Action Against Desertification

Solving land degradation hinges on economic development

New report highlights economic potential of non-timber forest products


Accra – Rural communities in Africa’s drylands can earn a decent income from forest products such as gum arabic or tree oils. According to a new report from Action Against Desertification, rural populations have the opportunity to increase their incomes while reversing land degradation through sufficient support and investment, and developing value chains.

In Africa, trees provide a wealth of products and services that are essential to people living in or around forest areas. Even in the driest regions, there are valuable trees like the acacia that can be tapped as sources of raw materials. Acacia in particular produces gum arabic, which is widely used by the food industry, and Balanites, a desert tree indigenous to Africa, that produces oil that can be used for cooking, cosmetics, and soap.

Action Against Desertification is a European Union (EU)-funded initiative to combat desertification and land degradation across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The initiative helps rural communities to expand production of gum arabic, balanites oil, and other products that can be obtained from forests without the need to cut down trees.

 “Non-timber forest products are essential to the success of our innovative restoration method,” said Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) FAO’s Moctar Sacande. The initiative, spearheaded by Sacande, sees the benefits these non-timber forest products can bring to rural areas, where incomes are low and opportunities are scarce. Sacande added, “This can really motivate people to join our activities.”

The people are at the nexus of the Action Against Desertification’s land restoration approach, which works to expand Africa’s Great Green Wall initiative, Africa’s flagship programme to combat the effects of climate change and desertification across North Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

The initiative also provides scientific plant expertise and technical support tailored to the needs of local communities, and helps them to improve their livelihoods by using species most suited for restoration.

Economy and ecology go hand in hand

The report, Non-timber forest products – From restoration to income generation, describes the value chains of five major forest products that Action Against Desertification helps develop in Africa: gum arabic, balanites oil, honey, fodder, and seeds and seedlings for land restoration. A brief overview of selected non-timber forest products in Haiti and Fiji is also included in the report.

The plant species that support the production of each African product are highlighted in the publication, revealing a wealth of information on Africa’s drylands and demonstrating how the initiative enables the economy to work with ecology. The selected species strengthen the livelihoods of rural communities and are also vital to restoring degraded lands.

Results in Burkina Faso demonstrate the added value of fodder, honey and balanites oil production. An average of 1.2 tonnes of herbaceous fodder was harvested on restored plots just one year after planting, generating revenues of USD 40 per hectare, equivalent to half of Burkina’s monthly minimum wage. Honey producers reported additional annual incomes of an average of USD 73, while women’s groups making soap from balanites oil saw their incomes double. Read their story: How balanites soap put a smile back on Hadjatou Ouedraogo’s face.

Village technicians in Niger worked together to create a restoration seed sector and collected over 14 tonnes of quality seeds from 17 different species planted on plots prepared by the initiative. This enabled them to supply seeds to other projects in nearby areas and to generate revenues of over USD 30 000 in one year.

Gum arabic has the most promising commercial prospects. Extracted in areas where Action Against Desertification operates, global demand for the product is already high and expected to grow. The trees from which the gum is obtained, Acacia senegal and Acacia seyal, are also some of the most important species for Action Against Desertification’s restoration efforts.

Action Against Desertification has improved the condition and productivity of some 50,000 hectares of degraded land through restoration, reaching over 500, 000 people. Large investments are needed to bring its activities to scale and restore 10 million hectares along the Great Green Wall annually to meet international goals.