More people, more trees

More people, more trees. This is the name of a new video, part-funded by IIED, which shows two decades of progress in addressing soil erosion in Burkina Faso and Kenya that have significantly improved rural livelihoods and farm productivity.

Twenty years ago, we noticed that some new projects across dryland Africa were attracting a lot of interest for their positive impacts on restoring degraded soils and building more resilient cropping systems. I had recently set up the Drylands programme here at IIED, and was working in partnership with Oxfam’s then-newly established Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), led by drylands expert, Ced Hesse. We produced a video and booklet — Looking after our land — under the direction of Will Critchley from the Free University of Amsterdam. It showed the growing evidence that simple, low cost soil conservation measures can empower local farmers to restore their lands and improve the fertility of their soil.

Nearly twenty years on, Ced Hesse has been with IIED for more than 12 years and we were keen to find out whether the dryland projects had been a ‘flash in the pan’, or the foundations for a better way of managing soils and landscapes. We asked Will Critchley to go back to look at two of the six original sites from Looking after our land — one in Machakos District, Kenya and the other on the central plateau of Burkina Faso.

Sometimes you can be disappointed going back to places you knew long ago — but this time there was no need to worry. In both cases, both soils and plant cover have been clearly restored, with greater investment in trees of all sorts. By following a participatory approach, in which people learn together about better ways to care for their soils, much has been achieved. Many farmers now harvest enough grain to meet all their needs, with extra to sell.

The group-led approach used for building terraces to control soil erosion has provided a framework for a range of other activities around, for example, microfinance and craft work. Both sites offer ideas for ways to make rural livelihoods more resilient to the likely impacts of climate change in the years to come.

Watch the video trailer above and tell us what you think. We hope you enjoy the film and that it inspires you to further action. For myself, above all, it reminds me that positive change doesn’t happen overnight. It needs a long-term careful approach that involves people creatively, so that their own desire to improve their lives can drive the programme in a way that best fits their local context.

Please see related press release or visit Practical Action for the full-length More people, more trees video.

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