Agricultural land degradation, which has intensified in Niger in recent years, presents real challenges, both climatic and social. In response, the RESILAC project proposes a number of solutions targeted at the population.
"Before carrying out an activity, the team always asks us if it is in line with our needs and our way of life. RESILAC's community-based approach converges with our local specificities. ».
This observation, made by the president of a local Civil Society Organization in the commune of Diffa, highlights the approach taken by the RESILAC project, which operates in a complex security and climatic context.
For more than a decade, the Diffa region has been suffering from a crisis with multiple causes. Structural fragilities linked to a natural environment impacted by climate change, and to the limited capacities of state services, lead to a lack of infrastructure and access to basic services. In addition, there are the constant atrocities and violence that armed groups inflict on the population. This multi-faceted and growing insecurity has several consequences: a drastic reduction in the use of the fertile areas of Lake Chad, internal population displacements and the arrival of refugees from neighboring countries, demographic pressure on the scarce resources available in certain areas that are already highly precarious, and the exacerbation of community conflicts related to the sharing of natural resources.
Furthermore, in the region, the states and their deconcentrated technical services have very limited involvement in land management at the local level. Niger's land law contains provisions on land appropriation and conflict resolution in rural areas, but these are rarely used because the procedures are often restrictive and very costly. While land management remains in the hands of the traditional chieftaincies, their powers are diminishing and the lack of dialogue sometimes freezes the positions of each party.
In addition, the effects of climate change are an additional source of concern and tension by reducing their availability due to silting, frequent droughts and declining soil fertility used for agriculture and livestock.
In response to this situation, the RESILAC project has set up targeted programs to restore land and help communities to self-manage natural resources. These programs are innovative in that they promote multi-stakeholder discussions at the local level and formalize the rules of access to natural resources through local conventions for developed sites. These partnership agreements are signed between community leaders and the elected officials responsible for the administrative entities of the regions, or the deconcentrated technical services specifically involved in an agricultural activity, always respecting the laws in force in the country. RESILAC's programs also aim to produce new techniques to define the future of neglected lands: to establish diagnoses to optimize the use of these lands, while being creative in order to guarantee an environmentally friendly exploitation.
A new approach to dialogue
In the Diffa region, RESILAC strengthens the mechanisms of dialogue between territorial entities (communes, cantons, chiefdoms) and provides them with data to enable them to make the link between the needs of the population and the development problems of their localities.
Thus, RESILAC accompanied the communes of Maine Soroa, Chétimari and Goudoumaria, in collaboration with the deconcentrated state technical services, to initiate the process of updating the communal plan in order to draw an overall vision of the challenges to be met over the next five years.
In these communes, the departmental authorities helped the project create 22 community land commissions. These commissions are administrative entities whose mission is to conduct development operations. In addition, the project has set up seven consultation frameworks for labor-intensive construction sites (HIMO), which serve to improve mediation on recurrent conflicts related to access to natural resources. This is done regularly through the signing of framework agreements to distribute the roles of all actors on the developed agricultural sites.
All of these devices serve to strengthen community engagement, and solicit a joint effort to reinvest abandoned land.
In addition, labor-based worksites provide work for youth, women and vulnerable populations who, through this process, participate in the economic recovery of the community, can save money and provide for their families. This stabilizes populations in the region, promotes social cohesion and resilience.
An inclusive program adapted to each village
Adebour is a village 95 km from Diffa and 20 km from the departmental capital, Mainé Soroa, where rainfed agriculture, market gardening, livestock raising and small-scale commerce are concentrated. The village has dune lands for rainfed agricultural production and extensive livestock in community pasture areas. It also has fertile valleys, suitable for vegetable and rainfed production. RESILAC's teams have carried out diagnostics to identify the natural resources that are subject to the most demographic and climatic pressure.
Following these diagnoses, farmers' groups mobilized to restore the land. This well-targeted work has resulted in the construction of wire fences, permanent water points in the valleys, the fixing of dunes as well as the seeding with herbaceous plants and the planting of Prosopis plants (derived from Acacias) which slow down the advance of the desert. Soumaila Malam AWARI, a member of the site's management committee, explains: "This site is important for us, because it will not only save our valley from silting up, but also allow our animals to find food right next to the village.
In addition, the project promotes equitable access to land on the restored sites. For example, at one of the village's community market garden sites, 12 of the 48 household heads designated to manage the land are women. This is a real novelty, according to Gaptia Mai WANDARA, a young farmer and mother of three children: "I now have a 200 m² plot where I grow potatoes, tomatoes, moringa and lettuce. Previously, my husband was the only one who took care of the household by offering himself as a laborer and selling charcoal. Now, the consumption of these market garden products has improved the nutritional security of my family. And above all, as a woman, having access to land is a source of pride and opportunity.
The practice of innovative techniques adapted to climate issues
Soils in the region are becoming less fertile due to continued land degradation related to poor agricultural practices, erosion and silting.
To remedy this, RESILAC has set up "pilot activities" to test innovative practices. In Yambal (a village in the commune of N'Guigmi), in partnership with the University of Diffa, 20 producer-leaders, 50% of whom are women, participated in experimental studies. Ibrahim Hamidou OUMAROU, the project's technical advisor, explains: "In total, seven techniques and practices were tested alongside university students, focusing on growth parameters and maize yield, the effects of plant spacing on growth, productivity and efficiency of a moringa hedge, the effects of compost on the growth and yield of maize and millet, the effectiveness of neem juice against insect pests of cowpea and the effects of the presence of basil on insect pests of cabbage. When the results are conclusive, these new techniques will then be taught to the villagers, through Farmer Field Schools (i.e. groups of 20 to 25 people meeting once a week to cultivate a training plot throughout a growing season and learn together to solve production problems).
This is part of the process of transmitting/perpetuating innovative techniques on issues of primary importance to the inhabitants: the consequences of rising water levels on land, the problem of the increasing use of pesticides, and the future of the land in face of drought.
In addition to the practical training of rural producers, the staff of the local state technical services are also mobilized. For example, a training session on Climate Intelligent Agriculture (CIA) was organized in March 2020 and repeated in June in Zinder for the Regional Directorate of Agriculture and RESILAC project staff, in collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
While land governance has improved since then, the region remains the scene of unpredictable developments. The persistent fragility of the land, population movements and frequent takeovers by non-state armed groups, which in particular tax access to natural resources, make it necessary to redouble our ingenuity in thinking together about the conditions for equitable and sustainable resource sharing.