Community mobilisation for improved livelihoods through tree crop management in Niger
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Effective natural resource management requires interrelated technical practices and social arrangements that are appropriate to a region’s biophysical characteristics and that address protection and sustainable management of resources. This is illustrated from our experience in the Republic of Niger, West Africa. In 1980 barren plains, infertile soils, drought, dust storms, severe fodder shortages, and agricultural pest outbreaks were normal occurrences in Niger’s rural regions. In general, despite large investments of time and funding, conventional reforestation efforts had little impact. However by 2008 over five million hectares of once barren land had been transformed through wide adoption of an agroforestry method known as ‘Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration’ (FMNR), introduced in 1983. In the Aguie Department, the practice of FMNR was formalized through the Desert Community Initiative (DCI), addressing interrelated technical and social issues in resource management. New governance structures, which include marginalized groups, implement monitoring and enforcement systems enabling communities to manage land and regenerating trees. These, together with technical solutions that build on local knowledge and skills and use previously undervalued indigenous tree species, have generated a sustainable fuel-wood market for the first time. Increased linkage and compatibility between institutions at local and national levels and strengthened social capital have been crucial to these impacts. Food security and community resilience to drought have been markedly enhanced and local incomes have increased. The experience provides important lessons for approaches to addressing environmental degradation and poverty in other semi arid areas and facilitating the spread and adoption of new agroforestry systems.