Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change

March 20, 2018

In Niger, strengthening the rights of farmers to manage trees on cropland has resulted in the restoration of tree cover on a massive scale, sequestering at least 30 million tonnes of carbon over the past 30 years.[i] The government’s support of farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees serves as a very cost-effective approach for addressing a range of environmental challenges including desertification and climate change.  A relatively modest investment in the 1980s’ and 1990’s by development assistance agencies and NGOs to increase land tenure security, promote institutional reforms in favor of decentralized natural resource management and support local level training and capacity building has enabled the widespread adoption of agroforestry and other improved practices and generated major economic benefits amounting to $900 million annually.[ii]

Rural communities in Niger exercise longstanding customary rights to manage trees and forest resources in combination with farming.[iii] In the 20th century these rights were weakened by colonial regimes, national policies, and Forest Service regulations that decreed all trees and forests to be government property, including economically valuable “protected” trees growing in cultivated fields. Government ownership of trees was enforced through a system of permits issued by the Forest Service for cutting trees and through fines for unauthorized tree felling. These laws aimed to conserve forests and high-value tree species, but they had the opposite effect. They discouraged communities from managing trees by limiting their ability to benefit from them, and increased dependence on an ineffective and under-resourced government bureaucracy.[iv]

After deforestation and land degradation took its toll, the government embarked on legal and institutional reforms in the 1990s.[v] Community land rights were recognized in an updated Rural Code, and the policies and regulations of the Forest Service were revised to recognize and strengthen community forest management rights. In cooperation with NGOs working to promote tree regeneration, the Forest Service agreed to no longer fine farmers who cut branches or otherwise managed the trees on their farms.[vi] The Forest Service and local government authorities also respected the rights of farmers to harvest and sell timber from their trees and to prevent others from cutting them. [vii] As farmers were enabled to benefit economically from trees on farms through access to information, technical support and markets as well as the devolution of rights and strengthening of community based institutions to manage trees and other natural resources, land degradation was reversed and rural landscapes were transformed.[viii]  Over the past 20 years, these reforms and incentives have prompted farmers to protect and regenerate some 200 million trees across 5 million hectares of agricultural land, leading to significant benefits for climate change mitigation and adaptation.[ix]

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