Keita Niger Rural development Forestation Land cover




Andrea DI VECCHIA, Giancarlo PINI, Federica SORANI, Vieri TARCHIANI* 

Working Paper n. 26 - 2007  

ISSN 1774-4943   ISBN 978-88-96128-26-0 


Summary. The Keita Department, in the Republic of Niger, is composed by a complex  system of watersheds subject to strong wind and water erosion. The Keita Project (PDR-ADM) launched in 1984 in a region close to the environmental collapse. The main objective was to increase food security while combating desertification through the reduction of soil erosion and reforestation. More than 20 years of soil conservation and 

land reclamation interventions make Keita an open air laboratory where is possible to carry out studies on the impacts of fight against desertification actions from the environmental and socio-economic points of view. Between 1984 and 2002 woodlands increased more than 300%, wood production by 49% while leaf biomass by 57% and cereal production by 41%. Keita has proven that desertification control and recovery is 

demanding projects lasting decades because reclamation needs twice the time necessary  for degradation and prevention is extremely less costly than reclamation. 



CER Certified Sequestration Units 

CeSIA Study Center for Informatics Applications in Agriculture 

CIRPS Interuniversity Research Center for Sustainable Development 

FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 

F CFA African Financial Community Franc 

FLD ADM Ader Doutchi Maggia Local Development Fund 

Ha Hectares 

GDP Gross Domestic Product 

IBIMET CNR National Research Council Bio Meteo Institute 

LCCS Land Cover Classification System 

MAE DGCS Directorate General for Development Cooperation Min. For. Aff. 

PAFAGE Environment Management Assistance & Training Support Project 

PDR ADM Ader Doutchi Maggia Rural Development Project 

PEICRE Environment Recover & Conservation Realizations Assessment Project 

ROSELT Long Term Watch Observatories Network 

UBT Tropical Livestock Unit 

UNCBD United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity 

UNCCD United Nations Convention to Combact Desertification 

UNFCCC United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 

UTL Local Technical Unit 

WDI World Development Indicators 


Andrea Di Vecchia, Giancarlo Pini, Francesca Soriani, Vieri Tarchiani 






1. The Keita ecosystem 


The Keita Department is located in the centre of the Republic of Niger and 

covers, an area of more than 4,860 sq km composed of a plateau with rocky slopes 

and valleys, forming a complex system of watersheds subject to strong winds and 

water erosion. The Soudano Sahelian climate with a short rainy season (June - 

September) and a yearly average between 400 and 500 mm, represents one of the 

main limiting factors due to the intra-annual and inter-annual variable rains. 

Between 1960 and 1990 a decrease of yearly average rainfall was observed, 

particularly during the month of August, with a latitude shift of 30 km from 

Northeast to Southwest. In 1962 plateaus and slopes were entirely covered by 

forest. Starting in 1972 evident signs of forest degradation appeared and in 1984 

this forest had completely disappeared. 

The decade ranging between the two last great dryness of 1973 and 1984 

represents a kind of line of demarcation between two environmental and socio- 

economic systems with very different characteristics. A negative synergistic 

process, which seemed irrepressible, struck the ecosystem bringing it close to the 

break point. Crop productions dropped down and herds were decimated. In 1984 

the area seemed directed to become again a zone with a reduced population as it 

was at the beginning of the century and without future. 

The Keita valley has always represented a border for the Sahara desert, 

allowing the development of a multiethnic community composed by peasants 

coming from Southern regions and nomads from the North. The total population 

increased from 65,000 inhabitants in 1962 to 230,000 in 2003. 



2. The Keita Project 


The Ader Doutchi Maggia Rural Development Project (PDR-ADM), known as 

Keita Project, launched in 1982 in the framework of the Italian Initiative for the 

Sahel to reduce food insecurity. It become operational in 1984 and since then it 

has been active through three phases ended in 2003. The main objective was to 

increase food security over a very large area, while combating desertification 

through the reduction of soil erosion and reforestation. A new initiative (Fond 

Local de Developpement dans l’Ader Doutchi Maggia, FLD-ADM) is starting 

with the objective to complete existing interventions, fund local investments and 

transfer the management and property to local institutions and organizations. 


The PDR-ADM approach subdivided the project area into units, named 

Elementary Territorial Units (UTE), where the project intervened by (Figure 1): 

- reclamation of the plateau (1) and the abandoned land in the valleys (4, 5) for 

agricultural and pastoral purposes, 

- reforestation of the slopes (2), of the kori banks and dunes, 

- creation of wind breaks and forest areas, 

- control of the water flow in the kori by banks consolidation and small dams (3, 7). 


Simultaneously the Project has also addressed the social and economic 

development by building schools, medical centers, wells and roads, and providing 

technical assistance and financial support for the creation of new economic 



The main interventions 1984-2003 of PDR-ADM are showed in the table below 

(MAE – DGCS, 2003): 


Table 1 - Keita, Niger. PDR-ADM interventions until 2003 

Reclamation and improvement of agricultural and pasture lands, 

reforestation and dune fixation (ha) 34,483 

Trees planted (n.) 18,000,000 

Road construction (km) 313 

Drilled wells (n.) 5 

Excavated wells (n.) 708 

Rural buildings (sq m) 28,000 

Small dams (n.) 40 

Dams (n.) 2 

Weirs (n.) 251 


More than 20 years of soil conservation and reclamation interventions makes 

Keita an open-air laboratory where is possible carry out studies on the 

environmental and socio-economic impact of fight against desertification actions. 

The availability of long series environmental data and information concerning the 

age and typology of intervention allows the development of specific 

environmental analysis and indicators based on data rather than models. This 

extraordinary situation gives the opportunity not only to evaluate the impacts of 

PDR-ADM actions but also to model the behavior of natural vegetation (trees and 

herbaceous) during the recolonization of degraded lands and foster future 

development and potentialities.  



3. Project results 


The Keita project has played a major role in blocking the tendencies of 

ecosystem degradation mainly due to climate changes and human activities and 

improved the biophysical and socio-economic well being of the area. It has been 

proved by a scientific evaluation of the Project impact (PEICRE, 1996). It was 

funded by Italian Aid with the aim to localize and date the different interventions, 

collect data, and review their effectiveness over time.  

The project actions increased the availability of croplands, often by 

reclamation of unproductive areas, and to increase output and productivity (Figure 

2). In the same time land degradation and desertification has been limited and 

large surfaces have been recovered. The project strengthened also the productive 

structure of breeding sector by introducing forage alternative to grass and 

improving the veterinary infrastructures and knowledge. 

Moreover the productive structure of the area has been changed by the project 

presence, the traditional agro pastoral-system, based on rain fed millet and 

nomadic flocks, is getting more complex. Cash crops, as onions and sesame, have 

been integrated with cereals, irrigation is becoming more diffuse, fish farming has 

been introduced in the reservoirs, the commercialization of non-timber forest 

products (Arabic gum, leafs, fruits) given by trees plantations was improved. At 

the end of the century Keita reach a new environmental equilibrium, reversing the 

degradation and desertification trends. Nowadays, Keita is indicated like an 

example in the Sahel region and becomes therefore a point of reference in the 

definition of policies and strategies to fight desertification in the Country and the 

whole region. 

In 2002, a second study (IBIMET-CNR, 2002) assessed the Project 

contribution in the framework of the three main international conventions 

(UNCCD-UNCBD-UNFCCC). The Keita system appeared an excellent test-site 

for carbon sequestration. The study estimated that the Keita valley, thanks to the 

project interventions, sequestered approx. 132,000 tons per year of CO2. This 

output shows the potential that semi-arid regions have in carbon sequestration 

within the Kyoto protocol. 

Figure 2 – Keita (Niger), 1985-2003. Agro-pastoral production trends 



Banquette Tranchée Glacis 


The effectiveness of the Keita Project has been confirmed further by the data collected 

on the three main types of intervention focused to soil conservation: banquette de 

plateau, tranchée, and banquette de glacis. 

The banquette de plateau have transformed the plateau, from a marginal resource for 

breeding to a main resource with great potential, as demonstrated by the change in the 

existing practices of the local population and the arrival of nomads population. This 

resource played an important role in the establishment of a more flexible and less 

vulnerable economic system. Data collected in 1996 (PEICRE) and 2003 (PAFAGE) 

have shown that forage yields have increased by more than 90%. 

The tranchée have proven extreme efficiency in eliminating, or at least strongly 

reducing, the water erosion on arable lands and in allowing agriculture activities on 

previously abandoned lands. The trees planted represent a valuable resource of wood for 

cooking and goat feed. 

The banquette de glacis have been effective in reclaiming arable land previously 

subjected to desertification and abandoned. Even though, the poor quality of the soil 

would not allow yields comparable to those coming from the best arable land in the 

valley. The trees planted in the area produced eight times more wood per plant, than the 

trees planted in the tranchée and yielded twice as much goat feed than the banquette de 



Starting from 2003 Keita becomes a ROSELT1 environmental observatory, 

operational by the means of PAFAGE Project (CeSIA IBIMET-CNR), funded also 

by Italian Aid. The observatory becomes an opportunity to monitor the environmental 

and socio-economic changes in the area, in fact existent databases have been updated 

and environmental and socio-economic analyses have been carried out. 



4. Environmental impacts 


The impact of PDR-ADM interventions on the environment has been 

monitored by a multitemporal analysis of land cover2. Changes in land cover are 

the result of synergies of different factors (climate changes, interventions of PDR- 

ADM and demographic pressure). 

The environmental status before the beginning of the project testifies the 

negative impact of climate and anthropic pressure on the ecosystems. 1962, the 

slopes of the highlands were forested but in 1972 some signs of degradation were 

 Land cover classification is expressed by the LCCS standards of FAO-Africover. 

Keita, Niger: the impact on environment and livelihood of 20 years fight against desertification 

 already evident and in 1984, the forest completely disappeared. Between 1984 and 

2002, we assist to a progressive recovery of the natural vegetation (Figure 3). 

Approximately, the diachronic land cover study shows that between 1984 and 

2002 woodlands increased more than 300% (10,000 ha in 1984 to 45,000 ha in 

2002) against a reduction in the shrubby steppes of the 30%. This tendency is 

supported, besides the PDR-ADM intervention, also by the progressive increase 

of rainfall, which was recorded as from the 1990s. 

Even if the same dynamics is observed in the whole Sahelian part of Niger, this 

trend has only reached such results in Keita, because of the intervention of PDR- 

ADM and the control of the human pressure on natural resources. In addition of 

wooden natural vegetation recovery there is also an evident increase of 

agricultural surfaces (about 80%) resulting of the substitution of large grassland 

areas (decreased about 70%) and of PDR-ADM land reclamation interventions 

(about 20,000 ha). These data confirms that the tendency of natural vegetation 

recolonisation is reduced by the increase of the human pressure. 

More in depth, valleys and glacis are exposed to higher agriculture pressure 

and the trend is to the extension of croplands. This happens in three ways: by 

reclamation of degraded lands, by reclamation of grasslands or by clearing of 

woody vegetation. The first one, supported by the PDR-ADM, concerns the slopes 

of the Keita valley and also the sandy dunes of the eastern plateaus (Figure 4). 

Land reclamation of grasslands has been push by demographic pressure especially 

in the Keita and Insafari valleys. Woody vegetation clearing happens especially in 

the secondary valleys where demographic pressure was low before 1984 and 

strongly increased later. 


Type of land cover  2002  ha 1984 ha Variation  % 

Woodlands 45,542 10,876 319 

Shrub lands 67,422 95,950 -30 

Grasslands 17,417 60,277 -71 

Rain fed croplands 150,730 84,102 79 

Irrigated croplands 1,006 968 4 

Bare 124,196 144,998 -14 

Dunes 21,847 32,441 -33 

Andrea Di Vecchia, Giancarlo Pini, Francesca Soriani, Vieri Tarchiani 

By the other hand woody vegetation restoration interests large areas on the 

slopes and also in the valleys as gallery forests. This trend on the slopes is 

particularly interesting where it is not directly due to Project interventions 

(plantation in trenches), because it shows the effectiveness of the watershed 

approach and the water management on plateaus and slopes (Figure 5). 

Croplands degradation is also observed, due mostly to wind erosion and sand 

accumulation. It gives evidence to the fact that desertification is still active even if 

PDR-ADM interventions reduced its effects. In this context, the territory 

monitoring in the aspects that could indicate a reactivation of the desertification is 

very important especially in this phase in which the environment is slowly 

recovering equilibrium. 



5. Improvement of land productivity 


The pressure derived from the population growth is nowadays one of the main 

desertification factors, as consequence the classic environmental approach to fight 

desertification is doomed to fail if it is not joined with actions aimed to reduce the 

pressure through the creation and diversification of sources of income for the 


In order to appreciate the project impact, not only the impact on environment 

but also the improved productivity of the territory due to the intervention has been 

studied. The productivity is assessed considering the main products contributing 

to population livelihood: agriculture, forestry, and livestock. In the domain of 

agriculture only rainfed cereals have been considered, no data being available 

about cash crops productions. 

Concerning plantations, this study considers only bloc plantation as tranchée 

and banquette but doesn’t consider linear plantations as on the banks of the kori

This choice is based on the methodological consideration that bloc plantations 

will be or could be easily and directly managed at household level3 and their 

production can directly enter in the livelihood estimation. On the contrary, linear 

plantations are of public utility and cannot be exploited for private purposes. 

Moreover, linear plantations are difficult to be inventoried and monitored. 

Initially the study considered the whole project area and afterwards the analysis 

has been focused on the two more common interventions: banquette de glacis 

(bench terraces) and tranchée (trench), expressed per hectare. 



5.1 General results 

The whole project area produced in 2003 about 25,000 tons of wood, that on the local 

market corresponds to about 450 millions of F CFA. In 1984 the value of wood 

production is estimated (at the actual price) in 300 millions of F CFA. The variation is 

therefore of 49%. The availability of leaf biomass is also increased, about 57%. 



 One of the objectives of the PDR-ADM actual phase is indeed to transfer the management of 

interventions to local populations. 

Keita, Niger: the impact on environment and livelihood of 20 years fight against desertification 



5.2 Specific results 

In order to appreciate the improvement on the income generation capacity, the 

productivity of 1 hectare of glacis and 1 hectare of slope have been estimates both 

before and after the PDR-ADM intervention. 

The interventions on the glacis (banquette de glacis) had a yearly growth of 

production estimated about 1,400% as consequence that in 1985 glacis were 

degraded and uncultivated land. Besides the agriculture, that offers the highest 

contribution (about 70%), forage produced by trees (fruits and leafs) and gums 

produced by Acacias constitute the second contribution with a net increasing of 

1,000% each. On banquette the increase of the yearly productions corresponds to 

59,000 Francs CFA. Considering that 2003 GDP per capita in Niger was 232 US$ 

(WDI - World Bank) as 118,000 F CFA the increase of 50% of the GDP per capita 

seems to have a great importance. Another important contribution to the economic 

productivity is represented nowadays by the possibility of income offered by the 

Carbon market in the framework of Kyoto protocol. In the table the CO2 value is 

reported as CERs (Certified Sequestration Units) at the hypothetic European market 

value (if forestation CERs could be accepted). In the total value of productivity the 

CO2 contribution is not considered because it is in concurrence with wood production 

whose value is, for the time being, higher. The CO2 is evaluated on the basis of the 

carbon sequestered by woody aerial part and the root part of the tree. Carbon/wood 

ratio applied is 0.4974 (experimental value for Acacia seyal). 

The intervention on the slopes (plantation en tranchée) gives a net growth of 

production value of about 700%. This growth is due mainly to forage and wood 

components. The CO2, as for banquettes, is not included in the total value, and it 

is given as supplementary information. Anyway, the value of CO2 is still less than 

the correspondent value of wood fuel. 

In comparison, 1 hectare of banquette de glacis is more profitable than 1 

hectare of tranchée due principally to the poor soil fertility and the low soil dept 

on tranchée. Of course, banquettes and tranchées have different roles incontrol the 

erosion, both necessary for an integrated management of the territory. 

Globally 6,471 ha of banquette de glacis and 8,097 ha of tranchées have been 

built up to now and assuming the average productivity, when all the interventions 

will be at normal running, a total value of about 500 millions of F CFA per year 

will be reach. It means, transformed in cereals, the satisfaction of cereal needs for 

about 19,000 persons. 

The population growth reached the 80,000 units from 1984 to 2003, exceeding 

four times the capacity of interventions to assure food security. This shows that the 

traditional approach focused on strengthening rain fed cereals productions is not 

sustainable on the long run and future intervention strategy should consider the whole 

range of agro-sylvo-pastoral productions and also their transformation and 

commercialization chains in order to support the development of new sources of 




6. Conclusions 


20 years of PDR-ADM interventions allowed the natural and production 

systems recovery and stabilization. For this reason Keita became an example in 

the Sahel, one of more interesting and dynamic economic pole of the country and 

an attraction for the neighboring populations. 

Notwithstanding the efforts and the indubitable results of PDR-ADM, the 

traditional rain fed production systems are still reaching the saturation and the 

ecosystem is suffering the human pressure. PDR-ADM approach was designed to 

concentrate on the rapid recover from a decaying environment close to a physical 

collapse. Now even the ecological equilibrium is demanding a reviewed strategy, 

giving priority to the socio-economic dimension, based on developing alternative 

sources of income.Important lessons have be learned from the Keita experience. 

Land reclamation and conservation practices for agriculture activities are very 

important but not sufficient to assure a perspective of development and the 

balance between population needs and productions.  

Furthermore recovery for degraded territory, such was the case for Keita, is 

demanding projects lasting decade and not only years. Keita proved that the 

recovering phase to regain the previous environmental balance is demanding 

twice the time necessary for the degradation phase.  It also provide basis to 

recognize that prevention is extremely less costly than the reclamation. 

To assure food security in Sahelian areas only by agriculture activities, with the 

present population growth, will be not probably possible and sustainable in the 

future. Considering that income produced by rain fed agriculture is not sufficient, 

the promotion of initiatives aimed to strength the local economic systems by the 

diversification of the production is necessary. 

Future interventions to fight desertification need to join land conservation and 

rehabilitation practices with specific actions aimed to develop new income 

generation scenario in order to assure the sustainability and the success of the 

interventions in a long-term view. 

Andrea Di Vecchia, Giancarlo Pini, Francesca Soriani, Vieri Tarchiani 

Finally deeper knowledge of the non-conventional productions should be a 

starting point for the identification of a new and suitable approach aiming to 

valorize any possible ‘means’ able at generating new sources of income with low 

environmental impacts. Trees are a good example; they are an important source of 

income for local population because traditionally they have multiple uses. Besides 

the underestimated contribution of secondary products (leaves, fruits, etc) to the 

domestic budget, trees are used for wood, other commercial products (gums, etc) 

and in the future years, the possibilities given by the Kyoto Protocol in terms of 

forestation and trade of the Carbon credits could be considerable. 



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Questo Working Paper non è stato sottoposto ad un comitato editoriale. 

Questo Working Paper è pubblicato per solo scopo di discussione. 

Le opinioni espresse in questo Working Paper sono quelle degli Autori e non corrispondono a quelle del loro organismo 

di appartenenza né a quelle del CCTM- Centro Città del Terzo Mondo, Politecnico di Torino. 

Copyright CCTM-Centro Città del Terzo Mondo, Politecnico di Torino dicembre 2007 

Esemplare fuori commercio per il deposito legale agli effetti della legge 15 aprile 2004 n. 106. 

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