five Innovations that Conserve Water While Improving Harvests

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By Grant Potter and Graham Salinger

Globally, the use of water for agriculture is surpassing sustainable levels .With increasing pressures on the water supply, farmers are challenged to find new ways to get more crops per drop. Only 4 percent of the land is equipped for irrigation, leaving farmers at the mercy of a limited water supply.

No single innovation can conserve enough water to end the global water crisis, but worldwide there are a number of innovations that are helping farmers maximize their water usage and strengthen food security.

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five innovations that are helping farmers conserve water and improve their harvest.

Innovations that help farmers with greater water retention are essential to agricultural growth and the health of crops. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

1. Use more Indigenous Crops: The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter suggests that farmers focus on using indigenous crops to increase land productivity. Growing indigenous crops and diversifying cropping systems are proven ways for farmers to create a more drought resistant harvest while also insuring that they have a variety of crops for food and income. With 70 percent of the worlds food supply coming from corn, wheat, and rice, crop diversification that emphasizes the use of indigenous crops not only helps to conserve water, it also helps produce a more sustainable harvest. Vegetables typically have shorter life cycles than other crops and typically faster growing, requiring less irrigation. Abdou Tenkouano of AVRDC –World Vegetable Center, points out  in Chapter 3 of State of the Word 201: Innovations that Nourish The Planet, that indigenous vegetables adapt better to climate change because they are more drought resistant than hybrid varieties.