In Niger in the 60s and 70s it was common practice to clear farmland of all trees with the goal of maximizing crop yields. This led to deforestation and desertification throughout the country. It was found that a certain number of trees per hectare helped protect the soil quality and prevent erosion and desertification. Multiple attempts to restore trees to a region and change farming practices failed many times demonstrating the difficulty in changing established norms.
In response to past failures, a new program was developed known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). FMNR uses neglected techniques for growing trees from tree stumps and nearby sprouts with existing roots. FMNR significantly increases the speed that land is reforested, can provide household incomes by selling tree clippings for firewood, protects arable land, and can increase crop yield. Recognizing these benefits, the government of Niger sought to implement FMNR on a larger scale. However, Niger has experienced many failed government programs before. Intervening in agriculture has been particularly fraught. But the FMNR program learned from past efforts and has successfully encouraged reforestation on over 5 million hectares of land. There were several factors identified by participants that led to this program’s success.
- First, the FMNR program put farmers first. Farmers were given resources and education but were not prescribed or mandated to practice FMNR. Previous government programs have left farmers skeptical of NGOs and government regulation. But by providing guidelines and outreach instead of externally imposed blueprints, the government was able to generate significant farmer acceptance.
- Second, proper government communication and messaging was found to be essential. The FMNR program began as a separate government program. Initially the forestry management department felt that FMNR was a threat to their programs and was insulted by its existence. But by working collaboratively with the forestry department the FMNR program led to productive collaboration between government agencies. This collaboration increased program efficiencies and allowed the government to use pricing mechanisms and markets instead of mandates to increase FMNR participation.
- Third, access to high-quality knowledge is important. FMNR as a program requires little capital investment. It is more about a knowledge transfer and personal buy-in. Building quality information exchanges such as farmer’s networks, outreach events, demonstrations, and practical training all facilitated adoption and success of the program.
The successful implementation of FMNR has implications for countries across the continent. While farming practices vary with geography the dissemination and implementation of knowledge for land-use and conservation efforts is a universal challenge. The FMNR program demonstrated the potential success that a grassroots stakeholder-first approach can have.
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