Desertification control - The Community's approach
by Donatella DIANE
Drought, a serious water shortage which temporarily compromises agricultural potential, is a hazard of climate. Desertification, that complex phenomenon which implies irretrievable deterioration of soil and plant cover, is triggered primarily by human activity. It occurs not only in areas such as the Sahel, where periodic drought is to be expected, but also in humid and semi-humid places which are miles from any desert.
It was when they saw the two great droughts in the Sahel in 1968-1969 and in the early 1980s-and, of course, the disaster they brought in their wake- that people woke up to desertification and the need for strategies to beat it.
These strategies have altered a lot over the years. Since the early days and the more global approaches such as the UN Action Plan, far more complex plans, covering regional and local ramifications as well as the global aspect, have evolved. The important thing now is participation - realisation of the fact that local institutions and communities can and must contribute if any desertification control campaign is to work.
The Community's interest and concern here were clearly reflected in Lomé III (signed in 1984), which dealt exhaustively with the safeguarding of natural resources (and desertification control especially) in Articles 38-43.
The idea of the Convention was to make desertification control an integral part of all areas of agricultural and rural ' development. Particular emphasis was on extending agroforestry systems, on research and development into plant species better suited to local conditions, on soil productivity maintenance and recuperation techniques and on involving local people and authorities. Other complementary operations-energy-saving schemes as well as awareness and training campaigns, for example- were also covered.
Lomé III-type principles also apply in the long-term European Action Plan approved by the Council Resolution of April 1986, which coordinates the Community and Member States' desertification control drive. This Plan tackles desertification globally and suggests a range of different but complementary schemes. Both direct and indirect actions (reafforestation and anti-erosion operations; research, training and rational management of resources) are included. The Plan also points to active involvement by the local populations as the key to efficiency here. Achieving a particular overall volume of assistance to match the extent of the problem and ensure continuity is also considered to be a requisite.
The European Action Plan was first assessed in November 1989 in a mid-way report on the approach used and the schemes financed.
The extent of the Community commitment emerged clearly from the number of projects and the total amount ploughed into this sector. Between 1986 and 1989, 1230 projects dealing directly or indirectly | with desertification control were financed. They involved three kinds of operation:
-specific anti-desertification (i.e. reafforestation and anti-erosion) schemes;
An estimated ECU 1000m out of a total of ECU 1700m was invested in desertification control measures.
One of the things the report showed was that most rural development schemes had a resource protection component.
One or two examples of significant schemes run in the different areas of antidesertification will perhaps be helpful at this point.
On the rural development front, the integrated development programme for the Sourou, Yatenga and Passore provinces in Burkina Faso is worth a mention. It is sited in a Sudano-Sahel zone where the land was under serious threat of deterioration from an expanding population. The Sixth EDF ploughed ECU 44m into a variety of complementary schemes, mainly to provide water control facilities to establish and improve the farmers' output. Work included such things as creating a 500 ha irrigated plot, providing water points (mainly boreholes and fittings), setting up anti-erosion sites and putting water to many uses on small irrigated plots, in grain fields, market gardens, reafforestation and herding and in the home.
Back-up schemes to help the basic antidesertification and food security campaign are being run to develop rural facilities, improve the roads and give support to the local people's health, primary education and drinking water operations.
The project was remodelled halfway through to cater for problems which had arisen during the first part. It was also realised that more than technology was required to make the operation a success, that the village communities had to be more involved in managing their resources and that training had to be provided to improve local skills, particularly when it came to combating erosion.
Livestock, a potential risk factor in the management of natural resources, has also got all the attention it needs in the Community Action Plan. The main idea here is still to manage natural resources rationally and it involves, for instance, catering for the consequences of overgrazing of pastureland-with veterinary care improving health conditions, herds can be expanded and they may be too big for grazing land which is still managed by traditional methods.
Technical and vocational training programmes for herdsmen are included in these projects. They are intended to help them make a more rational job of managing their pastures by using simple, cheap methods such as herd rotation and controlled burning of some areas when the weather is right for regrowth.
One example of Community assistance in the livestock sector is the rinderpest control campaign, underwritten with a global ECU 70m (from the EDF regional monies) which was granted in accordance with agreements between the Community and the recipient countries.
The campaign provided vaccination, supplied medicines and rehabilitated livestock services and was associated with desertification control measures. The main schemes were irrigation in Djibouti and improvements to grazing land by aerial sowing in Ethiopia, and both of them were very successful.
Another key to the desertification control drive is energy, for burning firewood is one of the obvious causes of desertification and the effects around African towns, big and small, are there for all to see. A significant example of action on this front is Zaire's Bateke Plateau reafforestation project, which planted 6 000 ha with trees (using know-how from the Kinzono Forestry Centre and experience acquired in agroforestry tests). It has been a real success technically speaking, although there are still problems to sort out to ensure that the new woodland is managed rationally and the scheme is viable. It is extremely important because it involves preserving the environment around Kinshasa, where the population is expanding at the rate of 7% per annum and bringing considerable pressure to bear on the natural resources. Unfortunately, despite its promising results the political situation in Zaire has brought the project to a standstill.
Lomé IV has brought major developments to this field by introducing the principle of sustainable development, which involves taking the rational management of natural resources into account in every development operation- a broader concept than just preserving natural resources. Articles 54 to 57 of Title II (agricultural cooperation, food security and rural development) deal with desertification control.
Several countries-Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, for example - have desertification control as a priority in their National Indicative Programmes.
Mali, in particular, has a national desertification programme. Nigeria has produced specific desertification programmes for the Sokoto, Katsina and Borno provinces in the North. There are plans to sensitise and teach the people how to look after natural resources and there will be rural development infrastructure and service supply programmes too. Burkina Faso's schemes are geared to developing and managing water resources and managing land under the National Territorial Management Programme.
Erosion control and soil conservation are features of Indicative Programmes in other countries (Zimbabwe, for example). Small village irrigation programmes are planned in Niger, where emphasis is also to go on protecting and rehabilitating land in the river basins.
Schemes financed outside the European Development Fund, particularly via the 'Ecology in Developing Countries' budget line, are also worth a mention. The Commission set this line up in 1982 with an initial ECU 30 000 and a total of ECU 39m was added to it between 1982 and 1991.
From the outset, the lion's share (ECU 11.5m or 29%) of these resources went into desertification control, mainly for studies and projects designed to produce a better definition of the problem by remote sensing.
Thanks to the budget line, a contribution was made to financing the launching of the Mas Palomas satellite station in the Canaries, which can receive satellite data for West Africa (Landsat, Landsat thematic mapper, Tiros and Spot).
These techniques and the satellite data from Mas Palomas have made it possible to investigate the dynamics of the phenomena of desertification on the southern edge of the Sahara. This involved the Joint Research Centre at Ispra's coordinating a number of European research institutes in a study to evaluate water resources (Guinea, Mali, Senegal), determine the degree of deterioration of the plant cover (Burkina Faso and Mali) and monitor the state of natural grazing land in the light of cloud and rainfall (Niger) and ensure agro-climatological monitoring of crops in the Sahel.
Another significant scheme was the study and design of standard catchment basin development projects in the Fouta-Djalon and in the upper reaches of the Niger. The basins were listed and it proved possible to study trends in tree cover over a period of ten years.
All this made it possible to look at desertification from every angle and, using the results of analyses, to define high-risk areas where long-term EDFfinanced operations were called for-as in the case of the Fouta-Djalon plateau in Guinea, where the main Sudano-Sahelian rivers take their sources.
In 1991, a study combining sociological investigation and remote sensing was financed in Northern Benin. It aimed to see the process of desertification as a whole and consider such things as population growth, migratory movements and methods which farmers and herdsmen use on the land. All these factors are changing the traditional balance between these two types of operators and they can involve heavy pressure on the fragile equilibrium of these marginal zones where the risk of desertification is high.
The study reflects the new approach which has been shaped by experience with desertification control projects. Local populations, their dynamics and their participation are key factors in the drive to halt desertification processes and, more generally, to preserve our natural resources. No reafforestation or anti-erosion project will work unless the people concerned are involved from the very outset-and there are plenty of examples of desertification control projects which failed because they were enforced from above.
This latest study also makes it clear that desertification also occurs in areas which are not near any desert. One example of this is the Southern Sahel, where better weather conditions have encouraged people to come down from the north in search of new land for farming and herding. D.D.
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