Smallholder farmers need greater support for land restoration, CIFOR scientist says

Natasha Elkington
28 August 2018

NAIROBI, Kenya (Landscape News) – Burkina Faso is a small landlocked country located in the dry Sahelian region and one of the most populated countries in West Africa.

Mathurin Zida from Burkina Faso is a veteran environmentalist and scientist working for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), whose focus in the past few years has been on smallholder farmers in relation to forests and climate change adaptation.

The project that began in 2011 led to publication of a report called “The Context of REDD+ and adaptation to climate change in Burkina Faso: Drivers, agents and institutions” highlighting issues that face 85 percent of the population (who) is rural and dependent on agriculture and livestock,” as stated in the report.

Burkina Faso has a substantially small dry forest base that is being rapidly degraded because of a fast growing population and development. Landscape News spoke to Zida to gain insight into how his country is trying to adapt to all these changes, including unpredictable climate.

Q: What were some of the highlights of your findings during your research project on smallholder famers?

A: We managed to show interesting results on the linkages between forest ecosystem services and food security. When people managed to restore forest ecosystem services, we showed that they are more resilient to climate change and climate variability because there is more biodiversity in restored land. They also have opportunities to rely on more products from the landscapes both for food security and for generating income based on the produce they harvest from the landscape.

Q: What else did you find interesting in your research?

A: People can adapt based on different strategies they are developing either on their own or with support from NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and development programs from the state. We can see for instance that a lot of efforts are being made in terms of recovering degraded land so regenerating ecosystem services from degraded land and several good practices and technologies have been disseminated all over the country; particularly in the northern part of the country and it is amazing to see the difference, for instance, in food production on restored land compared to other farmland where people don’t use restoration technology. The difference in terms of yield of cereals for instance is amazing. So one can see that with simple technology, smallholder farmers are able to produce more food in very dry and very variable rain patterns conditions.

Q: What are some of the challenges that Burkina Faso faces with land restoration?

A: There is a lot of waste of resources from outsiders trying to join in restoration work. There are a lot of NGOs and even state led projects without any coordination. This needs to be synergized to achieve more impact. This is a challenge the state is trying to address particularly with the support of the Global mechanism from the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) as part of the actions the government has to achieve in land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Another one is we are seeing that the same trends which led to land degradation in the northern part of the country; we observe the same trend of degradation in the southern part of the country where people think this is not the an issue for them because the environment is an area where there is rain, the tree cover is more important so people don’t take seriously the manifestation of land degradation. People in this area think that using restoration practices and technologies is only for the northern part of the country where land is degraded. There is not yet awareness and relevant action taken to prevent this degradation in the southern part of the country. So people need to be proactive in terms of addressing the issue before it passes the tipping point.

Q: Why is it important to pay attention to smallholder farms with relation to forestry?

A: When you observe where small holders draw their livelihood, you can see that they rely mostly from natural resources where livestock is the second or third source of wealth of the country that grazes mostly in forested land. For example, during the rainy season the only place the livestock can graze is within forested land.

This is just an example to show the importance of these forested lands. Moreover, people harvest timber for several uses, for medicine, for construction material so it is an important source of people’s livelihood.

In terms of biodiversity, these forested lands are very important in keeping animals. They draw much of their livelihood from animals in biodiversity.

Q: What visible change have you seen in the country in terms of restoration that you can comment on?

A: In the northern part where land degradation is very widespread, you never see wild fires, for instance, because people are very serious with eradicating practices that will worsen the situation. There is a lot of awareness and people are using widely good practices in terms of land restoration.

There are a lot of technologies; one of them widely used is what we call the dry farming. People dig small holes during dry season right before the rainy season starts. They fill these pits with manure and with the first rain, the runoff water is collected and usually combined with stone banks to collect water or to avoid the run-off water to going out of the area they want to restore.

A lot of these technologies help to harvest water so that plants, trees and grass can use it, so the biodiversity can be recalled on these degraded lands.

Q: What more needs to be done to help smallholder farmers in facing degraded land issues?

A: Thinking of the challenges in land restoration, I think there is this issue of means … particularly financial support to small holders involved in land restoration because it is costly. Sometimes, small holders can only undertake restoration work at limited length because sometimes they don’t have the necessary means in terms of finance and material.

There is a need to find a way to provide them with some form of support so that the up scaling of restoration can really happen. Otherwise, the challenge is too big for them only with their own means to overcome the degraded land issue.

Q: Why do you think the GLF is important?

A: The GLF is important because it provides this kind of opportunity and platform for all stakeholders to share and reflect on success and failures and learn from each other. For me the most important thing the GLF will be achieving is this opportunity for several stakeholders working on land restoration at several levels to share their perspectives, experiences, successes and failures and also to learn what the next steps are on the land restoration issue.