Africa, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

Q&A: “The Sahel Should Already Have Been Green”

Interview with Franziska Kaguembèga Müller

COTONOU, Jul 6 2007 (IPS) - For ‘newTree-nouvelarbre’, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works largely in Burkina Faso, good fences don’t only make good neighbours – they also make a line of attack against land degradation.

The fencing in of enclosures where plant life can flourish away from the damaging effects of people and livestock is a key part of the work of this grouping.

Co-founder Franziska Kaguembèga-Müller first came to Africa a decade ago to complete her studies in biology – working in Benin on a reforestation project and setting up a tree nursery. She now holds a Masters degree in rural development, and is based in Burkina Faso.

Kaguembèga-Müller told Michée Boko of IPS more about the activities of newTree-nouvelarbre.

IPS: How did this NGO come to be established?

Franziska Kaguembèga-Müller (FKM): newTree-nouvelarbre is a Swiss NGO recognised in…Burkina Faso, which I co-founded in October 2001. But the idea of fighting for a better environment (and) improving the living standards of local communities was born well before that, in 1998. newTree-nouvelarbre was created to give structure to our programme and make it secure.

IPS: You work on the ground with subsistence farmers, stock farmers…

FKM: The operations of newTree-nouvelarbre consist mainly of establishing protective infrastructure to enable a natural regeneration of local plant life. In addition, newTree finds partners for sustainable management of young forests that yield not only food, traditional medicines (and) fertile soils, but also activities generating income from wood and non-wood products.

Community partners (families and village women’s groups) are at the heart of all the activities. First, the decision to protect degraded areas comes from them, and they decide on the areas to protect and activities to pursue. In addition, they provide the materials and all the labour to set up the enclosures…The monitoring and maintenance of enclosures also form part of their tasks. The future and success of sites are in their hands; we help them with technical training and assist them with equipment.

IPS: Your internet site notes that “denuded land is transformed into forest”. Explain this process to us.

FKM: The restoration of degraded land without effective protection is difficult. The natural vegetation and trees that are planted do not have much chance to grow, as the pressure of people and of rambling animals that graze on the young shoots is strong. Sheltered from all these pressures, the local plant life – even the animal life – recovers. We do regular inventories of trees on our sites, where we note a regeneration and rapid growth of vegetation.

IPS: What results are you proudest of, and what has disappointed you the most?

FKM: After four years of operations, we have managed to sustainably protect more than 150 hectares spread over family lands of two to three, even six hectares. The first sites have become small forests rich in local animal and plant species that communities use to feed and care for themselves. They (the sites) also enable (communities) to have wood and non-wood products to sell.

In addition, we have started to introduce beekeeping in our activities, which provides significant income for communities. Today, trees that were disappearing are growing in our enclosed plots of land, and biodiversity has thus been protected.

What has disappointed me is the actions of criminals who want to destroy our work through theft and other malicious acts. Happily, we have not had too much destruction, as the partners are tasked with monitoring not only the enclosures but also the growing forests…

IPS: So, indirectly, newTree-nouvelarbre has given itself the mission of fighting desertification…

FKM: Taking into account the extensive degradation of lands, especially in the centre and north of Burkina Faso, we are convinced that if the young forests – even the small ones – are protected, they can create a solid foundation for rural families that are…vulnerable to climate hazards.

IPS: How do communities react to your activities?

FKM: We are currently overwhelmed by new requests for enclosures. But, we have quite strict criteria, for choosing those who are most motivated for this partnership. Our partners are in general very happy with their sites, and each…works at their own pace in the maintenance of their land.

IPS: Do you collaborate with the Burkinabé government?

FKM: The technical services of the state are informed of our activities, and they appreciate our actions. But, there is no collaboration as such. Certain forestry officials give technical advice to our partners in the villages from time to time.

IPS: Are you active in other African countries?

FKM: newTree-nouvelarbre is…involved in the reforestation programme of north-west Benin that is now managed by a national team called Jura Afrique. In addition, we collaborate with an NGO called Toker…which has started nature conservation activities in Eritrea.

IPS: In your opinion, are African countries aware of the dangers of desertification, if judged by their actions?

FKM: I think they are aware, as the rural population experiences this danger every day. They (rural people) fight against desertification according to their means and knowledge, which is not always sufficient. However, government representatives working in rural areas can do much more, taking into account the means and technical knowledge they possess.

IPS: What are, in your view, the shortcomings of the fight against desertification in Africa?

FKM: There are many projects started to fight desertification, but often they are not really concerned with working effectively against this phenomenon. Otherwise, given all the money that has been invested in this fight, for so long, the Sahel should already have been green…

While we have not resolved the problem of grazing animals in the Sahel, reforestation without effective protection cannot yield results.

In addition, subsistence farmers and stock farmers in West Africa are not always ready to work together for such activities. They prefer to work for themselves and have their independence.

IPS: Is there cause for hope, in spite of everything?

FKM: The Sahel is full of hope and riches, but we must try to deal with problems at their root and find lasting solutions in close collaboration with local communities. Otherwise, climate change will smother all of us, not only in the Sahel, but also throughout the earth.

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