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By Ilaria Firmian
I have recently returned from " Parkland  Trees and Livelihoods: Adaptation to Climate Change in the West African Sahel " project completion workshop in Burkina Faso.
Funded by an IFAD grant, the project works in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It is implemented by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in collaboration with the national agricultural research institutes and four different IFAD funded projects in the three countries.
The main goals of the projects were to improve the livelihoods of rural communities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger by adapting, diversifying and conserving parkland agro-forests, and diversifying revenue-generation options from parkland trees in response to climate change.

The workshop consisted of twenty-six presentations over the space of two days. They dealt with many research topics, brought forward in the past three years by researchers and students from universities in the three countries, working closely with smallholder farmers. The innovative nature of these projects lay in the approach in which small farmers were closely involved in research programs. The farmers had to take responsibility for testing seed varieties and farming techniques in their plots.

Project activities have been guided by ‘participatory vulnerability analysis’ at the village level. A specific tool to conduct this type of analysis has been developed and adopted by research teams in different countries (Participatory Analysis of Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change - APVACC -
http://www.worldagroforestry.org/downloads/publications/PDFs/OP17611.PDF1), based on which the coping strategies of different gender groups at the village level have been identified.
The project has adopted the ‘Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration’ approach that, at least in Niger, has generated income capable of ensuring the long-term support of the communities. This approach is to create, through the adoption of soil and water conservation techniques, favorable conditions for the development of woody species. Farmers protect and manage these species and in doing so create new agro-forestry systems on previously barren land.
One of the factors behind the success of the farmer-managed natural regeneration in Niger has been the involvement of young students. Their ability to involve their parents in causing a change of mindset in the management of parkland agro-forests is invaluable. Participants at the workshop stressed the importance of increasing the scale of this practice by involving an increasing number of primary schools.
Another major recommendation was the need to revisit the forest laws to facilitate the large-scale application of farmer –managed natural regeneration.

Several of the studies presented focused on the economic value of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), mainly Shea butter, which generates an average turnover of 5 billion FCFA (over 10 million USD) per year in Burkina Faso, but also tamarind and others.
Analysis of NTFP value chains clearly show the very important roles that these products play in the economy of women and even children, who are often involved in the collection of fruits, earning money that can be reinvested into school fees.

At the conclusion of the workshop, prizes were awarded to researchers for innovation, dissemination of research results, and the development of a methodology for innovative research on carbon sequestration.
All participants agreed on the importance and value of the results obtained by this project, but also the need to strengthen efforts in terms of knowledge management to ensure that these results are distributed widely amongst smallholder farmers.

The presence of universities at the workshop, and the involvement of students in the research activities, helped create a bridge between research institutes and universities, and hopefully this work will also benefit new generations of students.
Similarly, through links developed in the three countries where this IFAD investment project is implemented, the value of these results in other settings is maximized. In this regard, they have already influenced the design of IFAD ASAP-supported projects in the Sahel.
1) Boureima M, Abasse AT, Sotelo Montes C, Weber JC, Katkoré B, Mounkoro B, Dakouo J-M, Samaké O, Sigué H, Bationo BA, Diallo BO. 2013. Participatory analysis of vulnerability and adaptation to climate change: a methodological guide for working with rural communities. Occasional Paper 19 – English version. Nairobi: World Agroforestry Centre. ISBN: 978-92-9059-351-5