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New Article: Land resources opportunities for a growing prosperity in the Sahel

Positive transformation pathways require many improvements in the governance, finance and equity issues with a particular reference to the youth and women. The Sahel can sustain its sustainable development if transformation occurs in natural resources management.

The negative image of the Sahel is a stranglehold on the great potential for development in the region. A more balanced narrative can trigger action for a productive Sahel and can be based on innovative approaches and a conducive policy environment to value natural resources.

Despite a rich set of information, the potential of the Sahel is still not flagged with sound knowledge that can be opposed to the conspicuous depressed perception.

The paper analyses:

  • the opportunities related to natural resources;
  • the potential and challenges for deep rapid transformation based on sound resources management practices;
  • areas for job creation and livelihood protection; and
  • new models for financing these developments.

The Sahel has, for over 40 years, been seen as just a place of hunger, persistent droughts and climate extremes; a place where farmers struggle to produce the crops and livestock to sustain the growing population.

Currently news coming from the region are dominated by security issues such as terrorism, and conflicts between communities. The living condition explain the unprecedented levels of migration though up to 80% of the migration occur within Africa

Unfortunately, this negative image overshadows the great potential for development that the region has preserved against all odds. This is because little has been known and said on the local opportunities in the Sahel to address these challenges.

A new rhetoric leading to profound revision of existing development models is needed to reject the status quo that has sustained most policies without clear positive impacts since the drought of the 1970s.

A starting point is a combined effort of public and private sectors, that leads to community benefits. The new economic model for the Sahel must be:

  • inclusive, sustainable and holds the potentials to transform people’s wealth .
  • The foundation of a new rhetoric is to see the Sahel as having the human capital and the natural resources to generate quality products and create massive green jobs.
  • Youth employment and the ability of producers, especially women to establish enterprises are aspects of the desirable outcomes

The proposed approach is to innovate and optimize the value of natural resources and ecosystems, as well as ensure fair sharing of benefits with a particular focus on the poor, youth and women.

This refers to as ‘the Sahel’s new deal’ based on the implementation of land restoration/land resources sound ideas that involve high-level engagement, clear understanding of trade stakes for small enterprises, trade-offs or synergies in land use to harness benefits to local communities

This paper shows the opportunities to improve well-being based on new opportunities to realize a bigger range of benefits from natural resources; discuss new business models for successful innovation and job creation and mechanisms to financing the actions.

Agriculture and the Sahel’s food production- First the Sahel has large areas of fertile soils that have sustained secular livelihood in some highly densely populated regions

  • Practical solution such as better seeds, irrigation and fertilization could boost yields by 50% in the Sahel. 
  • There is considerable potential for small holders’ farmers to improve the efficiency and meet the growing food demand.
  • In the future, demand of food must trigger a shift from unprocessed bulk products to value-added products, increasing the need for close public-private-people partnerships in agriculture, industry, manufacturing, trade, transport, finance, science, technology and the environmental management.
  • The successful agribusiness model for the Sahel should be centered around people as an intentional response to a growth strategy that fits the vast majority who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods
  • Agricultural science could support that by matching-specific genetic traits to resist to the hardiness of drought and other stressors.
  • Land restoration is another opportunity to achieving a balance between the goal of food security through Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and ecosystem services such as water and nutrients recycling , a combination of yield increase with environmental stewardship, merging two seemingly conflicting goals and ensuring that increased profitability contributes to local development and provides environmental benefits.

Pastoral systems and source of animal food- The important question is how to address the challenges of pastoral resources use and the transformation of animal products?

  • Serious concerns arise not only in regard to scarcity of pastoral resources (grazing and, water) and the increasing negative impacts of climate change.
  • This adds to the urgent need to combine the urgency for increased productivity with more equitable forms of development that focus on poverty reduction of pastoral dwellers.
  • The Sahel’s pastoral system lies at the crossroads of three major development opportunities: i) equity and growth ii) health and nutrition and iii) climate change solutions 
  • Livestock yield a significant source of fertilizers to fragile soils 
  • On the economic side, in most Sahelian countries, 60–80% of rural households keep livestock as mobile and liquid asset, income generator, and food insurance
  • Ruminant and monogastric livestock are key contributors to food security and job opportunities in the Sahel
  • It is estimated that Africa needs to achieve around 6% annual growth in livestock productivity to meet the rising demand for animal products
  • This includes sustainably intensified systems, such as improved rangeland management, new breeds and feed transformation and processing of meat and dairy

The increased demand for meat in urban centers can be met if the pastoral system gains stronger support from public and private investment. The opportunity to improve the supply of animal products will highly depend on the ability to address endemic animal diseases.

Tree and non-timber forest products- Achieving food and nutrition security under resource-poor conditions of the Sahel, requires a use of all potential food sources.

  • The underutilized tree products have a huge untapped potential.
  • Large proportion of the Sahelian population depends on tree products for food/feed, fire and fiber.
  • In addition to ecological functions, trees have different roles for subsistence and commercial uses in semi-arid areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Through agroforestry practices, many trees help improve nutrition, health and adaptation to climate change.
  • Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) has an important role in developing an agricultural sector that is linked to viable supply and demand value chains, well integrated into the broader landscape; is climate resilient and environmentally and socially sustainable. 
  • For instance, Moringa trees are very nutritious and grow (fast) in difficult conditions. The leaves are 30% protein on a dry weight basis, and full of minerals and vitamins

With and by trees on farm, the promotion of trees through adapted land management practices such as FMNR (farmers’ management of natural regeneration), will accelerate productivity and support biodiversity. Recent research activities suggest that upping the yields of nutritious trees could be one of the surest and sustainable ways to avert the food challenges and secure a robust food supply in the decades ahead.

Water resources or the ‘no-drought’ opportunity- The level of extraction of renewable water resources in West Africa is less than one per cent of its potential.

  • The water resources in the Sahel comes from the large transboundary regional watersheds
  • Groundwater resources exist both as the superficial water tables recharged during the rainy season and the fossil water reserves, including the deep-water tables of sedimentary basins.
  • Considerable reserves of fresh water are stored in these deep-water tables
  • All these fresh water sources can support growing prosperity in many ways and more so in agriculture through sustainable irrigation .
  • The Sahel is not facing water scarcity or if it does in some condition it is rather and economic water scarcity that be addressed through new funding mechanisms.
  • Another opportunity related to access to fresh water beyond direct food production and human consumption, is the aquaculture that currently receives a lot of interest in the Sahel thanks to the suitable natural environment that offers attractive conditions to farm and market a variety of local high-values species.

Pathways for Sahel vibrant future- A better Sahel requires a special initiative that gathers the best practices in food production and natural resource valuation.

Another Sahel is possible if we attract new funding, new partnership, novel governance systems that offer opportunities to stabilize and restore productivity of large areas that have fallen into disuse or function with low efficiency .

To harness the opportunities in the Sahel, it is important to revisit the barriers for inclusive development including the following:

  • Limitations in responding to increased market demand for agricultural products fueled by rapid urbanization and the population growth of the region’s middle class.
  • Inadequate or non-existent local corporate services to support efficient supply chains for high value natural resources.
  • Challenges for the commitment of the private sector to source from African farmers.
  • Limited application of technologies that improve production and reduce food loss.
  • Context adapted policies that create an enabling environment for public and private enterprises that specialize in natural resources, including agricultural sector.

There is a need for novel financial mechanisms to establish the conditions for the greater flow of investment capital in the Sahel.

  • The private investors will not alone accept higher levels of risk for the sake of greater development benefit.
  • A combination of national and multilateral mechanisms can mitigate the risks – for example, by accepting risk buffer provisions or providing investors with attractive terms of credit and favorable market advantages.
  • The potential for blended financing is great, particularly in the development of new high value products.

‘The Financial System We Need’ recommends testing new financial models in areas where traditional investment mechanisms were not able to fully unleash the potential for job creation, development of a green economy and achievement of sustainability goals.

This is particularly valid for the Sahel where there is little presence of green finance recent efforts such as green bond markets, reallocation of capital, improvement of investment risks management and greater consideration pf environmental factors.

  • The Sahel is a poor region if we use the current economic standards, but that Sahel has so much natural resources and assets that can quickly support the deep transformation needed.
  • The Sahel needs therefore a new narrative – one that is hopeful, dynamic and generates a sense of excitement at the potential of region to achieve large-scale improvement.
  • An inclusive and responsible development can shift the focus to the real potential of the Sahel to develop and prosper and to stabilize and reverse current negative trends.

This paper reviewed selected opportunities in the Sahel together with the promising pathways to meet the development goals.

  1. Traditional approaches have proved insufficient to raise Sahelian countries out of the cycle of poverty, marginalization and dependence on foreign support.
  2. Going down the same path as the one followed during over 50 years now, is unlikely to improve the current status-quo.
  3. There is a strong potential for the Sahel to make significant improvement to livelihood security and develop new opportunities for its population.
  4. The new development approach must rest on a sound, responsible and equitable use of the region’s rich natural resources. Where degraded, these resources need to be restored to productivity and higher levels of biodiversity.
  5. The necessary steps to realizing this potential require a shift of the development strategies toward approaches that rely on the dynamism of communities and the entrepreneurial capacity of the Sahelian people.
  6. Unlocking this potential can have a transformative effect on the region, build insurance against the climate change and kick-start the development process to benefit the entire society.
  7. The key to achieving these goals lies in attracting investments, and the present obstacles to the flow of capital must be urgently addressed.

This means not only deploying the full range of risk mitigation measures in the private, public and blended finance sectors, but also making use of the innovation that has characterized sustainable finance over the past decade.

The full text open access article"Land resources opportunities for a growing prosperity in the Sahel"   authors Cheikh Mbow, Mark Halle, Rabih El Fadel and Ibrahim Thiaw UNCCD Executive secretary you can find here

More from our special page  The Sahel: Land of Opportunities, Land with a Future 

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