Community of Practice Reflects on Degraded Land Restoration in Mali

Restoration of degraded land in Mali is continuing to gain traction in contributing to scaling-up efforts for restoring degraded areas and returning them to effective and sustainable tree, crop and livestock production systems in the Sudano-Sahelian Region. A community of practice formed during a reflection workshop from 11-12 April 2017 in Bamako, Mali concluded that a diversity of land restoration initiatives in the region seems to be an indication of the dynamism of farmers, development agencies and researchers to improve the management, conservation and rehabilitation of degraded lands. Under the theme “Restoration of Degraded Lands in Mali: a review on lessons learnt and opportunities for scaling”, the Community concluded that no single factor can be singled out as the key to successful land restoration initiatives but can generally be attributed to a combination of factors which have led farmers to adopt, and continue to use rehabilitation practices. Furthermore, whether farmers do accept restoration practices appears to depend on at least as much on socio-economic factors as on the physical effectiveness of the practices advocated.

The Sudano-Sahelian region has been increasingly plagued by land degradation, which has led to a southward extension of the Sahara desert in the last several decades. The region is still suffering from the repercussions of the drought-induced famines of 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2012, and this further intensifies pressures on land, as population and economic growth needs have to be satisfied within the limited natural resources in the region. The contribution of the traditional use of biomass to land degradation is largest within the dry savannah on the margins of the Sahara, which are also the most vulnerable to desertification areas and around urban areas. Pervasive unsustainable energy production and land-use practices in the region threaten significantly not only current development opportunities for local people, but also future generations’ livelihoods.

Major drivers for land degradation are both climate-related extreme events like droughts and heavy precipitation or human-induced factors. The human activity affecting the landscape should be viewed in the context of the panoply of disturbance events and the dynamism that characterizes the ecosystem. Common activities that have resulted in widespread ecological degradation include: large-scale and open savanna fires; Collection of fuelwood and non-wood forest products; production of charcoal; overgrazing; over cultivation and pollution.

In Mali, satellite imagery on cropland use intensity reveals a significant number of areas in a high land-use intensity state, where active cropland constitutes over 90 percent of available land. Thus, livelihood of local people is vulnerable in many rural areas and is likely to sharpen due to anticipated climate change. Land degradation reduces both the agricultural productivity and soils’ holding capacity for water, which over time leads to decreasing agricultural production, while demand for it is increasing as population grows.

Many efforts have been deployed in the Sudano-Sahelian region to build resilience of the agricultural landscape through combating land degradation and desertification. The Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), innovators farmers and many programs and projects have developed different strategies and approaches of restoration of degraded lands. Some success has been achieved but often initiatives have also failed.

The major challenge is identifying approaches or strategies for "scaling” successful experiences and learning from failures. These lessons can help guide policy in a way that overcomes degradation, restores some of the key ecological processes and functions of rural landscapes, at the same time, and improves the livelihoods of the rural people.

Farmers use different approaches or combination of different approaches for land restoration depending on contextual factors and across the different agro-ecological zone. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of these options will be rigorously evaluated within the framework of the Restoration Project, either through small-scale participatory field trials and complementary action learning initiatives.

 The engagement of the community of practice will help build further evidence for farmers and other actors on what works, for whom, how, and at what cost across heterogeneous contexts.


The Community of Practice comprises close to 30 experts from 21 organizations (including NGO, Research Institution, National Technical Services, Farmer organizations, the International organization including International Fund for Agricultural Development-IFAD, Wetland International, Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel).  

These activities are funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the European Commission (EC) and FTA under the project titled, "Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes in land restoration to scale”. Visit the project website here: