Action Against Desertification

Moctar Sacande: “Land degradation is not yet irreversible.”

FAO is preparing large-scale land restoration along Africa’s Great Green Wall


Rome – Large-scale land restoration is underway across Africa’s Great Green Wall under FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme. Expert Moctar Sacande about the need for restoration and the secrets behind the success of FAO’s approach. Its results on the ground have yielded scientific recognition. 

You recently visited degraded areas in Niger. What did you see?

Moctar Sacande: “Let me tell you about Chatoumane, a village at three hours’ drive north of Niamey, the capital of Niger. It has a real problem: drought. In the Sahel, the rain falls from June to September, and then you have to wait for nine months. Towards the end of the lean season there will be hardly anything left for the people and their animals to feed on. 

That is why you need restoration: to help the community produce enough to cover its needs for the whole year. In a village like this, people live with nature. They use earth for bricks to build their houses. The roofs are made of straw. Herbs are used by traditional healers. And, people and animals draw most of their food from trees, shrubs and grasses. 

Therefore, you need plant-based solutions. And you have to start by asking the community what they need. You have to talk to different groups, farmers, cattle raisers, traditional healers, blacksmiths and women, because they all have different needs for plants. This is essential. Many villages have said they were never consulted before. Things used to be decided for them. It led to failure, because they did not feel like they were involved.”

Are there any solutions?

Moctar Sacande: “For sure, we have not taken the difficulties seriously enough. All parents hope that their children will do better. But, why would a youngster from Chatoumane stay in his village nowadays? There is no job, no electricity, no Internet. In a desperate situation, people take any opportunity they can seize. Traditionally, they head southwards here. Now, in the global village, they also go further. But the more you bring solutions to the village, the more you counter such problems.”

“I believe that land degradation is not yet irreversible in the Sahel. But, we should not lose time, because natural resources are under pressure and the climate is changing. And you have population growth too. It's a combination of factors.”

You have worked as a researcher for 15 years before joining FAO to work on land restoration under Action Against Desertification. Why?

Moctar Sacande: “I grew more and more uncomfortable with the divide between scientific knowledge and the reality of the African village. In 2012, I got interested in the Great Green Wall initiative and conceived a restoration model. We started putting it in practice in ten villages in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Three years on, we have reached 120 villages already. Around 50 000 farmers are engaged, half of them women. In all, 2235 hectares of degraded land has been restored. 

Under Action Against Desertification these efforts are being scaled up. This year, we plan to restore 10 000 hectares of degraded land in six countries, Burkina Faso, Niger, as well as Ethiopia, Gambia, Nigeria and Senegal. 

The Great Green Wall is an opportunity to transform these tiny drops of solutions into a river crossing the entire region and to really improve the living conditions of people that have been left out of the equation. That is what drives me. I have always been fascinated by plants. Take the eucalyptus. It’s a big tree, but look where it comes from. That a small little seed can turn into such a mighty tree. We have the technological know-how. Now we have to bring it where it is needed most.”

Key facts and figures

FAO’s land restoration approach has been successfully put in practice in transboundary interventions in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger between 2013-2015 in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

  • 120 villages involving 50 000 farmers, half of them women.
  • 55 woody and herbaceous species planted, using over 1 million seeds and seedlings.
  • 2 235 hectares of degraded land restored.

The restoration model approach and results have been published in Restoration Ecology - 2016 by FAO experts Nora Berrahmouni and Moctar Sacande.