Drylands Development Programme: changed lives in the Sahel

Millet harvested in Mali. Photo: Sahel Eco Mali/
Ousmane Berthe

Many farming families in dryland Africa have been struggling to feed themselves and lead a decent life. For the last six years, the Drylands Development Programme has been successfully working with communities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to help them move from the insecurities of subsistence agriculture to sustainable rural development.

Funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and executed by World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and partners in each country, DryDev has developed farmers’ skills on the conservation of water and soil, compost production and soil enhancement, seedling production and reforestation; and established local organizations to better link farmers to markets and financial services

In six years, DryDev reached more than 144,481 farmers in the Sahel in an unprecedented collaboration with researchers and development practitioners.In Burkina Faso, DryDev involved 45,844 farmers, of which 53.57% were women; in Mali, 46,437 (43.78% women); and in Niger, 52,200 (49.17% women).

Restored pasture in Niger. Photo: World Agroforestry


What has changed in farmers’ lives?

In Bassi, in the arid province of Zondoma in the north of Burkina Faso, the rainy season was not yet ready to settle but Awa Sawadogo and her colleagues were busy, which was not the case before when the dry season meant idleness. On their 2 hectares, a solar pump now enabled them to produce vegetables throughout the year: onions, tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, chilli, lettuce and okra that not only improve their diets but also supply the local market with fresh produce.

In the past, to buy vegetables, we went up to Béréga, about 20 km away. This project has come to relieve women of a burden. It was not easy to even have sorrel for cooking. It was the same for onion, cabbage,’ said Awa Sawadogo, president of the female farmers’ group in Bassi.

Vegetables harvested by women from a market garden in Burkina Faso. Photo: World Agroforestry

DryDev shared techniques and technologies with farmers that were contextual depending on the area, for example, stone lines, ordinary and rectangular ‘zaï’ (plant pits used to collect water and concentrate compost), half-moons (larger depressions in that shape for the same purpose as zaï), and anti-erosion bunds and contours.

DryDev also facilitated farmers’ access to quality inputs and equipment through a mechanism self-managed by the farmers themselves.

‘With the arrival of DryDev, everything has improved significantly,’ said Mouhamadou Amboli in the Commune of Droun, Niger. ‘Before, I was barely harvesting the equivalent of four baskets per hectare. Today, I am getting 24; it is a real progress. And also our neighbours visit and enjoy. This year, the neighbours who had appreciated it adopted. This year, the DryDev project helped to make 100 hectares of Sahelian bocage [perimeter living fences around mixed agricultural plots] compared to 10 hectares last year. We are happy to have 100 hectares this year. Thank God for that.’

DryDev helped develop farmer-managed natural regeneration in agricultural fields, leading to reforestation with multiple local and exotic species that now contribute to strengthening natural forests and providing woodfuel and food, which can be prepared on the improved cookstoves deployed by DryDev, which reduce fuelwood consumption by two-thirds.

Landscape restoration with FMNR Mali. Photo: World Agroforestry

‘Formerly, when we bought wood for XOF 7500 (USD 14), it was for a single preparation of ‘dolo’ but now we can prepare two times with the same amount,’ said Martine Zongo, treasurer of the brewers’ association of dolo — a beer made from sorghum — in the sub-catchment of Kyon, Burkina Faso. ‘With traditional stoves, we were exposed to heat and smoke, and we were exposed to diseases. Improved stoves are healthier and more beneficial. We help our husbands for the schooling of the children. We buy our clothes too and we look after our children. Our living and working conditions are much better.’

For tree planting, DryDev strengthened the capacity of local nurseries in plant production and grafting.

‘We received training on grafting and planting techniques,’ said Jean Damango, nursery manager in Thy, Mali. ‘We also received equipment. Here is a new orchard; it is last year [2017] that I received the support of DryDev to dig a well in it. On the other side, I was equipped with a motor pump. Before, I did not earn enough. But with this support, last year I generated more than XOF 2 million (USD 3650) in the sale of plants.’

Water buffering infrastructure in Mali. Photo: World Agroforestry

Thanks to a good availability of water and better technology, farmers have obtained spectacular yields. For example, onion yields increased from 9 to 22 tonnes per hectare.

‘Initially, we were pessimistic that the land could become arable again,’ said Salam Ouedraogo, a farmer in Sompèla, Burkina Faso. ‘But we are currently on the right path. There were no more shrubs. The trees lost their foliage and ended up withering one after the other. Nowadays, shrubs grow and those which are already there regenerate. It is the result of determination, courage and federation of our efforts.’

To help farmers get the most out of their production, DryDev built storage and facilitated networking between farmers’ organisations and microfinance institutions to successfully undertake ‘warrantage’. This rural credit system enables farmers to obtain a loan by guaranteeing their production, which may increase in value over time.

Rice-agroforestry system in Mali. Photo: World Agroforestry

‘The farmers are happy with the work which has been done,’ noted George Okwach, the DryDev manager. ‘What we have seen and heard on the ground reassures us of the relevance of the programme and the benefits that farmers have derived from it. Women feel more empowered, young people feel more empowered and they understand that they have a role to play in improving their own lives, rather than relying entirely on the head of the family to provide them with everything they need.’

DryDev has contributed to the realization of the vision of moving from subsistence farming and emergency aid to sustainable rural development.


About Drylands Development Programme (DryDev)

The Drylands Development Programme (DryDev) was a six-year initiative (August 2013–July 2019) funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, with a substantial contribution from World Vision Australia.  World Agroforestry (ICRAF) was the overall implementing agency, coordinating a consortium of five national lead organizations and 13 implementing partners in selected dryland areas of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali and Niger. 

Through DryDev, 242,227 households made the transition from subsistence farming and emergency aid to sustainable rural development through proven interventions in food and water security leading to enhanced productivity at both watershed and farm levels.


World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of science and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Leveraging the world’s largest repository of agroforestry science and information, we develop knowledge practices, from farmers’ fields to the global sphere, to ensure food security and environmental sustainability.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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