Farmers Restore Forests

10 May 2010

Farming prospects and the health of the natural environment are looking brighter along the interior delta of the Niger River, where forests are being restored by farmers and communities who understand the great importance of these ecosystems for their local economies and survival.

“Our animals, particularly sheep and goats, find food in the forests when the water recedes during the dry season,” said Nouhoum Té Tiaw, a traditional leader and landowner at Youwarou. The forests are well recognized for offering protection for local communities, allowing them to continue their work in growing, breeding and catching food. Fishing in particular is a main source of income in the area, and the forests protect the breeding grounds of many fish.

A long period of drought and poaching led to the destruction of over twenty forests in the delta since the 1970’s, but today seven of these have been replanted, four of which play a major role in the region’s ecosystem. Farmers have worked keenly with NGOs to rehabilitate the forests, planting native species such Acacia kirkii, primarily because their livelihood depends on it.

The rehabilitated forests are also having extremely positive effects on the natural ecosystem, with animals that had disappeared from the area, such as hippos and manatees, already returning.

Some fish species that had completely disappeared have also returned, according to Sambo Barry, who works for the Youwarou district authority. Furthermore, this is actually contributing to the development of local fisheries whose products are now even sold outside of Mali.

With the forests of such great value to local farmers, it is the communities themselves who are now demanding local bylaws to protect their environment. These regulations lay out the rules for exploiting natural resources and fines collected from those who do not respect them are put back into the forest restoration project.

Inter Press Service

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