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Burkina Faso: Planting The ‘Great Green Wall’

While the debate on rewilding in Scotland continues and landowners are encouraged to plant more trees, it is always good to have a look at what other countries are doing around the world. Just like covid19, this is a global issue.

Burkina Faso

Burkino Faso Credit: TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Burkina Faso, in West Africa, has been fighting with desertification and climate change, and has seen a progressive degradation of its forested landscapes due to the expansion of agriculture.

In 2018, the country planned to restore 5 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, as part of the pan-African initiative AFR100. However, the country is facing many challenges amid growing pressures on natural resources, extreme degradation processes, and changing climatic conditions.

So far, restoration initiatives have only partly succeeded due to various constraints and have mainly targeted small areas when compared to the scale of landscape degradation that has happened.

In 2019, researchers at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT interviewed managers of 39 active restoration initiatives in Burkina Faso to understand bottlenecks and opportunities for scaling up ongoing efforts.

The initiatives examined were concentrated in the Sahelian and northern part of the Sudanian region, where most degraded lands are located. The majority of these initiatives were less than 3 years old and all aimed at bringing back tree cover in the landscape, among other objectives. They reported their findings in “Sustainability” in December.

Most restoration initiatives had a strong involvement of local NGOs and associations with funding provided by multinational organisations.

Engaging community members in restoration efforts, Burkina Faso. Making compost, half-moons in the background. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT/B.Vinceti

Natural regeneration was used in areas where there were enough remnants of old tree stumps and seeds. Unsurprisingly this is the most cost efficient method to regenerate an area and has been successful in many parts of West Africa.

Other methods were also used where water is scarce and soil fertility limited:

Basin for water capture, stone bunds, zai pits. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT/B.Vinceti
  • the creation of stone bunds
  • half-moons
  • Vallerani trenches
  • zaï – pits filled with seed and manure.
Compost basin, half-moons in the background. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT/B.Vinceti

Shrubs and grass were often commonly planted along with trees. They help to conserve the soil and create microclimates for other plants and animals.

Tree planting was done using materials from the National Tree Seed Center, a government-run seed conservation and production research center. The center offers seeds of a large range of native species and ensures that collection practices follow best standards, guided by genetic considerations about the origin of the planting material.

A significant number of initiatives relied exclusively on self-collected, locally procured seed. This raised concerns about quality of the planting material, its growth performance, and capacity to survive in the face of changing climatic conditions.

The involvement of local communities was seen to be important but were often missing from the decision making process. Women especially tend to be excluded and have very limited land-access rights.

Despite all the critical aspects identified, the increasing number of restoration initiatives, the diversity of approaches used by local actors to overcome constraints and the support from the government are all encouraging aspects.

The renewed interest of international donors in supporting the Great Green Wall for the Sahel and Sahara Initiative (GGW), an African-led initiative, involving 11 countries, to fight land degradation, desertification and drought will provide an ideal framework to achieve multiple objectives, scaling up efforts to restore degraded land, creating job opportunities, and strengthening resilience of rural communities.

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