PABRE, Burkina Faso—A simple fence that protects against grazing livestock and bush fires is all it’s taken to transform three hectares on Bertin Doamba’s farm in central Burkina Faso from denuded and degraded land into a bio-diverse little dryland forest.
The enclosure, which Doamba and his family established in 2009 with the support of the Burkinabe NGO Tiipaalga – or “New Tree” in the Moré language spoken in parts of Burkina Faso – has resulted in remarkable regeneration of soil, vegetation and ecosystem.
“It’s given me a new lease on life, even extended life for me,” says Doamba. “We even have our pharmacy in this enclosure, with all the medicinal plants.”
But that is just a tiny fraction of what this verdant mini-landscape affords the family.
The grasses that flourish in the enclosure provide fodder for the family’s cows, goats and sheep, and cash income when livestock are sold.
Just inside the fence there’s a ten meter wide perimeter on which the family cultivate crops such as beans and millet during the rainy season.
The perimeter acts as a firebreak all year round, protecting the vegetation inside from wild fires, which are common in the region.
The enclosure is a new lease on life, even extended life for me. We even have our pharmacy in this enclosure, with all the medicinal plants
A rare species of grass, Andropogon gayanus, which Bertin thought he would never see again, has made a comeback too. His spouse, Clementine Kaboré, says it is prized for mat-weaving, waterproofing roofs and to cover granaries to protect them from pests.
Even wildlife – birds, monkeys and mammals – that Mr. Doamba had not seen since he was a child half a century ago, have been showing up in the enclosure.
THE RETURN OF THE TREES
But most important of all are the trees.
Dozens of species of trees and shrubs that the family had not seen for years are thriving inside the enclosure.
Among them, the indigenous species that contribute food and household income, including 68 adult shea trees (Vitellaria paradoxa), as well as a healthy mixture of African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana), vine (Saba senegalensis), wild raisin (Lannea microcarpa), pods of wild bauhinia (Piliostigma thonningii), and brown lentils (Acacia macrostachya) locally called “zamne”.
The protected dryland forest that has grown up in the enclosure helps to buffer the family from the effects of an erratic and changing climate, which makes life so precarious for the region’s farmers, whose annual cereal crops depend entirely on the rains that fall for three or four months each year.
Indeed, according to researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) the dryland forests and trees in the semi-arid Sahel region have always acted as an important safety net for the people there.
And these resources are under stress.
“In truth, the pressure we are seeing is twofold,” says CIFOR researcher, Houria Djoudi.
“The forest itself is being directly and adversely affected by climate change, so the biodiversity, the resources in the forest, have diminished. There’s also growing population pressures and an increased need for resources, because these tree resources are the only means population can access in the short terms to cope with the drought, by harvesting forest product or by using the forest as survival fodder strategy for animals.”
Hence the urgent need for technologies such as enclosures, which offer nature a helping hand in its own regeneration.
“Inside the enclosures there is a wide range of non-timber forest products,” says Nadia Djenontin, part of the CIFOR team working on the ACFAO project, funded by the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM). “And those resources are extremely valuable for both people and for livestock.”
According to Alain Touta Traoré, coordinator of the NGO Tiipaalga, the enclosures that his organization has been supporting are a key to climate change adaptation.
Households here live from trees. Shea butter comes from trees. Soumbala comes from trees. Trees are crucial both for survival and they help fertilize the soil
“They allow us to save what already exists,” he says. “But they also allow us to replant indigenous trees that we have lost. Households here live from trees. Shea butter comes from trees. Soumbala [a nutritious condiment in sauces] comes from trees. Trees are crucial both for survival and they help fertilize the soil.”
There are innovative but simple techniques used inside the enclosures that help improve the ecosystem and the services it provides. These include stone bunds to slow rainwater runoff and reduce erosion, zai pits – or planting holes – filled with compost to create pockets of fertility, and “nutrition gardens” of well-pruned baobab and moringa trees, which provide nutritious leaves to enrich diets.
As of December 2014 Tiipaalga had helped to develop 247 such enclosures in 109 villages in 8 provinces of Burkina Faso, for a total of 722 hectares of reforested land, says Traoré.
This is very good news for a semi-arid country like Burkina Faso, where land degradation and desertification are driving people to seek greener pastures.
“These small forests, as they are replicated, can help reduce the migration from the north and central parts of the country towards the south, where there is already a lot of pressure,” says Djenontin.
Houria Djoudi says that “just putting some fences there is not the only thing, the whole collective learning process and the fact that people who have already experienced what it means to loose trees and forest, are now engaging in activities of restoration is incredibly important. Getting more people acting pro-actively elsewhere is even more important”
SAVINGS ACCOUNTS FOR WOMEN
Women are particularly dependent on forest and tree resources.
“When granaries are empty it is the women that are responsible for filling them again, by buying cereals,” says Djoudi. “So if the women don’t have a resource, a tree product they can sell, they can’t replenish the food stocks and that affects the whole family, starting with the children…the forest is like a savings account for them to use in times of crisis.”
Understanding the role of women was important as the research project unfolded. So too was the need to appreciate that traditional knowledge that exists in the area.
Just putting some fences there is not the only thing, the whole collective learning process and the fact that people have already experienced what it means to loose trees and forest is incredibly important
“We need to build on that, combine it with new knowledge to find workable solutions,” says Djoudi. “And then we need to look at policies that are not always adapted to the needs of the population, especially those of poorer people and women.”
The aim is to develop policy options that will strengthen the capacity of populations in the Sahel to adapt to climate change. Issues such as access rights and land tenure need to be addressed.
“With our findings,” Djoudi says, “we hope to influence policies of development and environment, and policies around land tenure and climate change too.”
For more information about this research, please contact Houria Djoudi at H.Djoudi@cgiar.org
Watch: Green Treasures of the Sahel
A longer version of this video is available here.
Originally posted on CIFOR’s Forests News