In Niger, degraded plots of land that have lost their agricultural potential are often left to further deteriorate, used only as commons for grazing and firewood harvesting. The soil surface is often left crusted, making it hard for water to infiltrate, or seedlings to sprout.
To help reclaim degraded lands for food production by local communities, CGIAR scientists at ICRISAT developed an approach called Bioreclamation of Degraded Land, or BDL. The approach was developed as a gender-sensitive system that aims to restore land at minimal cost to communities and the environment, and to empower local women by securing their rights to land.
The BDL approach involves women in restoring degraded lands through a combination of new and indigenous techniques.
In the Sahel, customary practices make it difficult for women to own cropland, and so they often become economically dependent on the (usually male) head of the household. However, degraded lands are normally farmed communally, and are usually allotted to women’s groups.
The BDL approach involves women in restoring degraded lands through a combination of new and indigenous techniques. These include water harvesting technologies – such as digging half-moon planting pits and trenches – the application of composted plant and animal waste, and the planting of hardy and high-value fruit trees (Moringa oleifera, Ziziphus mauritania), as well as drought-resilient indigenous vegetables (okra, Hibiscus and Senna obtusifolia).
The immediate effects of the approach can be seen at the household level, in the form of higher incomes, greater food security and improved nutrition. Within three years of implementation, 241 hectares of degraded land had been converted to productive land in 172 villages in Niger. Households reported a 50% increase in income, generated through the sale of annual leafy vegetables grown on the restored plots – participating women generated 51% higher incomes than their non-participating peers.
With direct access to land, women are brought into the production system via the BDL approach, empowering them to generate income for themselves, their households and their communities.
Header photo: Led by the NGO Catholic Relief Service (CRS) and the CGIAR research institute ICRISAT, the PASAM-TAI project in Niger, tackles women’s poor land access and widespread land desertification through the Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands (BDL). Photo by ICRISAT.