Coach House Geography

Interesting Geography stuff for InterHigh

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 13 other followers

Archive for the ‘Sahel’ Category

Senegal: Prospects and Pitfalls Along a Great Green Wall

Posted by Lindy on December 1, 2011

29 November 2011

Former goat-herder Samba Ba proudly points to a row of metre-high acacia trees growing amid the fine grasses that are the only other vegetation in this part of northern Senegal’s arid savannah. “Planting trees is a blessing – trees mean life. We call this the Nile River of the Sahel.”  Ba hopes that in time the trees will bear black fruits that can be used as goat-feed. He and his fellow villagers are also planting the Sahel acacia, which produces a gum with medicinal properties, the tamarind, which has edible bitter-sweet fruit, and the desert date or “sump” tree, which bears small fruits whose oil can be used in cooking. These are all thorny trees with small leaves, the only kind that can survive in the arid conditions.

Sedentary and semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen are planting five hectares of vegetable and fruit crops and approximately 1,000 trees as part of the Great Green Wall project (“La Grande Muraille Verte”), an ambitious pan-African environmental programme designed to combat desertification along the southern edge of the Sahara and provide nomadic populations with extra livelihoods while enhancing their food security.

The scheme falls within the framework of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which aims to decrease poverty and improve food sources, and is being supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Donors have pledged US$3 billion to the 11 participating countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.



The governments of these 11 Sahelian states intend that 20 years from now, a giant hedge, 15km wide and 7,000km long, spreading across two million hectares, will help slow the advancing desert and impede the hot winds that increase erosion.

“The wall is just the final result. What we’re looking for… is to protect and improve the eco-systems of these Sahel regions, and [through this] to improve the diets, health, lifestyle and environment of the Savannah people,” said Matar Cissé, director general of the national agency implementing the project, in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Chronic drought has made it increasingly difficult for Fulani nomads to make a traditional living as pastoralists, but herdsmen would consider settling in such villages if they could earn a living by growing and selling fruit and vegetables. They are developing a system that will help these people help themselves to stay in one place, create jobs and raise their own incomes.


Food production and shifting lifestyles

Villagers are taught how to plant market gardens and use drip irrigation by connecting a small elevated water tank to perforated pipes that deliver small amounts of water to each plant.

So far, the 133 women participating in the scheme in Mbar Toubab have produced lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, okra, aubergines, watermelons, carrots, cabbages and turnips. Their mango and orange trees have yet to bear fruit.

Such a project must be based on market research that identifies who will be able to buy the vegetables, where, and at what prices, if it is to support livelihoods and food security, said the NGO Groundswell International.


Food security versus desertification

Food insecurity in the Sahel is largely due to a growing gap between rich and poor, with an “underclass of the bottom 30 percent” living in chronic poverty. Solutions include subsidized prices, social protection schemes, and disaster reduction, among many others.

Desertification is what forces people to migrate. In the popular imagination desertification is about billowing sand dunes advancing at a rate of two kilometres a year, but… [it] is the overuse of natural resources, over-grazing, intensive farming and the subsequent erosion of land-pockets that become completely denuded and then join together. Tree-planting projects to combat desertification work

best when the trees are owned by the farmers themselves. Usually only 20 percent of newly planted trees survive… so there is a high risk to tree-planting… unless we mobilize millions of [farmers] to invest in trees as well as manage them themselves, the battle against desertification cannot be won.


Pastoralist-led solutions

The most innovative projects to improve the lives and livelihoods of pastoralists are being developed by the pastoralists themselves, with the help of NGOs.  In Niger they have established settlement sites where they plant trees and market gardens alongside health and education services. Pastoralists then migrate from these points. Rather than using such schemes to encourage the nomads to settle – which often leads to tension with sedentary communities – a combination of mobility and agriculture is the most risk-averse survival strategy. [Partial] mobility…is a much better and less risky strategy than staying in one place… [which] leads to over-grazing, and if the area does not get much rainfall that year, the pastoralists are much more vulnerable


Posted in Fragile environments, management, Sahel, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

Ghana Global Human Development Still Needs Improvement

Posted by Lindy on November 25, 2011

A summary by an article by Helena Selby

23 November 2011

The development of people or humans in the world is expected to increase as the years goes by, however, due to environmental issues, and how people choose to live their lives, bearing in mind that with every action they take concerning the environment, it has a future consequence on people around them. Human development is all about expanding the livelihood of people, in terms of freedom, to cope with the environment in a positive manner.

If people of the world really want to make the world a better place to live for generations to come, there is the need to understand the link between environmental sustainability and equity. According to the United Nations report on human development for 2011, there have been remarkable progresses in human development over recent decades. The report aims at taking a bold step towards the reduction of environmental risk and inequality in the world.

According to the Administrator of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, as a way of the UN achieving its aim on human development, the report identifies pathways for people, local communities, countries and the international community to promote environmental sustainability and equity in mutual reinforcing ways.

What is Human Development?

The report defines human development as the expansion of people’s freedom and capabilities to lead lives that they value and have reason to value. It is about expanding choices. But promoting human development requires addressing sustainability. Locally, nationally and globally, this should be done in ways that are equitable and empowering. By means of sustaining human development, there was the need to expand the substantive freedom of people today, while making reasonable efforts to avoid seriously compromising those of the future generation.

What is Human Development Index (HDI)

HDI is a combined measure of life expectancy, access to education and the standard of living.

Even though good progress has been made in basic education and health, the standard of livng in many countries is still lagging behind.

Unfortunately, much development has taken along side increasing environmental degradation – globally, nearly 40% of land is degraded due to soil erosion, reduced fertiliser and overgrazing. Land productivity is declining, with estimated yield loss at 50% in most cases. Agriculture accounts for 70-85 percent of water use, and an estimated 20 percent of global grain production uses water unsustainably, imperilling future agriculture growth. Desertification threatens the dry lands that are home to about a third of the world’s people, and some areas like the sub Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable.

Today, around 350 million people, many of them poor, live in or near forests, on which they rely for subsistence and income. Around 45 million people, at least 6million of them women, fish for a living, and are threatened by over fishing and climate change. To the extent that women in poor countries are disproportionately involved in subsistence farming and water collection, they face greater adverse effect of environmental degradation, the report stressed.

Posted in Climate change, Human geography, Sahel | Leave a Comment »

Women helped to recover degraded land

Posted by Lindy on October 28, 2011


Preventing irreversible degradation should be a global fight tackled with local, national and regional solutions. One-third of the world’s population lives in drylands where land degradation is reducing food supplies, biodiversity, water quality and soil fertility. Many of the poorest and most food-insecure people live off these lands as small-scale farmers and herders. Because they have no fallback options if this land deteriorates, they are the worst hit by desertification.

Solutions exist to help communities living in harsh environments to improve their livelihoods. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) is working with local, national and international partners on initiatives that revitalise soils and conserve water, enabling communities to reap the health benefits and incomes from otherwise degraded or soon to become degraded lands.

The approach of bioreclamation of degraded lands shows how women’s groups could revitalise barren lands by using simple water and soil conservation techniques, such as zai pits (small holes enriched with compost), to plant drought-tolerant trees and crops, and applying small amounts of fertiliser to the plant root, a technique known as microdosing.

In west Africa, most women have no or few rights to agricultural land, so Icrisat has been working with local NGOs to help them form associations and gain access to communal village wasteland. Scientists showed the women how to plant a range of crops, nutritious trees and high-value vegetables using zai pits and demi lunes (semi-permanent planting basins) to harvest rainwater and concentrate nutrients for the plants.

Their work shows that degraded lands can be made productive by plants such as the hardy Pommes du Sahel, which have 10 times the vitamin C of ordinary apples and are rich in calcium, iron, and phosphorus, and Moringa trees, the leaves of which contain four times the vitamin A in carrots, four times the calcium and double the protein in milk and three times the potassium in bananas. Drought-tolerant pigeon pea was found to help soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil. It also traps pests that would otherwise attack and damage the okra that the women plant in the zai pits, and gives harvests even when rainfall is scarce.

However, most crucially, we must look at how we can prevent soils becoming degraded in the first place. By involving farmers in sustainable water and soil management, Kothapalli, a village in Andhra Pradesh, India, which was previously below the poverty line due to recurrent drought, is now prosperous and serving as a model for other villages in Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa. Farmers have been shown how to carry out a healthcheck and feed it the nutrients that are missing so that the soil recovers before it is too late. By adding nutrients such as zinc and boron to exhausted soil, farmers are getting better and more nutritious harvests.

• William Dar is director general of the Icrisat in Andhra Pradesh, India

Posted in Appropriate technology, Food supply, Fragile environments, Sahel, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

Looking to the Sahel for Lessons in Pushing Back Deserts

Posted by Lindy on October 28, 2011

From an article by Stephen Leahy

Oct 17, 2011 (IPS) – Nearly all our food comes from the Earth’s limited food- producing lands, but those lands continue to be degraded, guaranteeing far higher food prices and less food in the future, experts warn. But degradation and desertification can be halted and reversed, as evidenced by once barren parts of Africa’s dry Sahel Region that are now green and thriving thanks to local efforts.

Without reversing ongoing land degradation, studies show food prices are estimated to increase by 30% and that there could be up to 12% less food available.  And we can’t afford to deplete our food-producing lands when there will be nine billion people by 2050.

Although the world can produce enough food for everyone, roughly one in seven people will go hungry. Why? They simply cannot afford to buy enough food. World food prices remain 15 percent higher than a year ago, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Food commodity speculation and climatic change that is bringing increased heat and changes in precipitation patterns, along with increasing demand for biofuels, have been blamed for rising food prices in recent years.

Every year, desertification results in the effective loss of some 12 million hectares of land.

Much of Africa’s western Sahel region on the edge of the Sahara desert was as barren as a concrete floor in the 1970s. Now close to six million hectares are green again and home to over 200 million trees in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Many of the trees were not  planted, it was natural regeneration thanks in part to an increase in rainfall. However, the biggest factor was the local peoples’ actions to protect the trees and develop water harvesting techniques to create an intricate agroforestry system that sustains them. And those actions were sparked by changes in government policies that essentially said: “If you plant a tree or protect a tree, you own it forever.”

Local peoples responded by constructing semi-circular mounds, planting pits, knee-high dams and impoundments to trap and hold water, nourishing trees, bushes and food plants and helping to recharge groundwater. In some areas the water table has risen five or six metres.

Using these techniques, small-scale farmers in Niger have been able to grow 200,000 tonnes of onions. Some are producing 2,000 kilogrammes of food from a hectare of land that did not produce anything.

The re-greening of this part of the Sahel has increased the region’s soil fertility, reduced temperatures, cut the number and intensity of sandstorms, provided firewood and fodder for animals, boosted biodiversity and generated other benefits with no cost to governments, he said.

The big question now is how to bring this to other parts of Africa and the world?

In Ethiopia, where large tracts of land owned by the country’s richest person were being ploughed up for a monoculture crop,  the resulting clouds of dust blow away the  land’s fertility. Semi-arid areas of the world need to shift into agroforestry that integrates trees animals and crops.

To achieve truly sustainable forms of food production, governments need to move away from monocultures and large-scale irrigation projects. A combination of plants, trees and animals can conserve and enhance the productivity of land. Studies show that where agroforestry (also called agroecology) has been applied, it has led to an average of 116 percent increases in average yield in Africa.

The best thing governments can do is support and provide incentives to their smallholder farmers to shift to agroecological methods rather than investing in big, expensive projects. Dams and large-scale irrigation are extremely costly for states, have huge environmental and social impacts and are unsustainable.

Posted in Fragile environments, Sahel, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

AFRICA: Opposition building to Great Green Wall

Posted by Lindy on April 14, 2011

Or that is what the headline says. But dig deeper and it is not the green wall that is a problem but its implementation. There are concerns that foreign species will be included, that biodiversity and indigenous people could both be under threat unless care is taken to involve local people in the planning.

For more information:

Posted in Climate change, Fragile environments, Global warming, Sahel, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

Creating “Future Proof” Solar

Posted by Lindy on January 6, 2011

Starting this year, plants will be built in the desert to extract the valuable silicon from sand to construct solar panels. The energy to do this will be – you guessed it – solar power. Once these solar panels have produced enough silicon to make the the solar panels, then it is suggested that 50% of the world’s power can be obtained by solar energy by 2050.  But the novel technological approach suggested by the Sahara “Breeder” team is not the only one under consideration by solar industry stakeholders as they seek to shape the development of the sector over the next half century.

Posted in Appropriate technology, Fragile environments, Global warming, Renewable, Sahel, solar, Solution to problems, Sustainability | Leave a Comment »

Banking on the Harvest

Posted by Lindy on October 26, 2010

October 21st, 2010 12:32

Every week during the pre-harvest season, poor farmers receive cereal as a credit. At the end of the season, farmers can pay back the loan with their own crops with 25 percent interest—an interest rate that the villagers picked on their own.

In the Maradi area in south central Niger, where 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the months before the harvest are called “the hunger season.” From mid-July to mid-September, food supplies are at their lowest and most families only eat one meal a day.

Since the 1960’s, the entire Sahel region which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan, has been experiencing increasingly extreme drought and hunger. The Maradi region has been hit especially hard and cereal harvests have dropped by nearly a third. Strained or empty grain reserves cause many families to sell tools, seeds, and livestock in order to raise money for food and the next planting. Farmers with nothing to sell are forced to work for others to earn an income. Some even leave their homes in search of work in other villages, leaving behind their wives and children to tend to the farm and home on their own.

But with the help of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), many women are taking local food security into their own hands. In response to the food crisis in the area in 2005 when severe locust attacks compounded with drought to put 3.5 million people in the Sahel at risk of starvation, IFAD’s Project for the Promotion of Local Initiative for Development in Aguie helped to create a new kind of bank, run entirely by women, that dispenses loans in the form of cereal instead of money.

Called the soudure bank, or pre-harvest bank, IFAD’s project is based on exchange. Every week during the pre-harvest season, poor farmers receive cereal as a credit. At the end of the season, farmers can pay back the loan with their own crops with 25 percent interest—an interest rate that the villagers picked on their own.

The banks have already made a huge difference. Today there are 168 soudure banks throughout Niger, managed by over 50,000 women and storing over 2,800 tons of millet—enough to feed 350,000 people for at least a month. During the 2008 global food price crisis, when 90 percent of the population living in Niger was at risk for starvation, villages with a soudure bank were able to sustain themselves through the harshest period of the year.

And the banks help to empower women who are otherwise left out of community-wide organizations and decision making. In their new roles as bank managers, with the support of their husbands, women can now play an integral role in improving local food security, diets, and livelihoods.

Posted in Appropriate technology, Food supply, Fragile environments, IGCSE, Sahel | Leave a Comment »

Scientists roll out innovative system for producing vegetables

Posted by Lindy on September 9, 2010

Referred to as the African Market Garden, the new system will be implemented with about 7,000 small-scale farmers at 100 locations in Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal, with the aim of extending the success of 3,000 gardens already established in countries of the Sahel during recent years. Support for the expansion comes from the governments of Israel, Italy, Switzerland and the USA and from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank, and various international foundations and NGOs.
“The African Market Garden combines efficient drip irrigation to save water, energy and labour with improved crop management to boost farmers’ vegetable yields and economic returns. The African Market Garden is a promising technology for smallholder farmers, which builds on a vegetable-growing tradition in the Sahel that dates back at least to colonial times,”

“In recent decades, the demand for fresh tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and other vegetables has grown dramatically, as a result of rapid population growth and urbanization, and this has given rise to vibrant local and regional markets. But traditional vegetable farming has proved unable to keep pace, partly because of inefficient use of water and other resources.”
The African Market Garden benefits women particularly, who handle much of the region’s vegetable production and marketing, raising their incomes and enhancing family nutrition in a region where vitamin A deficiency is widespread.
To irrigate a traditional vegetable garden of 500 square meters using the conventional system takes one man, lifting two watering cans at a time, about 4 hours a day or one woman, lifting only one watering can, about 8 hours a day, compared to just 10 minutes for drip irrigation. Using a solar-powered pump or other renewable energy source to provide water allows further savings and makes the system more sustainable. The new system uses water more efficiently which is necessary if the water table is not to drop and salt pans are not to develop.

In Benin, three women’s groups have managed communal market gardens successfully, producing vegetables year-round for the last 3 years. Each woman generates, on average, just over US$200 per year from a plot measuring just 120 square meters. The profits are twice those for traditional gardening, plus the nutritional benefits of having more vegetables in the family diet. Young girls are especially happy with the new system, because they no longer have to spend hours fetching water for irrigation.
Improved locally adapted varieties of okra, tomato and other vegetables resulting from their work are spreading rapidly in Niger and other countries of the Sahelian region. For the first time ever, markets in the nation’s capital, Niamey, were well supplied with vegetables, especially tomatoes, during the last rainy season. A new line derived from a local onion variety shows promise, yielding 60 tons per hectare, nearly twice as much as other varieties grown by farmers.
In a further effort to diversify farming in the Sahel, ICRISAT scientists are promoting vegetable intercropping with fruit trees. One especially suitable tree species is the Apple of the Sahel, or Pomme du Sahel in French (Ziziphus mauritania), whose apple-shaped fruit possesses ten times more vitamin C than apples and is also rich in iron, calcium, phosphorous and essential amino acids. Another is the Moringa tree (Moringa oleifera), whose leaves have seven times more vitamin C than oranges, four times more vitamin A than carrots, four times more calcium than milk (plus double the protein) and three times more potassium than bananas.
To find out more go to:
For photos, please visit

Posted in Appropriate technology, Food supply, Fragile environments, Human geography, IGCSE, Renewable, Sahel, Solution to problems, Y7/8 | Leave a Comment »

Sahel: Fighting malnutrition with local food security and water management initiatives

Posted by Lindy on August 22, 2010

Hurricane Wilma was the twenty-first named storm, twelfth hurricane, and sixth major hurricane of the record-breaking 2005 Atl

Date Posted: August 2nd, 2010

(a great new discovery is Farm Radio – transcripts from all over sub-Saharan Africa radio stations)

New ways to gain food security:

1. Use local food to add important nutrients to counteract malnutrition – in Burkina Faso porridge is being fortified with tamarind, soumbala (a local bean), fish and baobab fruit.

2. Helen Keller International, or HKI, is an NGO will distribute household drip irrigation kits to 300 families in eastern Burkina Faso. These families are planting gardens to grow nutritious vegetables. Drip irrigation is not widely used in individual gardens, but is common in commercial ventures. It uses 40 litres of water per day to irrigate a garden of 20 square metres while atercans for the same area would use 240 litres.

3. Smallholders in Senegal have had success with drip irrigation kits. “With the watering cans, we couldn’t do more than one harvest per year. With this innovation, we can do as many as three, so our earnings are multiplied by three.”

4. In Niger, the International Crops Research recommends fertilizer micro-dosing to improve yields during droughts. They apply a good pinch of fertilizer directly to the plant roots. Since using the method, the harvests have almost tripled.

Posted in Appropriate technology, Food supply, Fragile environments, IGCSE, Sahel, Solution to problems, Water | Leave a Comment »

Australian acacias for Africa

Posted by Lindy on May 20, 2010

While acacias are found in Africa, varieties common in Australia have the added benefit of providing human food.

In parts of the Sahel, and in particular in Niger, where deforestation seriously reduced the amount of trees between 1950s and 1980s and led in the agricultural areas to strong winds, ,high temperatures, soil erosion, infertile soils and desertification. Combined with rapid population growth and poverty, these problems contributed to chronic hunger and periodic acute famine.

Whilst drought and crop failure is still a problem in Niger – the last severe famine was in 2005 – there are areas where farmers have been able to protect and regenerate degraded land and combat the effects of desertification. Building on twenty years of successful and sustainable agricultural approaches tried and tested by the Maradi Integrated Development Project (MIDP), farmers have been encouraged to take up an integrated agroforestry farming system. These involve a range of multi-purpose Australian acacias, other agroforestry trees, crop residue mulching and annual crops.

Natural regeneration of trees by farmers, known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), has proved particularly successful. It provides firewood, building timber, improves crop yields, increases biodiversity and provides valued income to farmers. With this system, trees are owned by farmers and seen as beneficial and it is one of the few sustainable and expanding agroforestry systems in the Sahel.

Meanwhile MIDP’s has also involved the testing and domestication of several edible Australian acacias. These perennial species grow rapidly, are well adapted to infertile soils and produce seeds that can be easily harvested and processed into nutritious human food. As a result, a significant number of communities in the area are known to be regularly consuming acacia-based foods, particularly derived from Acacia colei ( one particularly good speie). Take-up was slow until MIDP joined with World Vision Niger to launch a more concerted approach to promoting the multiple benefits of acacias. This developed  into the Farmer Managed Agroforesty Farming System (FMAFS), which is an alley cropping, agro-pastoral forestry system that incorporates FMNR of trees along with high seed and wood-producing acacias.

During 2006-7, over 350 FMAFS were established in 33 villages, which has led to increased production of acacia seed. An Australian firm, Kalkardi Ltd, bought up 4,550kg and paid US$0.40 a kg, which stimulated interest. The farmers then went on to use the tree in ways not envisioned by MIDP – using the seed pods as fertiliser side dressings, using water from soaking acacia bark to increase the strength of mud-plaster, and the medicinal use of acacia leaf juice to treat fever and stomach upsets. Acacia foods, such as local dishes made with acacia flour, have become widely and enthusiastically accepted in the villages where it is grown. The food is valued for its taste and, since acacia-based foods are more filling, consumption of staple grains is reduced, so that more is available for use at a later date or for sale. Other uses include as windbreaks, reclamation of degraded land, biomass production for mulch and organic matter, firewood, feed for honey bees, and livestock, they also contribute to soil fertility through fixation of atmospheric nitrogen (they are legumes)

Posted in Appropriate technology, Development, Food supply, Fragile environments, IGCSE, Sahel | Leave a Comment »