“Before taking any action, the team always asks us if it is in line with our needs and our way of life. The community-based approach at RESILAC converges with our local characteristics.” This observation by the President of a local NGO in the commune of Diffa highlights the unique approach applied by the RESILAC project.
For more than a decade, the Diffa region in the southeast of the country has been suffering from a crisis with many causes. On one hand, infrastructure and access to basic services are limited. On the other, armed groups have carried out numerous abuses on the civilian population.
As a result, families have been internally displaced and refugee numbers are growing, creating demographic pressures on rare and vulnerable resources. There has been a drastic reduction in the use of the fertile areas around Lake Chad and an exacerbation of community conflicts arising from the fight over natural resources.
Further Reading: the new RESILAC web site
In the region, central governments and their decentralized technical services also intervene in a limited manner in local land management. Niger’s land law contains provisions on land appropriation and the settlement of conflicts in rural areas, but these are rarely applied, due to procedures that are often restrictive and costly. While land management overall remains in the hands of traditional chiefs, their powers are shrinking and the lack of dialogue sometimes leads the parties to adopt inflexible positions.
Furthermore, the effects of climate change are an additional source of concern and tensions, reducing the availability of land due to sand encroachment, frequent droughts and reduced land fertility for agriculture and animal husbandry.
Faced with this situation, AFD’s RESILAC project, with support from the European Union, is initiating programs to restore land and help communities manage their own natural resources. Following on from the formalization of rules for access to natural resources, these partnership agreements are being signed between community leaders and elected officials.
The RESILAC programs aim to produce new techniques to define the future of abandoned land. It is notably a question of drawing up a diagnosis to optimize the use of such land while respecting the environment.
A new Approach to Dialogue
In the Diffa region, RESILAC transmits data to communities, to help strengthen dialogue between the communes, cantons and chiefdoms, to ensure that development in their regions meet the needs of the population.
RESILAC has provided support to the communes of Maine Soroa, Chétimari and Goudoumaria, in cooperation with the government’s decentralized technical services, to collectively gain a comprehensive view of the challenges facing them in the next five years. The departmental authorities supported the creation of 22 community land commissions in these communes. These commissions are administrative entities aimed at steering development operations.
In addition, the project has set up seven concertation frameworks for highly labor intensive (HLI) undertakings that serve to improve mediation on recurring conflicts arising from questions of access to natural resources. This process is regularly materialized by the signing of framework agreements to distribute the roles of all stakeholders at the agricultural sites developed. All of this helps to strengthen community involvement and to call upon a shared effort to reclaim abandoned land.
Furthermore, these HLI projects provide jobs for young people, women and vulnerable populations who can thus take part in the community’s economic recovery, save money and cover their families’ needs. These factors contribute to stability among the populations of the region and social cohesion.
Programs adapted to each village
Some 95 km from Diffa and 20 km from the capital of Mainé Soroa, Adebour is a village whose activities are focused on rain-fed agriculture, market-oriented gardening, animal husbandry and small businesses. The village has dune-covered land for rain-fed agricultural production and livestock in community pastures. It also has fertile valleys that are favorable to market gardening. RESILAC teams have undertaken diagnosis operations to identify natural resources that are under demographic and climate based pressures.
After these diagnoses, farming groups mobilized to restore the land. They built chain-link fences, permanent water supply points in the valleys and stabilized the dunes, seeding them with herbaceous plants and planting Prosopis plants (derivatives of Acacias) that slow the desert’s progression. “This site is important to us because it will not only save our valley from sand encroachment, says member of the site’s management committee, Soumaila Malam. “It will also enable our animals to find food close to the village.”
Also read: RESILAC: Encouraging inclusive recovery around Lake Chad
The project also promotes equitable access to land on the restored sites. Among the 48 heads of households designated to manage the land on one of the village’s community market gardening sites, 12 are women. This is a real breakthrough, according to Gaptia Mai Wandara, a young farmer and mother of three children. “I now have a 200 m² plot of land where I grow potatoes, tomatoes, moringa and lettuce,” she said.
“My husband used to cover the household’s needs all on his own, taking jobs as a laborer and selling charcoal. Now, eating these garden products has improved my family’s nutritional security. And more importantly, as a woman, having access to the land is a source of pride and opportunity.”
Using innovative techniques for climate challenges
Soils in the region are losing their fertility due to the continuing land degradation caused by poor farming practices, erosion and sand encroachment. To remedy the situation, RESILAC has developed “pilot activities” to test innovative practices. In a partnership with the University of Diffa, 20 production “leaders”, 50% of them women, took part in experimental studies in Yambal (a village in the commune of N’Guigmi).
“In all, seven techniques and practices have been tested with the students at the university, dealing with corn growth parameters and yield,” said the project’s technical advisor, Ibrahim Hamidou Oumarou. “They also cover the effects of compost on corn and millet growth and yield, the effectiveness of neem oil against insect pests on cowpea and the effects of planting sweet basil on cabbage pests.” When these results are conclusive, these new techniques will be taught to the villagers through Champs-Écoles Paysans.
This mechanism is part of a process for the transmission of innovative techniques to deal with the challenges facing the residents –rising waters on the land, the increasing use of pesticides and the future of abandoned land affected by drought.
Beyond practical training for rural producers, the staff at the local government technical services are also being mobilized. Training on Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) was organized in March 2020 and again in June in Zinder with the Regional Department of Agriculture and agents from the RESILAC project, in collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
While land governance has since improved, the region remains a theater of unpredictable developments. The persistent fragility of the land, population movements and the continued intervention of armed non-government groups remain major obstacles. The seizing of natural resources by armed groups means even greater creativity will be required, in working together towards a sustainable, equitable sharing of resources.
The content of this publication falls under the sole responsibility of AFD and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the European Union.
This project is carried out with the support of the European Union.