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Forgotten crises: pasture land instead of desert in the Sahel region

Special crescents: the desert is transformed into pasture land

Special crescents: the desert is transformed into pasture land, © ASB Niger

07.09.2020 - Article

With droughts, terrorist attacks and abject poverty, 12.6 million people in the Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and the Niger are dependent on humanitarian aid. Germany is supporting a project of the Workers’ Samaritan Federation that transforms barren desert areas into fertile pasture land.

Impacts of climate change: droughts and floods

In the north of the African continent, the Sahel region stretches from west to east, over an area as large as Western Europe. The people in this region predominantly subsist on agriculture. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change are already making themselves felt here in a dramatic way. Formerly fertile pasture land is desolate and the desert is moving ever further inland, destroying agricultural land as well as people’s livelihoods in its wake. Drought is making the land increasingly dry, and when it does rain it usually falls in such quantities that the soil cannot absorb the water and there is a risk of flooding. Almost one in ten people in Mali, the Niger and Burkina Faso suffer from famine, and the number is continuing to rise.

The crescent as a sign of hope: seed holes for drought-resistant seeds

First, crescent-shaped seed holes are formed in the desert soil
First, crescent-shaped seed holes are formed in the desert soil© ASB Niger

A special crescent is now becoming a symbol of hope in the region. Together with the Workers’ Samaritan Federation, 10,000 refugees, internally displaced persons and people from the region in the Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and the Niger are transforming barren desert areas into fertile pasture land. The volunteers dig large crescent-shaped seed holes in the dry desert soil before sowing drought-resistant seeds.

When the next rainy season arrives, water collects in these seed holes, allowing fertile vegetation to grow in the weeks and months that follow.

When it rains, the holes fill up with water and the vegetation thrives
When it rains, the holes fill up with water and the vegetation thrives© ASB Niger

After about two years, the fields of crescent-shaped holes can be used as pasture land. An area about the size of 3000 football fields has already been transformed with this method. The Federal Foreign Office has supported the project with funds funding totalling 4.7 million euros since 2016.

Displacement and forced migration in the Sahel region

The project is a glimmer of hope in the Sahel region, which has witnessed one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises in recent years. Terrorist groups are wreaking havoc in parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and the Niger, and people are being murdered, displaced and abducted. In order to create a permanent place of refuge for these people, the Niger, an important partner of the Federal Government, has established what is known as a “zone d’accueil des réfugiés” – a reception zone for refugees – in the province of Tahoua in the west of the country. The Workers’ Samaritan Federation is also active in this region and is seeking to offer future prospects for people who have often had to leave everything behind them on several times.

Germany is helping to get assistance to the region as a co-host of the 2020 Sahel donor conference

In Mali, the Niger and Burkina Faso, according to the United Nations, an additional amount of over 900 million US dollars is required to provide humanitarian aid for people in need. While Germany has already stepped up its aid for 2020, the need continues to grow.

Germany, together with Denmark, the EU and the United Nations, will therefore be hosting a high-level donor conference in Copenhagen on 20 October. In addition to a call for support, the conference will also address important issues of protection for people in need as well as access for humanitarian aid workers.

The donor conference will be preceded by a preparatory virtual meeting attended by high-ranking representatives of various governments, international organisations and humanitarian aid agencies on 8 September. Workshops with humanitarian organisations and representatives of civil society were held in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Niger back in July to this end.

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