Threshing of recently harvested millet in northern Burkina Faso. Photo: H. Sinare

Ecosystem services, livelihoods and resilience in Sahel

Here we sum up our insights on from our work on adaptation, innovation and the regreening of the Sahel region

Insights on ecosystem services, livelihoods and resilience are of particular importance in the Sahel region. This is a region where poverty is widespread and people depend strongly on the local landscape, primarily through rainfed agriculture and pastoralism. At the same time rainfall is low and highly variable with recurrent droughts.

Predictions for future climate change in the region are uncertain, and there are indications of a shorter rainy season and more intense rainfall events, making agriculture vulnerable. This makes the Sahel an important region for development interventions, often related to agriculture.

Research on where interventions suit best and how they should be designed is of key importance. This needs to be embedded in an understanding of the complexity and dynamics in people’s dependence on landscapes at different scales.

The Sahel is one of the priority regions of the GRAID programme. Researchers from Stockholm Resilience Centre have worked in the Sahel since 2009.

Here we sum up some of our insights on ecosystem services, livelihoods and resilience from three different projects:

Adapting to changing climate in drylands: The re-greening in Sahel as a potential success case


Targeting Agricultural Innovation and Ecosystem Service Management in the Northern Volta basin.

Our three main insights are:

1. Trees and shrubs are crucial for ecosystem services in Sahelian agricultural and pastoral landscapes, and they are integrated parts of the agricultural landscape

Densities of trees and shrubs have increased since severe droughts in the 1970s and 1980s, and management by local farmers has been important for this increase. However, the species composition in the landscape has changed, with a risk of ecosystem services losses. Read more here

2. Landscapes in the Sahel are multifunctional and provide multiple benefits for livelihoods

This must be considered in development interventions that can otherwise cause trade-offs. Local knowledge and priorities must therefore be included in designing interventions and methods to assess ecosystem services need to be developed to account for these benefits. Read more here

3. The institutional context is of key importance for improved management practices

Leadership at village level and decentralized control of natural resources management has been identified as key factors for improved management practices, for example for farmers to keep trees on their fields. Read more here


Hanna Sinare is a postdoctoral researcher for GRAID working with synthesising SRC research on social-ecological systems, ecosystem services, and development in the West African Sahell.

Line Gordon is the deputy director and deputy science director at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. She is also assistant professor at the centre with a focus on freshwater resources, ecosystem services and food production

Deborah Goffner is a visiting senior scientist working in the Senegalese Sahel at the research-development interface in the context of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative

Elin Enfors Kautsky's research centers on pathways for transformative change towards sustainability, and she also leads a section of the GRAID programme, which focuses on operationalizing resilience thinking in practice.


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

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201