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The consortium for the sustainable development of inland valley agro-ecosystems:
a tool for regional cooperation


The Consortium for the sustainable use of inland valley agro-ecosystems in Sub-Saharan Africa, or Inland Valley Consortium (IVC/CBF), is an ecoregional initiative, launched by national and international institutes working to improve, in a sustainable way, the productivity of inland valleys.

After a pre-project phase, the decision to create the IVC was made during a workshop on inland valleys held at WARDA headquarters, in Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire, in June 1993. At present, the IVC consists of ten African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo) and six international institutions (WARDA - the host institution -, CIRAD, FAO, IITA, ILRI, SC-DLO/WAU).

The IVC is one of the three components of the Ecoregional Program for the Humid and Sub-Humid Tropics of Sub-Saharan Africa (EPHTA), supported by the CGIAR; the other two are the Humid Forest Consortium and the Moist Savanna Consortium. Since the creation of the IVC, CORAF has been associated with its activities: annual workshops, scientific workshops, external review, etc.


Inland valleys, which constitute the focus of interest for the IVC, correspond to the upstream parts of river systems. They involve small watersheds in which alluvial sedimentation processes are of minor importance. Consequently, the IVC mandate does not include agro-ecosystems such as alluvial plains, coastal plains, mangrove swamps, deltas or lake shores.

Inland valley lowlands have an important potential for the intensification and diversification of agricultural production and are a privileged environment for biodiversity conservation. This is due primarily to their specific characteristics: a zone of high water concentration, relatively fertile soils, and lower risk for ecological degradation. Despite this potential, the use of inland valleys is currently still limited, both in time (limited use in dry season) and in space (numerous valley bottoms are not exploited yet). This under exploitation of inland valleys is due to various constraints: land tenure problems, difficulty in developing and working the land, health risks, etc.

Lamourdia Thiombiano, Jean-Yves Jamin, Pieter Windmeijer 
Inland Valley Consortium 

The IVC seeks to promote a sustainable use of inland valleys that respects the ecosystems, is economically competitive, and takes into account the social complexity of their development (especially, the role of women). To do so, the IVC focuses its activities in three main areas:

  1. Agro-ecological and socio-economic characterization of inland valleys through a multi-scale approach;
  2. Research and implementation of land development interventions and low-cost strategies for land and water management;
  3. Testing and transfer of available technologies that are suitable to the characteristics of the agro-ecosystems, respect the environment and meet farmers' needs.

The IVC favors a multi-disciplinary approach not only for inland valley characterization, but also for their sustainable development.

Objectives of the Consortium

The IVC seeks to achieve the following objectives through its work on inland valleys:

Consortium structure

The organization of the IVC is based on the principles of partnership and shared responsibilities among its members, both national and international. It takes into account each institution's comparative advantages to improve efficiency in conducting IVC activities.

The IVC is structured as follows:

1.  The Annual General Assembly, which brings together representatives of the IVC member country and international institutions. It defines the general policy and priority research themes of the IVC.

2. The Steering Committee, composed of five National Coordinators, elected every two years during the General Assembly, and five representatives of international institutions.

It meets two to three times a year to review and select projects to be funded, votes the budget, prepares workshops and external reviews, prepares Memoranda of Understanding with IVC members and the host institution, selects and evaluates scientists in the Regional Coordination. During its meetings held in different countries, field visits and meetings with the National Coordinating Unit (NCU) are organized.

3.  The Regional Coordination Unit (RCU), based at WARDA in Bouaké (Côte d'Ivoire), is responsible for day-to-day management of the IVC. It is in charge of regional coordination, external relations (donors), organization of scientific meetings, maintaining relations with member countries and scientific monitoring and technical assistance for projects.

4.  The National Coordinating Unit (NCU), is composed of a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional team, bringing together scientists, extension services, and NGOs. A National Coordinator is responsible for coordinating and managing the NCU's activities and for assuring the liaison with the regional coordination. Each NCU is attached to its host institution which is often the basic operational structure for research within the concerned country.

Priority working areas

Three major working areas have been identified:

1. Multi-scale Agro-ecological Characterization

The multi-scale agro-ecological characterization aims at describing inland valley agro-ecosystems, including their dynamics. The output should show clearly the main constraints for management and/or development of inland valleys. In November 1995, minimum data sets for four levels of characterization (macro, reconnaissance, semi-detailed and detailed) were developed. The use of a common methodological approach permits comparison among sites and extrapolation of the results obtained to an other agro-ecological zone.

2. Land Development and Water Management

This involves designing land development models and methods for water management which would allow farmers to maximize water control and limit risk due to drought as well as risk due to extensive flooding, and to extend the growing season. These models and methods must take into consideration not only the farmer's objectives, but also their social capacity to manage communal structures and their often limited resources available for the necessary investment. The accent is placed on improving water supply for the crops, rather than on striving systematically for full water control.

3. Testing and transfer of enhanced technologies, including nature conservation technologies

Considering the quality and quantity of results obtained by national and international research institutions, the development of new technologies was not considered to be a priority for the IVC. The testing and transfer of technologies, on the other hand, constitute an area permitting the application of these findings. Based on existing knowledge, a program was developed to test with farmers the various technologies, adapted both to the edaphic context and existing agricultural systems. This program takes into account farmers' inherent knowledge and nature conservation.

Consortium activities

The IVC's principal activities since its creation in 1993 and beginning of operations in 1994 have related to project implementation, information exchange and the coordination of activities at the national and regional levels.

Research Projects

Around sixty research projects were conducted under the IVC from 1994 to 1997 in the ten member countries. These projects have focused on the three priority themes presented above:

Multi-scale characterization

Forty projects were conducted:

Land Development and Water Management

Eight projects were conducted on this theme in various key sites across the different countries. These projects focused, in particular, on hydrologic monitoring, an analysis of the dynamics in developed inland valleys, an inventory of past inland valley development projects, hydraulic diagnostic tools and the use of decision-aid tools.

Testing and transfer of technologies, including nature conservation technologies

Twelve projects were conducted on this theme. They focused on cassava cultivation in valley bottoms, vegetable cropping, using organic manure for valley bottom crops, fish culture, rice based systems intensification, etc.

These projects were financed by the IVC for amounts varying between US$ 5 000 and US$ 30 000. The current strategy adopted by the IVC seeks to move gradually from research activities on characterization to studies emphasizing more directly development applications; projects focusing on land development and water management or on testing or transfer of technologies will therefore be encouraged. Moreover, the IVC is developing initiatives for larger-scale projects that would be multi-year and involve several countries and international institutions.

Activities at the National Level

These activities are implemented by the National Coordination Units. Various scientific coordination meetings were held in various member countries. They involve different types of partners (national research institutions, international institutions working within the country, development agencies, NGOs - such as Oxfam, Volontaires du Progrès, Institute of Cultural Affairs - and farmer organizations). The implementation of research projects is conducted mainly by the NCUs. This implies mobilizing multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional teams. Three national workshops on inland valleys were organized (in Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina-Faso), another one is in the process of being organized (in Côte d'Ivoire). Syntheses on the state of the art regarding inland valleys were prepared. They permitted compiling existing knowledge regarding land development and utilization of inland valleys in most of the members countries. This type of synthesis is in the process of being completed in other countries (new member countries).

Activities at the Regional Level

Activities at the regional level are aimed at sharing among members the results generated by the projects conducted at the various sites, to encourage scientific exchange, to avoid research duplication, to strengthen cooperation and research capacity of the various teams. Five Annual Workshops were organized at the regional level. These workshops provided an opportunity to present the progress on research activities at the different sites. They also permitted strengthening scientific exchange between IVC members.

The IVC organized or co-sponsored other more targeted scientific workshops based on themes such as:

The IVC publishes various documents: a newsletter, "Inland Valley News", workshop proceedings, and annual reports. The IVC supports training for researchers involved in its activities. It finances their participation in conferences and training seminars. Scientific backstopping is provided to the various teams by the regional coordination. The Steering Committee selects projects to be funded and participates in organizing the workshops and external reviews. It also took the necessary steps to draft Memoranda of Understanding between the IVC and its different partners. At the regional and international levels, the IVC collaborates with a certain number of eco-regional initiatives and regional institutions (EPHTA, CORAF and its networks).

Conclusion and future directions

The IVC seeks to promote an integrated and partnership approach and a prioritization for inland valley research activities. It strongly supports the development and application of methodological frameworks that can be used by all partners involved, and the execution of joint projects bringing together several countries and international institutions, and mobilizing research as well as development efforts. It is a tool for regional cooperation that started its activities in West and Central Africa. It is opening up toward other regions of Africa, consistent with its Sub-Saharan mandate.

The IVC is a structure open to new members. Thus, FAO, with which much collaboration existed already, joined the IVC in 1996 to strengthen the relationship of cooperation and to implement joint action programs, especially those regarding capitalizing the results of the IVC to develop and extend similar activities into East and South Africa. In 1997, ILRI joined the IVC, permitting improved integration of livestock activities into inland valley development. Three West-African countries that did not participate in the creation of the IVC in 1993 have also joined since then: Guinea in 1995, and Cameroon and Togo in 1997.

The IVC External Review, conducted by a review team of three experts representing CORAF, the French Cooperation and the Dutch Cooperation, generated very positive conclusions which highlight the innovative nature of the approach, the quality of its scientific work, and the strong involvement of the various members in the operations of the IVC. The review team has explicitly recommended a higher level of financial support from donors to allow the IVC to strengthen its operations.

Drawing from the experience of the last three years and given the recommendations made by the review team, the IVC has identified the following future directions as it evolves:

The IVC should thus evolve towards professionalism of its activities, while remaining a tool for regional cooperation on inland valleys.


(Note: all publications of the IVC are available in English and in French)

Inland Valley Consortium. 1995. Annual Report 1994. 70 p.

Inland Valley Consortium. 1996. Annual Report 1995. 80 p.

IVC. 1996-1997. The Inland Valley Newsletter (twice a year)

IVC. 1997. The Inland Valley Consortium. 12 p.

Jamin J.Y., Andriesse W., Thiombiano L., Windmeijer P.N. (Editors). 1996. Inland valley research in Sub-Saharan Africa. Priorities for a regional Consortium. Proceedings of the 1st annual workshop of the Inland Valley Consortium. Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire, June 8-10, 1993. 185 p.

Jamin J.Y., Windmeijer, P.N. (Editors). 1996. Sustainable Use of Inland Valleys in Africa. First results of the Inland Valley Consortium. Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Workshop of the Inland Valley Consortium. WARDA, Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire, March 23-24, 1995. 120 p.

Jamin J.Y., Windmeijer, P.N. (Editors). 1997. Characterization of Inland Valley Agro-ecosystems: a Tool for their Sustainable Use. Proceedings of the 1st scientific workshop of the Inland Valley Consortium. WARDA, Bouaké, November 6-10, 1995.

Windmeijer P.N., Jamin, J.Y. (Editors). 1996. Identification of Research Programs for the Inland Valley Consortium. Minutes of the 2nd Annual Workshop of the Inland Valley Consortium. WARDA, Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire, April 26-28, 1994. 30 p.

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