Global Policy Forum

MALI: Farmers Restore Forests





Soumaïla T. Diarra

May 7, 2010


BAMAKO - Villagers in the interior delta of the Niger River, already experiencing the harsh impacts of climate change, have a good understanding of the need to restore forests decimated by drought. Where forest cover has been rehabilitated, it is already reshaping the surrounding environment - and economy.

"It is important to set regulations to protect the restored forests against fresh destruction by drought," Yaya Bocoum, an elder from the Malian village of Youwarou, told IPS.

"I can still remember how people once feared wild animals such as lions and hyenas that lived in the woods surrounding their homes. We did not dare venture outside the villages at dusk."

The forest that was home to those animals in the 40,000 square kilometre delta was hard hit by drought in the 1970s and 1980s.

"There were over twenty forests in the delta that were important to local communities and animals. They have completely disappeared," says researcher Mory Diallo. Diallo is a research assistant at the local office of Wetlands International, a non-governmental organisation based in Holland.

"About seven of them have been rehabilitated; four play a major role in balancing the region's ecosystem."

If the farmers are enthusiastically involved in the restoration of degraded forests by planting native species such as Acacia kirkii, it's in large part because their income depends on it.

"It is forbidden to cut down trees in these forests. But our flocks, particularly sheep and goats, find food there when the water recedes during the dry season," Nouhoum Té Tiaw, a traditional leader and landowner at Youwarou, told IPS.

Millions of migratory birds en route from northern Europe to distant parts of Africa and back stay in this area of the delta every year. "The droppings enrich the soil and help with vegetation growth," says Diallo.

The restored forests have become shelter and breeding places for endangered animals.

"Because of drought and poaching, aquatic animals such as hippos and manatees had disappeared from the delta. But they have returned since some submerged forests have been restored and placed under protection," says the traditional leader.   For the locals, the benefits of forest protection are above all economic. Fisheries, the main source of income in the delta, benefit greatly from the restored forests where many fish breed. Some fish species that had disappeared have returned, according to Sambo Barry, who works for the Youwarou district authority.

"But more interesting is that the forests have contributed to the development of local fisheries whose products are now sold even outside of Mali," says Barry.

NGOs have organised forest restoration projects since 1984, but local communities have a leading role. To encourage stronger involvement from the population, NGOs fund some of their projects.

"For example, we provide loans to women. They repay their debts with their earnings from reforestation activities," said Diallo.

In some cases, the NGOs help the communities with building infrastructure. For example, they help unclog natural waterways supplying the wetlands which, when dry, cause the death of nearby trees.

"Everyone feels responsible; the communities themselves are demanding local bylaws to protect their environment. These regulations lay out the rules for exploiting natural resources and the sanctions against those who do not respect these measures," Abdoussalam Maiga, an official at the Wetlands International local office, told IPS.

In general, offenders must pay a fine in the amount fixed by the local resources management committee according to the magnitude of the violation. Those fines then go into the resource maintenance fund, which is used for things like transplanting seedlings, for example.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects these regulations because some come from different villages and are unaware of the local rules. Therefore, the management committees, composed of representatives from the different communities exploiting the resources, are struggling to implement local agreements which are not always legally-binding in the eyes of the judicial system.



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