By Aleksander Esmann, HAF intern
“Restoring Degraded Forests and Landscapes in Drylands” was the fifth webinar in a series of webinars on “Landscape Restoration in the Arab Region,” organized by FAO (Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations).
Action Against Desertification
After the general introduction, the first topic discussed was desertification and the most efficient ways to counter it. The AAD project (Action Against Desertification) was presented. It is a large-scale restoration program for Africa’s Great Green Wall. The goal of the project is the restoration of degraded forests and landscapes in the Southern Sahara and the Sahel.
The most important factor for the success of this project involves the local communities. This proved to be a common thread through all the projects presented in the webinar. A participatory approach, educating the local communities on the importance and the benefits of the project, listening to the people and their needs, and implementing the needs in the projects is the main factor for (long-term) success. The local community members will be motivated to continue the project and make it a success when they realize the advantages they will gain, such as more agricultural land, better infrastructure, higher income, and, thus, a higher living standard. Additionally, the local community members were already familiar with the agricultural sites, and the plants grown there and therefore were able to share a lot of important information.
To improve cost-effectiveness and be able to restore more land, AAD concentrated on large-scale operations when it came to land preparation. The saved money could then be used to invest in monitoring and assessment or to grow saplings.
To get the most out of the project, ADD made sure to develop restoration value chains to create value at every step along the way, from deserted land to restored forest. This includes, for instance, the tree nurseries where the saplings are grown. There was also a lot of research put into finding the right species for the right areas to maximize production and efficiency.
The biggest challenge the project faced was irrigation. In this already naturally arid climate, the amount of rainfall per year has decreased even more in the last few years due to climate change. To counteract this recent change, new techniques for the harvesting and storing of water had to be developed. One thing they came up with was plowing half-moon-shaped holes in the ground with a tractor. There the water would accumulate during rainfall and then slowly spread into the other parts of the ground from the holes. This ensures the right hydration for the plants and provides them with the right conditions to prosper.
The AAD has projects in countries all over Africa, some of those being Burkina Faso, Sudan, and Mauretania. The following link leads to scientific papers about this topic, published by the presenter:
Reforestation initiatives in Tunisia
The second presentation was about Tunisian initiatives for the sustainable development of forest systems. These projects are also carried out in close cooperation with local communities. The goals are the reforestation of land and the strengthening of the resilience of existing forest systems. The first step is always to identify the challenges faced and the right intervention technique to successfully encounter them. This was usually done by involving the local communities and listening to the people. After evaluating the situation, restrictions are put in place to enhance the capacities of the communities. The last, but probably most important step, is educating and training the local community members to raise awareness and empower the farmers.
The result of the projects is a significant increase in biomass, a reduction of eroded areas, an increase in water storage capacities, and a reduction of water loss through spillage.
Argan Forest restoration in Morocco
The next project was an Argan Forest restoration initiative in Morocco, in the surrounding area of Agadir. Argan trees have a relatively low water consumption, and they can grow on agricultural terraces in mountainous areas, which makes them very well suited for this part of Morocco. The forests contain very high biodiversity with many different plant and animal species, and they provide good protection against desertification. In addition, argan trees produce the starting material for argan oil, an expensive cosmetic and medicinal product, which means their economic value is very high.
However, several recent developments have significantly shrunk the argan tree population. Frequent droughts led to water scarcity, and soil degradation led to farmers abandoning the terraces where the argan trees are grown. Other consequences of anthropic pressure on the argan forest, such as a loss of biodiversity, could also be observed.
This project explores different options for counteracting those problems. The straightforward one is the reforested of the already existing argan forests. Another issue the forests face is the animals grazing on the trees and damaging them. To counter this, argan trees were planted in other areas, such as private land, to alleviate the pressure from the already existing forests and give them more time for regeneration. Another change made is the adaptation of farming systems with alley cropping. This means that argan trees were planted together with aromatic and medicinal herbs as those plants profited from their symbiotic relationship.
Another big advantage of this project is the carbon sequestration which is expected to exceed 600,000 T of CO2.
To achieve those ambitious goals, a participatory approach is used, and more than 50 NGOs already took part in the project. The main beneficiaries of this program are the local community members. Their switch from barley which yields around 150$/ha, to argan, with 400$/ha, is a big improvement in their income. To further increase their independence, workshops were organized for the local community members and initiatives that taught women the management of farming and the marketing of their products.
Paired with continuous scientific research and advancement to improve nursery production techniques and adapt the farming systems, such as storing rainwater, mulching, or organic fertilization, this project has a big impact on the lives of the local communities.
Nevertheless, a question that came up was how the decrease in barley production would affect the people. Firstly, the barley production in the area was very inefficient in the first place, yielding much smaller harvests than in other areas. Secondly, the significant increase in revenue through the argan products should enable people to afford barley from somewhere else.
MARSADEV Project – Rehabilitation of a dried-out Wadi
The last presentation was about an agricultural project in Egypt. There the main challenges are low water levels in the areas further away from the coast and high levels of erosion. The project is implemented in a wadi, a valley with a riverbed that is only filled with water when heavy rainfall occurs.
The goal is to prepare the wadi in a way to transform it into agricultural land once rainfall occurs. The first step is leveling the uneven surface and turning it into farmland. The solution to erosion is the construction of walls that protect the soil from getting blown away by the wind. These could be long straight solid walls or just rocks piled up in the shape of a small half-moon with a few plants inside.
For irrigation, terraces are built into the central spillway of the wadi. This should ensure that all families who owned land in the wadi got a fair share of the water. The accessible water was harvested and transported through pipes to irrigate areas further away. An important factor for the efficient usage of the water was the measurement of groundwater levels, water levels in the water beds, and rainfall. Moreover, the project took care of the installation of the tools necessary to measure these things.
These projects are all interesting and have shown positive results. They once more highlight the importance of a participatory approach and close cooperation with local communities. Providing the farmers with the right training and support proved to be the number one factor when it came to the success of the initiatives.
The biggest strength of the different programs is their ability to combine economic empowerment of local communities and improve their living standard by combating climate change through tree planting. Hopefully, successful projects such as these will serve as an incentive and blueprint for many more similar projects in the future.