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

Ecosystem services, livelihoods and resilience in Sahel

Photo: A. Jones/Flickr

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.

Here we sum up some of our insights from different projects:

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.

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.

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.


Hanna Sinare is a postdoctoral researcher on social-ecological systems, ecosystem services, and development in the West African Sahell.


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