Fight against desertification strengthens community ties and boosts local economy in Niger

Climate change, irregular rainfall and lack of water has led to successive crop failures in the rural village of Zorian, which lies some 650 km northeast of Niamey the capital of Niger, in the heart of the arid West African Sahel.

With each poor harvest residents say the community loses large numbers of its young population to the city as they search for work. But this year, a project to recover and restore once degraded land unlocked economic opportunities and strengthened community ties while holding back desertification.

Mr Wesouleymane Bilal, 75 years old, is the chief of Zorian village and a farmer and father of seven, including four daughters. He is thrilled to see his village make significant progress after just a few months of work and a small investment financed through the Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL), a mechanism for channeling grants to communes designed by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

“This year, the rural exodus has been greatly reduced,” said village chief, Mr Bilal. ”150 people have received remuneration of around 26,000 FCFA [c USD43 ] per month for three months. This has enabled many of them to undertake economic activities such as buying livestock for small goat farms or starting small businesses. Thanks to this, many women were able to meet their families’ needs for food and school fees,” said Mr Bilal.

A community-driven cash for work programme funded via a LoCAL grant, enabled the local government to contract 100 young people and 50 women to work for three months on a 60-hectare land rehabilitation site. The work provided the young people and women with an income before seasonal work began in the fields, guaranteeing economic opportunities for an entire year.

Algéo Bilal, President of the village women’s group, confirms: “The land reclamation work has been of great importance to us, because in addition to the straw that now grows instead of sand, it has enabled us to earn an income that we have used to buy food….Another important aspect is our children, whom we see working alongside us instead of the journey they usually make at this time to other towns where we have no control over their behaviour.”

For the communities living by the plains of Zorian, it is expected that the rehabilitation of the 600,000 m2 of land will enable them to better capture rainwater and restore the area’s vegetation cover, while increasing the population’s cash income. The Mayor of the Commune of Abalak, Mr Antaka Rhousmane, emphasizes that the most important results will be to improve the quality of life for the local population adding that the most important results are not always the most visible.

“The success of this project cannot be denied, You can see for yourself! The extent of the pastures – that’s no mean feat… especially in a place that was as bare as a glacier!” said Mr Rhousmane. 

“But above all, we witnessed a symbiotic climate among these communities, in terms of cohesion and understanding. After a while, some of them even married each other! Can you imagine? These were communities that didn’t know each other before!’,” Mr Rhousmane added.

Indeed, the land rehabilitation work involved young people and women from five other villages in the region: Assarara, Ebagaye, Janjaleti, Tansou wahid and Tigdite.

“With the five other villages that took part in the work, we have created bonds of fraternity. From now on, we invite them to our ceremonies, and they invite us to theirs,” said Ms Bilal, President of the village women’s group.

The Mayor is as proud of the project’s success as he is of its operation: “These are sub-projects that the commune submits to its partners for funding, which are channeled through ANFICT, according to the procedures of the state and its partners.”

With support from UNCDF, Niger’s National Agency for Local Authority Funding (ANFICT) is currently establishing a climate window within the national circuit of financing of local governments, based on the LoCAL standard approach. This should help strengthen local government and community level capacities on climate finance and programme management.

With these enhancements in the national financing systems, LoCAL has already helped to finance over 64 adaptation investments benefiting over 120 000 people in the Dosso, one of the most vulnerable regions of Niger (2019-2022 LoCAL Report). A new funding cycle started in 2023, covering 17 communes in three regions (Dosso, Tahoua et Zinder), including Abalak and the village of Zorian. The investments mostly focus on land restoration initiatives to combat desertification and improving the resilience and livelihoods of communities and capacity building of local governments.

UNCDF, through the LoCAL Facility, provides financial and technical support to the local level, drawing on a global, regional and national network, to channel climate financing to local authorities like Abalak. This gives local authorities more autonomy and duties to tackle the climate change challenge. While supporting Niger in the implementation of its National Adaptation Plan, it is local communities that decide on their priorities. This decision-making at the lowest administrative level is one of the keys to the mechanism: the sustainability of each investment is strengthened by local ownership.

At Zorian, for example, the site is managed by a management committee made up of members from six villages who have worked on the site’s development. Members of the management committee hold rotating monthly meetings in one village. The joint management of the site, now dedicated to harvesting, maintains social cohesion between the villages and builds local level resilience.

“I plead to continue this activity so that young people can have a temporary job enabling them to earn an income,” said Moustapha Moussa, President of the Management Committee in Zorian adding: ”This will significantly reduce migration and rural exodus.’

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

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