Harvest of Baobab leaves in the Sahel region where a re-greening has taken place during recent decades. Photo: F. Mikulcak

From grim to green

The future of the drought-prone region of Sahel has long looked grim, but might now provide a glimmer of hope for climate change mitigation.

The West African Sahel not only has one of the fastest growing populations in the world, it is also a region where poverty and food insecurity are widespread and recurring. Rain-fed farming is the dominant livelihood, but drought during the 1970s and 1980s turned the region into a dust-choked area hit by severe famines.

How to reverse a negative trend
The grim conditions led scientists and policymakers to  believe that vulnerable soils and scarce rainfall were inconsistent with the needs of the growing population of the region.

However, to the surprise of many, the regreening witnessed during recent decades has occurred mainly on-farm, in regions with high population densities.

- We know that part of the explanation is returning rainfall, but we want to understand to what degree people's management practices of the land have contributed to this regreening, says Line Gordon , project leader for ‘Adapting to changing climate in drylands: The re-greening in Sahel as a potential success case´, together with her colleague Elin Enfors.

- A broader aim of the project is to figure out how poor, dry countries can reverse a negative trend, become more resilient and adapt to a changing climate, says Gordon.

In the research, local partners in Niger has proven crucial. They have helped select four villages with similar biophysical conditions but where two of the villages were considered greener than the other two, in order to examine why change had happened in some places but not in others.
 
Moving in positive directions
After preparatory reading and workshops in the spring of 2009, five Masters students from the resilience centre and the Department of Human Geography at Stockholm University teamed up in the autumn with five students from Abdou Moumouni University in Niger.
 
For ten weeks the students looked at various issues such as yield statistics, farming practices, ownership rights, the distribution of wealth, the use of ecosystem services and the amount of trees and their age. Satellite images were compared against historical aerial photos and farmers were interviewed in order to determine land use changes in different areas.
 
Back in Stockholm, Drs. Gordon and Enfors are now in the process of analyzing all the data.
 
- We will continue the close collaboration with our local partners and also extend our research area into Burkina Faso. I hope this project can help us understand how societies can move in a positive direction, despite the difficult circumstances, says Dr. Gordon.

Centre researchers

Staff details

Line Gordon is assistant professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre with key focus on focus on how resilience can enable better management of freshwater resources, ecosystem services and food production.

Elin Enfors' research interest concerns the dynamics of freshwater and agro-ecosystem services, and how this links to poverty alleviation, in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa.

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Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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