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Bringing degraded African land back to life

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                                Restoring degraded land to productive health is a huge opportunity for Africa
                            
                            
                                                
                            
                                                            ROME, Italy, January 20, 2022/APO Group/ --
                                                        
                            Farming in the Sahel region of Africa is not easy.  It is an area that suffers from degraded soils, erratic rainfall, and is often subject to long periods of drought.  For that reason, farmland is often very harsh, making it difficult for farmers to plant seeds and for crops to flourish.  But new technology can reduce this burden on farmers and help restore the land for future generations.



When Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO's Action Against Desertification programme, speaks about land restoration in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident.

“Restoring degraded lands to good productive health is a great opportunity for Africa.  It brings great social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says.
Bringing degraded African land back to life

Restoring degraded land to productive health is a huge opportunity for Africa

ROME, Italy, January 20, 2022/APO Group/ —

Farming in the Sahel region of Africa is not easy. It is an area that suffers from degraded soils, erratic rainfall, and is often subject to long periods of drought. For that reason, farmland is often very harsh, making it difficult for farmers to plant seeds and for crops to flourish. But new technology can reduce this burden on farmers and help restore the land for future generations.

When Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO‘s Action Against Desertification programme, speaks about land restoration in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident.

“Restoring degraded lands to good productive health is a great opportunity for Africa. It brings great social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says. “It is a bulwark against climate change and brings technology to improve traditional knowledge.”

The Dolphin Plow

Fortunately, there is a technology that can help farmers facing difficult farming conditions and restore farmland: the Delfino plow.

FAO brought this state-of-the-art heavy excavator to the Sahel region as part of FAO‘s Action Against Desertification (AAD) program and used it to drill through dry, impacted soil to a depth of more than half a meter. Four Dolphins have been introduced in four countries (Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal) as part of the FAO Great Green Wall initiative.

The Delfino creates large, crescent-shaped basins ready for planting seeds and seedlings, increasing rainwater harvesting tenfold and making the soil more permeable for planting than the traditional, backbreaking method of digging by hand.

The crescent is a traditional Sahelian planting method that creates contours to stop rainwater runoff, improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This creates favorable microclimate conditions that allow the seeds and seedlings to flourish.

The Delfino plow is also hugely efficient. A hundred farmers digging the traditional half-moon irrigation ditches by hand can cover one hectare a day, but when the Delfino is hitched to a tractor, it can cover 15 to 20 hectares in a day.

Once an area is plowed, seeds of native woody and herbaceous species are directly sown and inoculated seedlings are planted. These species are very hardy and perform well on degraded land, providing vegetative cover and improving the productivity of previously barren land.

The importance of restored land

By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers do not have to clear additional forest land to turn it into farmland for Africa’s growing population and growing demand for food.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the landscape is degraded. This means that the more than nine million hectares of land once used for agriculture can no longer be used, and degradation is projected to continue to expand at 360,000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, the forests are at risk of being cut down to make way for productive agricultural land.

Africa is currently losing four million hectares of forest each year for this reason, but has more than 700 million hectares of viable degraded land for restoration.

In Burkina Faso and Niger, the target number of hectares for immediate restoration has already been met and extended thanks to the Delfino plow. In Nigeria and Senegal it is working to scale up restoration of degraded land.

“Local engagement is essential,” says Moctar. “The entire community is involved and has benefited from fodder crops such as knee-high hay in just two years. They can feed their cattle and sell the surplus and go on to collect non-seasonal products such as edible fruits, natural oils for soaps, wild honey and plants for traditional medicine.”

Improving the lives of women

According to Nora Berrahmouni, who was Senior Forestry Officer in the FAO African Regional Office when the Delfino was deployed, the plow will also reduce the burden on women.

“The time of the extremely hard work of digging the half-moon irrigation dams by hand comes when the men of the community have had to move with the animals. So the job falls to the women,” says Nora.

Because the Delfino plow significantly speeds up the plowing process and reduces the physical labor involved, it gives women more time to handle their multitude of other tasks.

The project also aims to boost women’s leadership and participation in local land restoration on a larger scale, offering leadership roles to women through village committees that plan land restoration work. Under the AAD programme, each site selected for restoration is encouraged to establish a village committee to manage the resources, in order to take ownership from the outset.

“Many women lead the local village committees that organize these activities and tell us that they feel more empowered and respected,” says Moctar.

Respecting local knowledge and traditional skills is another key to success. Communities have long understood that crescent-shaped dams are the best way to collect rainwater for the long dry season. The mighty Delfino is simply making work more efficient and less physically demanding.

“In the end, the Delfino is just a plow. A very good and suitable plow, but a plow just the same,” says Moctar. “It is when we use it appropriately and in consultation and cooperation that we see such progress.”

And it is urgent that progress is made. Land loss is a driver of many other problems, including hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced migration, conflict, and an increased risk of extreme weather events related to climate change. And as Moctar put it: “These are too many problems for us at FAO to allow vulnerable people to tackle.”

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