In the Sahel, wood remains the main cooking fuel, used by more than 90% of households. Woodfuel is collected massively and is thus one of the main factors behind forest degradation in the region. Between 2000 and 2020, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali lost nearly 15% of their forest area this way. This causes significant negative impacts, such as reduction in biodiversity, increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and loss of income. Cooking with woodfuel also results in repeated exposure to cooking fumes, which are harmful to health and affect women foremost.
However, awareness about the damage caused by this overexploitation of forests is quickly growing among individuals, municipalities, and central governments, and is facilitating the launch of forest-protection initiatives. One example of these latter is the Sahel Woodfuel Project in Niger, supported by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM).
One of the program's objectives is to facilitate access to sustainable woodfuel so that 50% of the wood used for cooking in the capital Niamey comes from sustainably managed forest areas (compared to 5% today). “In view of the rapid rate of deforestation in the Sahel, this theme is a priority action area for AFD there,” says Damien Delhomme, Project Manager at AFD’s Energy Division.
Identifying deforestation to the nearest hectare
To achieve this goal, the Niger Government can count on two highly placed allies: the “A” and “B” Sentinel-2 Earth observation satellites, managed by the European Space Agency. By comparing the images taken each week by these satellites, the Niger forest administration will be able to identify to the nearest hectare any new areas affected by deforestation. “Satellites make forest monitoring a reality, and they can now provide support in the form of free images, as part of a donor-financed project,” explains Damien Delhomme.
The data collected will be made available to the general public via a web platform. With just a few clicks on a smartphone app, people will be able to observe changes to the forests around their community. This app will also enable close monitoring of wooded areas by local authorities, as well as by the regional and central government authorities responsible for exploitation of woodfuel resources.
Better tracking of flows in wood markets
Preservation of forest resources requires improvement in their management. As a first step, it is important to produce land-use maps, productivity assessments, annual exploitation quotas, and other material to determine how they will be exploited. The data sent by the Sentinel-2 satellites will act as independent third parties and will make it possible to update these quotas each year.
The Sahel Woodfuel Project is based on the experiences of a previous pilot project, Fonabes, conducted in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), with funding from the FFEM. In particular, it will support the structuring of rural timber markets and will have the status of a legal person able to manage, at the municipality level, platforms where wood is sold on commission. The objectives are to better track flows in terms of price and quantity, to collect taxes on behalf of the municipality, and to train loggers in the sustainable exploitation of forest resources.
These sales platforms will therefore have to respect quotas, which will be monitored by the municipality and supervised by the forest administration via an information system that tracks transactions. In Niger, where they already exist, most haulage contractors prefer to work with these rural markets.
Launching the process in neighboring municipalities
The program officially began in April 2022. It is financed through several AFD and FFEM grants totaling €8 million. Two financing agreements have been signed as part of the program, with the Government of Niger for the sustainable management of forests and with the consortium formed by Hystra, Geres and Entrepreneurs du monde for the support of the distribution of improved, fuel-efficient stoves.
An additional challenge is to encourage local populations to adopt good practices for sustainable forest management. “We have to set up an incentive system to manage the resource sustainably,” says Guillaume Salle, Project Team Manager in AFD’s Agriculture, Rural Development and Biodiversity Division. “The project will support rural populations by diversifying their sources of income. Momentum will build if half of the municipalities neighboring the capital Niamey follow suit on this system.”