A recent report ‘Farmer managed natural regeneration in Niger: the state of knowledge’ provides the first comprehensive review of what is possibly the largest positive environmental transformation in Africa. This brief summarizes the main lessons.
General - 03 April, 2023
New publication - Faced with environmental degradation and strong land pressure, farmers in south-central Niger have intensified their agricultural production systems. Since the 1980s, farmers in the regions of Zinder, Maradi and Tahoua have increased the number of trees and shrubs on their fields, creating new agroforestry parklands over about 5 million hectares. This regreening is not based on tree planting, however, but on farmers protecting and managing natural regeneration of woody species on their crop lands. This has been well documented over the years, but until now, there has not been a thorough review of all of the published peer-referenced as well as grey literature.
This report presents the first comprehensive state of knowledge of farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR) in Niger. Studies show the scale and dynamics of FMNR as well as its multiple impacts. It has increased crop yields (+31 kg/ha to +350 kg/ha), and that supports family food security even in drought years. FMNR has increased the income of all social categories, even the most vulnerable women, men and youth, through the sale of fuelwood and service wood. The pruning of trees in fields has also reduced the distances travelled by women to collect fuelwood. FMNR increased the availability of fodder from trees to farmers and agropastoralists, with households practising FMNR harvesting 30-45 kg of fodder per day. Economists have not calculated all the multiple impacts in monetary terms, but studies on the costs and benefits all indicate that it is economically rational for farmers to invest their labour in FMNR. The costs are modest (no equipment and little labour), and the benefits are substantial, also helping smallholder farmers adapt to climate change, while sequestering millions of tonnes carbon.
As a consequence of FMNR, tree cover has been sustained without external incentives (e.g. food or cash-for-work), an outcome that distinguishes this farmer-driven practice from large-scale tree planting projects where farmers’ stewardship ended when the external incentives ended. Agroforestry landscapes are thus being created at scale due to decisions made by hundreds of thousands of individual farmers.
It is hoped that information in this report that shows the clear benefits of FMNR in Niger will encourage policy makers in Africa’s drylands to invest in the promotion of FMNR. This foundational practice must form the backbone of landscape wide initiatives if the ambitious targets of the Great Green Wall, AFR100 and similar ambitious restoration initiatives are to be achieved. FMNR is a low cost sustainable land use management practice with a considerable potential for scaling, which can and must be adopted and scaled immediately.
The report is also available in French, here.