Restoring drylands and empowering farmers: lessons from the Drylands Development Programme


A group of farmers in Niger discuss weather conditions in their locality. Photo: World Agroforestry

Successful land restoration needs human capacity, innovative technologies and mass participation.

The countries of the Sahel Region of West Africa are vulnerable to the impact of large-scale environmental and land degradation, poor soil infertility, climate change, population growth and lack of socio-economic opportunities. To address this situation, various innovative technologies have been carried out in many countries in the last two decades, providing sustainable strategies for restoring the productivity of agricultural systems.

Participants at the DryDev session at Beating Famine 2019. Photo: World Agroforestry/Fidelia Bohissou

World Agroforestry in collaboration with World Vision and the Global EverGreening Alliance convened the third global Beating Famine conference, 26–28 February 2019 in Bamako, Mali. The conference reinforced global support for movements such as the African Forest and Landscapes Restoration Initiative and the Bonn Challenge. A wide range of stakeholders shared their experience, insights and optimism for large-scale regreening.

The Drylands Development Programme (DryDev), which is funded by the Netherlands and World Vision Australia, engaged more than 70 participants in discussing restoring drylands and empowering smallholder farmers. DryDev is a multi-sectoral initiative that began in 2013 and seeks to transform the livelihoods of farmers in five countries of the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) and East Africa (Ethiopia and Kenya). DryDev helps households transit from subsistence farming and emergency aid to sustainable rural development.

By October 2018, DryDev had reached 232,000 farmers, of whom 49% were women, in the five countries. The farmers were empowered with knowledge, skills and technologies for land restoration, soil and water management, climate-smart agricultural production, agroforestry, value-chain development and links to markets and financial institutions.

During the past five years, significant progress has been made and numerous lessons learned and evidence generated for enhancing food and water security, economic development and environmental sustainability.

Assefa Tofu, DryDev Program Manager World Vision in Ethiopia. Photo: World Agroforestry/Fidelia Bohissou

For example, ‘Ethiopia has committed to restore 15 million hectares and DryDev Ethiopia rehabilitated 43,678 hectares of degraded land using physical and biological mechanisms,’ said Assefa Tofu, DryDev Program Manager from World Vision in Ethiopia. ‘Out of this, 11,288 hectares is under farmer-managed natural regeneration, both on private farm and communal lands.’

‘Wherever DryDev has worked, success seems to be 100%. This is a good success story, said Tidiani Amadou Didier, professor at the Faculty of Agronomy, University of Niamey, Niger.

The success of DryDev is essentially due to sustainable approaches adopted by the team.

‘One of DryDev’s key approaches is that we don’t go to farmers with a single technology but a set of technologies, a set of options that farmers can choose based on their environmental and economic contexts,’ said Patrice Savadogo, a scientist with World Agroforestry Mali.

The options embrace co-learning and linking projects to national priorities, processes and targets. DryDev has also engaged a lot of women and youth by designing interventions specifically for them.

‘Working through established farmers’ organizations, employing multi-pronged capacity-development strategies, engaging all extension actors coupled with regular contact realizes greater results,’ said Jedidah Mwendwa, World Vision’s policy and advocacy, livelihood specialist with DryDev Kenya.

Women farmers in Mali with their harvest. Photo: World Agroforestry

DryDev has learned three main lessons in implementation of the programme.

‘First, leveraging resources for capacity building, technology and information access is key to land restoration,’ said Phosiso Sola, DryDev programme coordinator for East Africa. ‘Second, generating evidence about what works where and for whom is critical for the adoption and scaling of technologies. Third, successful scaling of technologies requires massive local level participation.’

Grafted tree seedlings in Niger. Photo: World Agroforestry

Damango Moumouni, representative of the Netherlands Embassy in Mali, confirmed the importance of DryDev’s participatory approach.

‘One of the positive aspects of DryDev is the establishment of participatory planning and involvement of local authorities,’ he said.

George Okwach, the DryDev Programme Manager, noted that ‘it takes a long time for land degradation to occur. And it takes even longer to restore a degraded land’.

‘The programme team have done tremendous work and I am happy that what we have done has changed the lives of farmers we have reached,’ he said.



Final recommendations were for DryDev to 1) ensure there are sustainability building blocks to avoid losing the successes and repeating the same work at the same sites in a few years’ time; 2) develop synergies with other stakeholders, projects and programs in the countries; and 3) give special attention to policy, governance, rights and land tenure to ensure sustainability of DryDev’s interventions. The team was also advised that failures were also able to produce valuable lessons.

Also read:

Beating Famine turns its attention to the Sahel


World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.'

Fidelia Bohissou

Fidélia Bohissou was the Communication officer for the Drylands Development (DryDev) Programme based in Burkina Faso. She provided communication support at all levels of the programme including implementation of the communication strategy, coordination of field visits, production of communication materials and liaison with the DryDev partners on programme communication. With over seven years' experience in communication, Fidélia holds a Masters’ Degree in Communication for Development and a Masters’ Degree in project management.

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