Farmers’ experience and ecological knowledge proven valuable against land degradation in Mali – worldagroforestry

Farmers, regardless of gender, age or education, are well aware of land degradation, what it looks like and how it impacts their livelihoods. Their perception of the effects of land degradation, how they deal with the risks and their responses in turn shape options for restoration and the outcomes.

 

Farmers, regardless of gender, age or education, are well aware of land degradation, what it looks like and how it impacts their livelihoods. Their perception of the effects of land degradation, how they deal with the risks and their responses in turn shape options for restoration and the outcomes.

 

A study by scientists from World Agroforestry (ICRAF) in Mopti, Segou and Sikasso, located in central to south Mali, confirmed that farmers in the three regions were aware of land degradation and perceived it through a set of variables belonging to their socio-economic and demographic contexts, their agricultural practices, and the environmental and climatic factors they lived under. The outcomes of this study are applicable in other countries of the Sahel to help meet global restoration targets. Understanding farmers’ perceptions of land degradation could also enable the adoption of better-contextualized restoration strategies.

 

‘Farmers should invest more in sustainable agricultural practices and techniques for soil and water conservation that they already know, such as agroforestry, stone bunds, zaï pits and tie ridges,’ said Ibrahim Touré, scientist at ICRAF and lead author of the study. ‘All these existing practices should be scaled up through incentives for agricultural investment and policy enforcement. This would result in more resilient landscapes, more productive fields, and improved livelihoods for all the communities living along a climatic gradient.’

Agriculture and agro-sylvo-pastoralism are the predominant forms of livelihoods in the three regions where communities are experiencing the effects of land degradation, with famine, hunger and water shortage perceived as ever-present threats. The average farm size is 8 hectares, mostly passed down through the generations or, in some instances, leased from owners. During periods of drought and hardship, young people migrate to nearby cities and those remaining behind rely on their remittances. Women used to engage in gardening and rearing livestock during dry seasons to generate income, but this is no longer possible owing to scarcity of water.

 

The demand for food and other natural resources in the three regions has led to intensive agricultural practices, leading in turn to shortened fallow times, and extensive practices that can lead to deforestation and land degradation.

 

Farmers perceived that reduced yields, infertile soils, reduced fertility, poor rainfall and biodiversity loss were direct impacts of land degradation.

 

Farmers’ awareness was mainly influenced by factors such as agricultural training, participation in agricultural labour, the practice of fallowing, appearance of some plant species and famine. Other factors included shortage of firewood, livestock and household size.

 

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