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Rebuilding Resilience in the Sahel: Regreening in the Maradi and Zinder Regions of Niger

Jan Sendzimir, International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Chris P Reij, Centre for International Cooperation, Vrij Universitaet
Piotr Magnuszewski, Center for Systems Solutions

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04198-160301

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Abstract

The societies and ecosystems of the Nigerien Sahel appeared increasingly vulnerable to climatic and economic uncertainty in the late twentieth century. Severe episodes of drought and famine drove massive livestock losses and human migration and mortality. Soil erosion and tree loss reduced a woodland to a scrub steppe and fed a myth of the Sahara desert relentlessly advancing southward. Over the past two decades this myth has been shattered by the dramatic reforestation of more than 5 million hectares in the Maradi and Zinder Regions of Niger. No single actor, policy, or practice appears behind this successful regreening of the Sahel. Multiple actors, institutions and processes operated at different levels, times, and scales to initiate and sustain this reforestation trend. We used systems analysis to examine the patterns of interaction as biophysical, livelihood, and governance indicators changed relative to one another during forest decline and rebound. It appears that forest decline was reversed when critical interventions helped to shift the direction of reinforcing feedbacks, e.g., vicious cycles changed to virtuous ones. Reversals toward de-forestation or reforestation were preceded by institutional changes in governance, then livelihoods and eventually in the biophysical environment. Biophysical change sustained change in the other two domains until interventions introduced new ideas and institutions that slowed and then reversed the pattern of feedbacks. However, while society seems better at coping with economic or climatic shock or stress, the resilience of society and nature in the Maradi/Zinder region to global sources of uncertainty remains a pressing question in a society with one of the highest population growth rates on Earth.

Key words

agro-forestry; farmer managed natural regeneration; Maradi Region; Niger; pastoralism; reforestation; regreening; resilience; vulnerability; West Africa; Zinder Region
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087