Farmer managed natural regeneration in Niger: the state of knowledge

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Tropenbos International
Summary: Faced with environmental degradation and strong land pressure, farmers in densely populated areas and especially in south-central Niger, have intensified their agricultural production systems. They have done so by increasing the number of trees and shrubs on their fields, and thus have created new agroforestry parklands whose scale in – the regions of Zinder, Maradi and Tahoua is about 5 million hectares (Cotillon et al., 2021). This scale of regreening is not based on tree planting. Rather, since the mid-1980s farmers have protected and managed the natural regeneration of trees and shrubs on their croplands. Many studies show that farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR), has increased crop yields from 31 to 350 kg/ha in some studies and provided family food security, even in drought years. But cereal yields still remain low and will not be sufficient to feed a rapidly growing population. Studies also show that through the sale of fuelwood and service wood, FMNR increases the income of all social categories, even the vulnerable and very vulnerable (men, women and youth). The pruning of trees in the fields has also reduced the distances travelled by women to collect fuelwood. FMNR has also increased the availability of browse fodder to farmers and agropastoralists, with households practising FMNR harvesting 30-45 kg of browse per day. Economists have not yet been able to express the multiple impacts in monetary terms, but studies on the costs and benefits of FMNR all indicate that it is economically rational to invest resources in this practise (4.6). The costs are modest (no equipment and little labour), and the benefits are substantial. As a consequence, tree cover has been sustained without external incentives (e.g. food or cash-for-work), an outcome that distinguishes FMNR from large-scale tree planting projects where farmers’ stewardship ended when the external incentives ended. Agroforestry landscapes are being created at scale due to decisions made by a few hundred thousand individual farmers. A study comparing tree densities in the south-central regions found that on 2% of the area there was a slight decrease in densities between 2005 and 2014, but on 23% there was a significant increase during the same period (Cotillon et al., 2021). Increasing the number of trees and shrubs per hectare has increased litter production. This improves the soil structure and allows greater quantities of water to be stored. However, the addition of litter also contributes to improving soil fertility. Several studies have shown that trees can significantly improve the chemical fertility of soils as well as set the stage for greater intensification through judicious use of mineral fertilizer. Certain species, which often dominate regeneration such as Piliostigma reticulatum, Guiera senegalensis and Combretum glutinosum have a positive impact on the content of chemical elements (carbon, nitrogen and available phosphorus). There is not yet sufficient data on the amount of carbon sequestered by agroforestry parklands in Niger, but it is certainly at least 30 million tonnes – (5 million hectares multiplied by an average of 6 tonnes per hectare). There are data on carbon stocks in the above-ground part of trees for some species (table 8) but not on the amount of carbon in root systems, which in semi-arid areas – can be as substantial as the above-ground stock. FMNR has enabled village communities to better adapt to climate change and build resilience. For example, even if crops fail, farmers can cut some trees and sell them at the market as fuelwood or service wood, which provides revenue to buy grain. FMNR also has a positive impact on crop yields, even in years of poor rainfall. A study showed that in 2011 (a drought year), the department of Kantché (Zinder Region) produced a cereal surplus of almost 13,000 tonnes. This department is characterised by a high population density (over 100 people per hectare), but also by high tree densities. Since the late 1980s, farmers began to perceive that they had a right to the trees on their own farms. This perception led to increased participation of local communities in the management of their natural resources, which was reinforced by the state’s decentralisation policy. Thus forestry policy has evolved from the exclusive management of trees by the state (1960-1980) to a presidential decree issued on 30 July, 2020, which recognises that planted or regenerated trees belong to the producer. This will help encourage farmers to invest more voluntarily in trees on their fields, and will improve the future prospects of young people.
© 2023. Tropenbos International. Text may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, citing the source. The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published Tropenbos International, 2023, available online at: or alternatively, at . Keywords: farmer-managed natural regeneration; FMNR; agroforestry; Africa; Niger.
Abasse, T., Massaoudou, M., Ribiou, H., Idrissa, S., & Iro, D. G. (2023). Farmer managed natural regeneration in Niger: the state of knowledge. Tropenbos International.