This is one of the biggest environmental research challenges today and the question we address in this transdisciplinary project.
The West African Sahel: a challenging region
The West African Sahel is as a region of particular interest in the context of environment and development. Here, poverty and food insecurity are widespread, rainfed farming dominates the livelihood strategies, and population growth rates are among the highest in the world.
People in this region are directly dependent on provisioning ecosystem services, such as yield of staple crops, availability of grazing land, and firewood, for their livelihood security. They are also highly vulnerable to degradation of regulating ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and erosion control.
Over the past decades the Sahel has often been portrayed as a region undergoing desertification; thus as a region plagued by recurring droughts and widespread land degradation, with severe famine as the outcome.
Recent analysis of satellite data suggests, however, that this view of the Sahel may not be accurate. In contrast, and to the surprise of many scientists and policy-makers, these studies reveal that large areas of the Sahel have in fact become increasingly green over the past 20 years.
While the causes behind the re-greening are debated, it seems that the trend is not just a result of returning rainfall, but instead that farmers have actively managed their land in ways that have enhanced its productivity.
The Sahelian re-greening thus presents a unique opportunity to identify lessons for how to adapt and cope in challenging environments characterized by high climatic variability.
In this project we will carry out a set of in-depth comparisons between sites in the Sahel that have responded to climatic variability in contrasting ways (i.e. that display different levels of greenness and greening) to improve understanding of why change happens in some regions while not in others.
In a three-step analysis inspired by resilience thinking we will compare local development trajectories of linked social-ecological systems across the different sites. Our investigations include:
- analysis of the historical trajectories that led to greening/degradation beginning well before the droughts of the 1970s
- analysis of ecosystem services and the biophysical capacity to sustain livelihoods
- scenario planning to understand potential future development trajectories.
This research is highly interdisciplinary and involves strong networking among the different partners from universities and organisations in Europe and Africa. It also involves research and studies at both MSc and PhD level, with students being supervised by the project leaders.
The project started with a one-year pilot phase funded by Swedish Sida where a number of MSc students carried out fieldwork in Southern Niger and gathered information to guide further research (see theses below).
Having finished our pilot project, we are now embarking on a larger-scale project with field work in both Niger and Burkina Faso, that will extend over the coming three years. Among the expected outputs are a series of scientific publications, and four doctoral dissertations. Two of the PhD students are based in Sweden at Stockholm Resilience Centre while to others will be based at our partner universities in the Sahel region.
Transformation and shifts in productive landscapes for livelihood improvements in the Sahel: building a partnership in research
This sister project studies different dimensions comparing re-greened and conventional areas of agro-eco systems, looking into both social and biophysical aspects. Funded by NERC-ESPA, UK. Read more about the project here
Patterns of ecosystem services and their interactions with livelihood strategies in Sahelian village landscapes
A dialectic of livelihood diversification and greening in rural Sahel
Le rôle de l'innovation et des innovateurs locaux dans l'élaboration du reverdissement
Sani Rahiou Abass
Caracterisation biophysique des resources ligneuses dans un site reverdi et un site degrade dans le departement de Mirriah (pdf, 1.3 MB)
Influence des conditions socio-économiques et culturelles sur la dynamique des écosystèmes sahéliens: Cas de zones reverdie (Warzou) et dégradée (Maïssakoni) du département de Mayahi (pdf, 29.8 MB)
Rôle des dynamiques démographiques et migratoires sur l´évolution des écosystèmes sahéliens : Cas d´un terroir villageois reverdi et non reverdi du département de Mirriah dans la région de Zinder au Niger (pdf, 4.8 MB)
Caractérisation biophysique des ressources ligneuses dans les zones dégradées et reverdies au Sahel : cas du département de Mayahi (pdf, 8.2 MB)
Inventaire et analyse des pratiques locales de gestion des écosystèmes sur le site de Mayahi.
The Implications of Property Rights on the Conservation of Tree Resources - a comparative Analysis from the Region of Zinder, Niger
Sahelian re-greening - merging a view from above with one from below (pdf, 1.6 MB)
Livelihood diversification and landscape greening, a case study in rural Niger (pdf, 1 MB)
Lisen Runsten (in prep)
Thinking like the drylands - Nigerian subsistence farming and ecosystem services dependency
Influences des facteurs démographiques et socioculturels sur la dégradation des terres et le reverdissement du paysage dans le département de Mayahi : cas de la zone reverdie de Warzou et celle non reverdie de Maïssakoni.
Partners in research
- Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden (Dr Line Gordon, Dr Elin Enfors, Dr Jennie Barron)
- Dept. of Human Geography (Dr Lowe Börjesson) and Dept. of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University
- Centre Régional de l'Enseignement Spécialisé en Agriculture (CRESA, University of Abdou Moumouni, Niger (Prof. Mostapha Adamou)
- Institut national de recherche agronomique du Niger (INRAN), Niger (Dr Abasse Tougiani)
- University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
- Institut de l'Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso (Dr Korodjouma Ouattara)
- Stockholm Environment Institute (Dr Jennie Barron, based at University of York, UK)