Transboundary watershed management and regional integration in West Africa

Located in the heart of West Africa, the Niger is Africa’s third longest river, at 4 200 km. With a total surface area of 2.2 million km2, its basin is the ninth largest in the world. The Niger is an important asset for nine countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, the Niger, Nigeria and Chad - some of which are among the poorest in the world.

The Niger river crosses four climate zones: humid tropical, dry tropical, semi-arid and arid. Ranging from 4 000 mm in the Guinea gulf to 200 mm in the Sahel, rainfall is very variable in time and space. The basin is affected by widespread environmental degradation and deterioration of the natural resource base. Major environmental threats include unsustainable agricultural and ranching practices, bush fires and deforestation, pollution from several sources, water and soil erosion of rangelands, silting of water courses, and the proliferation of aquatic plants (water hyacinth, water lettuce, etc.).

Land degradation is a major threat to productivity and food production, and affects the whole basin, particularly the Sahelian part (which corresponds to the mid-watershed). The fragile local ecosystem is exposed to intense desertification, soil erosion and silting of water courses. Climate aridification and decreased sediment, which are associated with an increasing demand for agricultural land, have contributed significantly to the destruction of vegetation cover. Stream flow and ecosystems are seriously threatened, as are socio-economic activities.

Combating hydrological erosion and silting is a major political, economic, social and environmental issue, and a main aim of the Niger Transboundary Watershed Programme. The long-term objectives of this programme are to protect the natural resources of the basin and conserve its hydrological potential in order to foster development, decrease food insecurity and poverty, and preserve local ecosystems. As most natural resource degradation in the basin is caused by human factors, the programme adopts a participatory, gender-sensitive approach to strengthen local stakeholders’ responsibility and involve them in rehabilitation actions.

The programme includes a regional component at the basin level, and three national components, in each of the concerned countries. The regional component aims to strengthen the Niger Basin Authority’s (NBA’s) capacity to intervene at the transboundary level. National components focus on environmental protection and the combating of siltation in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Niger, and were designed as investment projects. They share common development objectives, but each has a significant degree of autonomy. Activities are based on the participatory approach and aim to raise the awareness and commitment of local stakeholders in different stages of the implementation process.

The programme is expected to have multiple impacts, including dune stabilization of 3 000 to 5 000 ha, management/protection works on rangeland and catchments, agroforestry rehabilitation of 13 500 ha of degraded land, enhancement of watershed management capacity among local institutions and people, and institutional strengthening of NBA.

Other expected results include: a toolkit for identification, planning, coordination, and monitoring and evaluation; a management plan for hydraulic erosion protection and combating siltation; improved agroforestry and range management systems; sustainable use of natural resources; rehabilitated stream flow and ecosystems; enhanced food security and livelihoods for local people; income generation and diversification; rural employment; and women’s empowerment, through vegetable production in irrigated gardens, other income-generating activities and literacy.

Adapted from O. Diallo. 2006. « Programme – cadre de protection contre l’érosion hydrique et de lutte contre l’ensablement dans le bassin du fleuve Niger ». In B. Swallow, N. Okono, M. Achouri and L. Tennyson, eds. Preparing for the next generation of watershed management programmes and projects. Proceedings of the African Workshop. Nairobi, 8 to 10 October 2003. Watershed Management and Sustainable Mountain Development Working Paper No. 8. Rome, FAO, FORC Department.

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last updated:  Wednesday, November 12, 2008